Olympic Medalist Olivia Podmore’s Death Spurs Cycling Federation to Review Mental Health Guidelines

by Leanne Stahulak

The world continues to mourn for the sudden death of Olympic medalist Olivia Podmore. But the tragic event also raised questions about mental health support for professional athletes.

The New Zealand Olympic Committee confirmed the cyclists’ death on Monday in a heartbreaking message. Though her cause of death is unknown at this time, CNN reports that police responded to calls about a “sudden death in Cambridge.”

“Police are making enquiries in relation to the death on behalf of the Coroner. The Coroner will release their findings in due course,” officers told CNN.

While Podmore didn’t compete in this year’s 2020 Tokyo Olympics, she did represent New Zealand at the 2016 Rio Olympics. She also raced in the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Olivia Podmore was a fantastic cyclist, but she confessed on her Instagram page that being a professional athlete comes with its struggles. This message was posted just hours before her death, though it’s since been taken down.

“Sport is an amazing outlet for so many people. It’s a struggle, it’s a fight, but it’s so joyous,” Olivia Podmore wrote. “The feeling when you win is unlike any other. But the feeling when you lose, when you don’t get selected even when you qualify, when you’re injured, when you don’t meet society’s expectations such as owning a house, marriage, kids, all because [you’re] trying to give everything to your sport is also unlike any other.”

Podmore’s post raises serious concerns about her emotional state before she died. While nothing has been confirmed, reports have come in that New Zealand’s cycling federation is renewing focus on athletes’ mental health.

Olivia Podmore’s Death Sparks Mental Health Discussions

According to Reuters, Cycling New Zealand is reviewing its mental health guidelines. The outlet says that Olivia Podmore reportedly reached out to support services provided for athletes about her mental health.

“Right now for us it’s about focusing on the wellbeing of the people who are here and having to deal with this loss,” Cycling New Zealand Chief Executive Jacques Landry said at a media conference. “There will be a time for us actually to review and look at if and where we would have had missteps or where we didn’t act properly.”

The New Zealand Olympic Committee is also trying to support the cyclists coming home from Tokyo, some of whom were Olivia Podmore’s teammates.

“We are providing wellbeing support for members of her team and the wider team as we return home from Tokyo,” NZOC said in a statement.

But Eric Murray, Podmore’s friend and a former Olympic rower, visited her hours before she died. He wishes more could’ve been done before her death. The 39-year-old also described it as a “shock and a tragedy.”

“I wish she had said something,” Murray said. “We have lost a sister, a friend, and a fighter who lost that will of fight inside of her. If you had seen her in the last 72 hours, you wouldn’t have thought this could happen. That’s why there’s so much talk about mental health at the moment.”