Mental health in sport at 'watershed moment', says former Team GB gold medalist

Olympic gold medal-winning cyclist Callum Skinner has said high-level sport is facing a 'watershed moment' around mental health

High-level sport is facing a "watershed moment" in the way athletes' mental health is being discussed, former Team GB cyclist Callum Skinner has said as he called for more support for Olympic competitors after the Games end.

Skinner, a member of Britain's team sprint Olympic gold-winning trio in 2016, said candid conversations around the psychological pressures of the Games is leading to a positive cultural change.

He singled out praise for reigning Olympic gymnastic champion Simone Biles for being honest about withdrawing from the all-around finals to focus on her mental wellbeing.

Gymnast Simone Biles Credit: PA

Speaking to ITV News, Skinner said: "I can definitely sympathise with Simone and I really respect her for speaking out and being honest with everyone about what she is facing.

"I think we definitely are at a crossroads or a watershed moment- however you wish to call it.

"I think Osaka and Biles, and many athletes before them, have done well in showing that even though we are Olympians and sometimes classed as superhuman, we are just as susceptible to shortcomings and illnesses as anyone in general society.

"So I think that is a positive message for society"

The 2018 Commonwealth 1km time trial bronze medallist said he retired from elite cycling in 2019 because he felt there was too much focus on performance.

Skinner, who experienced depression after the 2016 Olympics, believes not enough mental health support is being given to Olympic athletes after the Games have finished as the spotlight fades.

"I think a lot more needs to be done within the Olympic system," he said.

"Ultimately, only 0.4% of total revenue that the ICO generates goes straight into athletes' hands.

"So, you can tell them as much as you want to seek professional help and support but if they don't have the means to do that it can lead to some dark places.

"Mental ill health is still seen as a weakness or like a personality trait.

"But, ultimately, you would never get to the Olympic games if you were 'mentally weak'.

"They are just individuals and humans that are facing a tough period of time.

"It does not make them any less of a competitor or any less of an asset to their sport," he added.

Skinner explains why he believes not enough support is given to Olympic athletes

Also expressing sympathy for Simone Biles, British Olympic boss Andy Anson said Covid has made him place even more attention on his athletes' wellbeing.

He told ITV News: "We have got to put in the right support mechanisms- and we have done that to make sure the individuals are getting the right support they need.

"We have got athletes isolating due to the contact track and trace. Some of them have been fine, some of them have found it really difficult."

British Olympic boss Andy Anson says extra support mechanisms for athletes have been put in place in light of the pandemic