A story of self-doubt and the Olympics

Tokyo 2020 started on 23 July 2021 and ended on 5th September 2021. This has got to be one of the most cautious and exasperating Olympics, delayed for a whole year and held amidst a pandemic, with persistent anti-Olympic protesters calling for the games to be canceled.

But today I want to take a step back and talk about mental health, specifically of the athletes. Naomi Osaka, the Tokyo Olympics torch bearer and tennis superstar brought the issue of athlete mental health to the forefront, and in her own words: ‘it’s OK to not be OK’.

Olympics is a hotbed for self-doubt and self-criticism. There are no consolation prizes for athletes who didn’t bag a medal, who were disqualified, or who were eliminated. The stakes were high, if you didn’t make the cut, you are out. Maybe you would get a pat on your back, supportive teammates, an increase in social media following? or if you’re lucky maybe make it to the headlines briefly. Athletes train 4 years for one event, and only have one shot at that elusive Gold. In a competition with clear rules, you can’t negotiate your way around, and in the case of Ziyad Zolkefli, it was the forfeiture of a Gold medal.

The Malaysian Paralympian delegation won 3 Gold, and 2 Silver; whereas our Olympian delegation won 1 Silver and 1 Bronze. Those who won may become a household name, whereas those who lost may be forgotten very quickly. But this is not only about fame, it also involves prize money (SHAKAM), pension, future opportunities, and so on. Athletes were expected to perform under intense pressure, to take defeat in stride, and not to mention all their mistakes would be dissected and analysed by both professionals and coffee-shop critics. I don’t know about you, but to me – this is not for the faint-hearted.

I felt strongly after watching Nur Dhabitah Sabri ‘crying’ video, where she was talking about issues such as self-esteem and doubt, superstar gymnasts such as Simone Biles withdrew from the competition to focus on her mental health, and Chen Long was called ‘useless’ for not winning Badminton Gold, there were also hurtful comments like “Hurry up and move aside. Don’t hold up the development of Chinese badminton”.

Our Paralympian sprinter Ridzuan Puzi, also known as Dek Wan came in 4th at the T36 100m sprint, he failed to defend his Rio 2016 Gold, and this defeat must have been a bitter pill to swallow.

I have deep respect for all of the athletes, abled and differently-abled, but not everybody is so forgiving of a defeat. Such is life.

Everyone of us would go through pockets of self-doubt in different phases of our lives, we may start to question our choices, our decisions, our sacrifices, or even ourselves. To me, a little self-doubt is fine, it could be an indication of something that needs fixing, it is fine as long as it doesn’t consume and disable you.

For me, the long lockdown gave me more time for reflecting (after finishing my work, and house chores), whether we are heading in the right direction, whether our struggles are worthwhile, what would the future of our nation be if we continue on this trajectory. And of course some personal struggles.

I am then reminded of our athletes, their tenacity and perseverance, so single-mindedly driven towards excellence, they encourage me, they inspire me, because what kind of a wimp am I if I were to give up so easily?

This is a gentle reminder for all of us who occasionally doubt ourselves: Do not give up, even if you didn’t win that medal, you are stronger because of it. And sometimes, it’s OK to not be OK.


Joyce Tan is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
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Joyce Tan
Author: Joyce Tan

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