The mental health of athletes has become quite a hot topic and top-performing South African Olympian Chad Le Clos has shared his struggle with depression.
The Tokyo Olympics that occurred in 2021 placed a spotlight on the mental health of high performing athletes and how they handle the pressure.
American gymnastics icon, Simone Biles dropped out of a few events, expressing she could not jeopardise her psychological state.
The world’s expectation of the four-time Olympic champion weighed heavy on Biles as she was viewed as the “golden girl” expected to break records and win more medals.
At the time Biles said she could not risk her health and wellbeing with the extra weight on her shoulders, believing she couldn’t perform her best under the added pressure.
Speaking to Frame, Le Clos opened up about a dark place he was in in January 2021 after experiencing a traumatic moment before the Tokyo Olympics.
The four-time Olympic medal swimmer says he would never retell what occurred but that it was the cause of his depression, with only five people close to him knowing what transpired.
He described the traumatic experience as being worse than both his parents being diagnosed with cancer.
“It really cut me deep but I didn’t know it affected me. Sometimes you don’t know that you’re swimming with that weight on your shoulders. I wasn’t myself. I was so unsure about myself. I lost all my confidence last year,” he said.
His father Bert Le Clos advised him to see a sports psychologist, however, Chad refused, believing he could push through it as he got stuck in training.
During the preparations for Tokyo, Le Clos knew he wasn’t ready, saying his results for during the games were disappointing.
Le Clos finished in 5th place in the 200m butterfly final and didn’t make it out of the heats in the 100m butterfly.
It was only after the Olympics that the athlete sought help. Le Clos says that was the “biggest mistake” of his life – to only seek help after the games.
“ I was in a dark place, even after the Olympics. I was super depressed.
“There were times where I was sitting in my room just crying by myself. I didn’t know why I was like that. It genuinely wasn’t about the Olympics. It was about my future and about me… it felt like I had fallen such a long way from where I was in terms of who I was as a person. It really wasn’t about swimming.”
In the process of healing, he did deep therapy, intense eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing therapy to work through his traumatic experience.
The star said he is more comfortable talking about it now as he is in a better place, something he couldn’t do a year before because he was a shell of himself.
Now getting back to his best, the swimmer won four gold medals in April at the SA Swimming Championships in Gqebeqha.