Is there an Olympic curse? Some may think that being a celebrated Olympian is the highest you can go, and while that may be true, there’s a history of Olympic heroes who crash and burn after the Olympics. These people are held up to such high standards that they suffer when everything quiets down and the endorsements deal end.
While there’s huge coverage on Olympic events, what most don’t witness is the depression and dark times these Olympians go through after the games finish. Training for four years every day for a chance at gold and having the moment vanish after two weeks might weigh on an Olympian’s mind in a way we don’t expect it to. Leading up to the Rio Olympics, swimmers Michael Phelps, Allison Schmitt, Amanda Beard, and gymnast McKayla Maroney explained that they all suffered dark times after going for the gold.
A spotlight was put on this due to a 2012 memoir from Olympic swimmer Amanda Beard. The memoir was titled In the Water, They Can’t See You Cry. It went on to detail her struggle with depression due to the pressure of competing in the sport.
Live Strong writes that there is a link between depression and competitive sports.
“Individual and personal sports create a high pressure environment that focuses on winning and achieving progress. Setbacks, whether because of a loss or an injury, may challenge an athlete’s esteem and feelings of self worth and contribute to the development of depression.”
— Lovely Book Comments (@MoogMeBooks) May 20, 2014
In the case of Michael Phelps, the most celebrated Olympian of all time, he has been open about his battle with alcoholism following the Olympics and the DUIs that he has under his belt. While he had major endorsement deals drop him as a brand, Phelps’ rock bottom might have come before that.
Phelps has been very vocal about how he let himself down during the 2012 Olympics because he failed to train as hard as he usually does due to suffering from depression.
On the Today show, Phelps had this to say about his frame of mind.
“Leading into London, I didn’t want anything to do with the sport. I think I was just over it. I think personally I had a lot of struggle getting through the four years after ’08.”
According to the New York Times, coach Bob Bowman said to Phelps back in 2014 during his darkest year, “He had no idea what to do with the rest of his life. It made me feel terrible. I remember one day I said: ‘Michael, you have all the money that anybody your age could ever want or need; you have a profound influence in the world; you have free time — and you’re the most miserable person I know. What’s up with that?”
In September 2014, Phelps was arrested for the second time for a DUI.
— Yahoo TV (@YahooTV) April 27, 2016
Of his DUI arrest, Phelps told the Today show, “I was at the lowest place I’ve ever been. Honestly, I sort of at one point, I just, I felt like I didn’t wanna see another day — felt like it should be over.”
His long road back to Rio consisted of going to rehab for six weeks and getting in touch with his estranged father, to whom he hadn’t spoken in 10 years. He’s now engaged and father to a baby boy named Boomer, and he is closing his time at Rio on top.
— Silver Hill Hospital (@SilverHillHosp) August 12, 2016
As for Allison Schmitt, Phelps’ teammate and friend, she has also suffered from depression. Schmitt opened up that after experiencing her second Olympics in London in 2012, Schmitt experienced depression that almost ended her career. In an interview with the Today show, Schmitt said this about the trying time.
“When I woke up in the morning, I would look forward to going back to bed. As soon as my alarm went off, I knew that it’s time for practice. But my thoughts were, ‘Okay when can I get back into bed. I was failing every time I dove into the pool…A place that I loved, a sport that I loved. (I would) dive in every time and fail, what I thought was failing. I didn’t know what else to do.”
While Schmitt’s career didn’t end — she has since won a gold medal in Rio — some athletes have to completely walk away from the sport. Gymnast McKayla Maroney became a walking meme in the 2012 London Olympics for her “not impressed face.” She was widely celebrated at the games and was a fan favorite, but she was a no-show for Rio.
— Slate (@Slate) August 11, 2016
Maroney explained that she left gymnastics and went through an “identity crisis.” Maroney opened up to Us Weekly about finding herself.
“‘I lost myself. It was an identity crisis, no doubt.’ After leaving the sport due to health issues, Maroney said, ‘I would go and meet people and they’d tell me, You’re the gymnast. And I’m like, now that I’m no longer a competing gymnast, it throws people off and that would throw me off. I don’t want to let people down. It was such a big test for me to be like, you know what? No! I’m worth more than a gold medal. I’m worth more than being a gymnast. I am not what I do. I am who I am and I’m what I love.'”
That said, she enjoys rooting for former colleagues Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas.
[Photo by Lee Jin-man/AP Images]