Beyond Tokyo: What happens next?
For us common folk, after all is said and done, the Olympics seamlessly fades into a collage of fond memories, and we all resume our regular work and sleep schedules. But despite most performing to the best of their ability, the reality is, most athletes aren’t boarding the plane home with a medal – and this can really be a tough pill to swallow for some.
Quite often, an athlete’s sense of identity is linked with their athletic ability, and “underachieving” is something that they might struggle with. Interestingly, Andrew Bennie and his colleagues recently found many athletes have a negative post-Olympic experience. In fact, those who failed to meet their perceived performance expectations (whether winning gold or hitting a PB), or were generally dissatisfied with their performance overall, experienced long-term psychological distress as a result.
The rise and fall of the “Olympic celebrity” is something which athletes often have to navigate, particularly on their arrival home. Following the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Howells & Lucassen reported that those who did not medal were often met with a sense of unaccomplishment from the general public (as perceived by the athletes). As you can imagine, thinking that you are not worth someone’s time just because you didn’t place in the top three would really start to play with your head.
For those who are not fortunate enough to simply continue their athlete careers (e.g. soccer players heading straight back into their national leagues), another factor they have to contend with is getting on with their pre-Olympic lives. At the end of the day, an athlete is no different to the rest of us, but having to go back to work or completing mundane, everyday tasks just isn’t exciting. Again, Howells & Lucassen highlighted how after the 2016 Olympic Games, a number of the athletes they spoke to felt completely unmotivated or genuinely disinterested in their “normal” lives.