RARELY does any commentary about elite sport fail to mention pressure. 

The internal pressure coming from the athletes themselves and the external pressure coming from funders, sponsors and expectant fans; it is omnipresent. 

The Olympics is, of course, the most pressurised environment of them all. 

Four years of training, five in this case, have been focused on performing on one specific day. 

In most cases, it is a lifetime of dreaming about this moment. 

How can anyone be ready for that kind of pressure? 

It’s why it’s no surprise when athletes crumble under that weight of expectation.  

Often, it’s called ‘bottling it’. That’s grossly unfair, but that’s the way of the world when everyone watching from home has an opinion on what’s gone wrong. 

When athletes rise to the occasion, embrace the pressure and perform their best, it’s recognised, but rarely is the true feat of that achievement appreciated. 

Their greatness is enjoyed, but it’s also expected. Anything less is deemed a failure. 

But to get to the top is hard; to remain there is a hundred times harder. 

This fact has been brought to the fore in astonishing fashion over recent days.  

The dominant story of the first week of Tokyo 2020 is not one anyone expected. 

So much for the predictions that Covid, the lack of crowds or the first-ever transgender athlete competing in the Olympics would command the spotlight. 

Instead, it has been Simone Biles, the greatest female gymnast of all time, and her withdrawal from the women’s team competition, as well as the subsequent individual finals, that has been the biggest story of them all. 

The Herald:

Biles began the team final, but following an aborted vault, she withdrew. 

In the aftermath, she admitted getting the ‘twisties’ – effectively the yips - and she feared for her safety if she continued. 

In the past few days, Biles has talked about her mental health and the impact the pressure that is piled upon her has had. 

She is, she says, “battling demons”, the extent of which she has never experienced before.  

What is remarkable about Biles is the openness with which she has talked about the mental heath challenges she is suffering. 

It is something that as recently as the last Olympics would have been unheard of. 

Biles has attracted a degree of criticism – mainly from the expected channels – calling her a quitter and that you shouldn’t be in sport if you can’t deal with the pressure. 

That is, of course, ridiculous, and most sane people wouldn’t give that kind of criticism the time of day. 

The praise American has attracted for both her willingness to put her mental health first and also her openness in revealing her feelings has been widespread. 

It is easy to see that for anyone suffering mental health issues, it becomes much more acceptable when you realise one of the greats of the sporting world faces similar challenges. 

Biles owed the explanations she has given over the past few days to no one. 

She should be widely commended for her willingness to lay bare her struggles. 

We may or may not see Biles in the competitive arena in Tokyo.  

To overcome what she is feeling in the space of just a few days would be remarkable. Perhaps her greatest-ever achievement. 

Whether she returns in Tokyo or not though, we have to wonder how things ever got to this point. 

It’s not just Biles; similarly, Naomi Osaka felt forced to time away from the tennis tour to help her mental health recently. 

The Herald:

It would be nice to think people will reassess if the pressure put on these athletes, particularly young women, is healthy. 

This is unlikely. 

But, in the short-term at least, perhaps it will make everyone watching these greats of the sporting world realise that being the best in the world can never be taken for granted.  

Pressure may be ever-present in elite sport, but dealing with it requires a super-human effort that few are able to muster unscathed. 


It is GB’s medals, understandably, that have caught the attention over the past week. 

However, it is not a medal-winning performance that has been, for me, one of the real highlights of the opening week of Tokyo 2020. 

Few are unfamiliar with Helen Glover’s story.  

Two rowing gold medals in 2012 and 2016 were followed by the birth of three children.  

The postponement of these Games allowed the opportunity for a comeback, with the fairytale ending that everyone wanted being a place on the podium. 

In the end, it wasn’t to be; fourth place in the women’s pair left Glover, and her partner, Polly Swann, just off the medal positions but Glover’s attitude in the aftermath of crossing the line was truly refreshing. 

“I just want to tell them (her children) you can do anything you want to do – trying and failing is no problem as long as you tried,” she said. 

“And that goes out to not only my children but everyone out there.” 

In a world in which it seems only medals matter, and even then, for some, if it is not gold, it is almost worthless, Glover’s words are exactly what we need to hear. 

It’s easy to watch the Olympics and believe that the journey is only worthwhile if it ends in an Olympic medal. 

Glover is the perfect reminder that is so far from the truth.