A 24-year-old woman who represented New Zealand at the 2016 Rio Olympics has been found dead – prompting the country’s cycling federation to say it would review its mental health support for athletes.
Olivia Podmore, a track cyclist who also participated in the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games but did not take part in the Tokyo Games, died at a property in Waikato on Monday afternoon, Reuters reported, citing a police spokesman.
The cause of death was not confirmed but friends and sports officials said the tragic loss had raised concerns about the athlete’s mental health.
The New Zealand Herald reported that Podmore outlined pressures of competing at the highest level in an Instagram post earlier Monday that was later removed.
“Right now for us it’s about focusing on the well being of the people who are here and having to deal with this loss,” Cycling New Zealand Chief Executive Jacques Landry told reporters
“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,” he added.
Eric Murray, 39, a former Olympic rowing champion, described his friend’s death as a “shock and a tragedy,” adding that he was with Podmore on Monday.
“I wish she had said something,” Murray told reporters. “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.”
He added: “That’s why there’s so much talk about mental health at the moment.”
The New Zealand Olympic Committee said it was “deeply saddened” by Podmore’s death.
“We offer our deepest condolences to family, friends and others in the NZ community who are grieving this loss,” it said in a statement.
“We are providing wellbeing support for members of her team and the wider team as we return home from Tokyo,” the committee said.
“Olivia represented New Zealand with honour and pride at both the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. She was a valued team member and her loss will be felt across the New Zealand Sporting Community,” it added.
The issue of athletes struggling with their mental health has made headlines since Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open and US gymnast
Simone Biles pulled out of most of her events in Tokyo.
Biles, who said she needed to focus on her mental health, went on to win a bronze medal in the balance beam.
The late Olympian’s brother, Mitchell Podmore, posted on Facebook: “Rest in peace to my gorgeous sister and loved daughter of Phil Podmore. You will be in our hearts forever.”