Utah Sports Psychologist: Pandemic, Lack Of Fans Add To Mental Pressure For Olympic Athletes

Jul 27, 2021, 8:29 PM | Updated: Jul 14, 2023, 1:32 pm

TOKYO  The Tokyo Olympic Games are definitely different, and we knew it had the potential to throw athletes off their normal routines.

Normally, they do a lot of mental training to block out all the noise, but even Simone Biles said Tuesday that competing in an empty arena created added stress.

The KSL Olympic crew spoke with a sports psychologist with Intermountain Healthcare before they left for Tokyo, who told them that adjusting to the quiet might not be as easy as it sounds.

The rings are a big part of any Olympics, and while that’s true for Tokyo, there is one element of these Games that will be noticeably missing.

No crowds could make things very different mentally for what some athletes are used to.

“I’d say mental aspect is even more important than the physical aspect,” said Tony KemmochiPsy. D., sports psychologist with Intermountain Healthcare.

Kemmochi has experience working with high-performance athletes.

He said empty stands could affect some of them, especially knowing it’s because of COVID.

“With some athletes, what if they had some kind of trauma related to COVID already? Maybe they had lost a loved one to COVID, stuff like that, right? That may trigger some of the loss they experienced in the past,” said Kemmochi.

And when an athlete is trying to live up to an image, Kemmochi said that’s where one can start to get in trouble mentally.

“Many people expect athletes to be strong and put together, and sometimes, athletes take that and internalize and feel like they just can’t be a human,” he said.

The U.S. Olympic Committee has made mental health a priority for its athletes.

Don’t be surprised if an athlete takes a little more time to prepare mentally before taking off.

Like with everyone the past year, they’re adjusting.

“I do hope athletes can learn how to express and let it out, but at the same time, you don’t have to overdo it to the point that you feel too thrown off,” said Kemmochi.

KSL’s Alex Cabrero talked to another Olympian — climber Kyra Condie from Salt Lake City — who said one of her biggest struggles would not be having her parents in Tokyo to cheer her on.

It’s still unclear tonight if Simone Biles will return for the individual event competitions, which start Wednesday in Tokyo.

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Utah Sports Psychologist: Pandemic, Lack Of Fans Add To Mental Pressure For Olympic Athletes