Britain’s most decorated Olympian, Charlotte Dujardin, has expressed sympathy for struggling American gymnast Simone Biles after her own battle with mental health issues earlier in her career.
The 36-year-old dressage rider took her Olympic medal tally to six in three Games with two bronze medals in Tokyo.
This placed her ahead of retired British rower Katherine Grainger – although track cyclist Laura Kenny could match or even overtake Dujardin in Japan.
Dujardin felt immense pressure after winning a double gold medal at the London Olympics in 2012, laying bare his struggles in his 2018 autobiography “The Dancing Horse Girl”.
“Depression was not something I had never really understood,” she wrote, saying she wanted to “hurt herself because she felt such pain”.
She said she punished herself by not eating, losing nearly two stones (13 kilograms) in weight.
Dujardin endured his traumatic episodes after the London Games, but Biles’ struggles were obvious to the world watching them at the gymnastics competition in Tokyo.
She pulled out in the women’s team final last week, struggling with ‘twisties’, a potentially dangerous condition that means gymnasts lose the ability to orient themselves in the air.
The American star, 24, then withdrew from a series of individual events, only returning on Tuesday for the beam final, in which she won bronze.
– ‘No turning back’ –
Dujardin, who had to battle a broken skull in 2009, said she can sympathize with Biles, who won four Olympic gold medals at the Rio 2016 Games.
“It’s hard to be successful,” she told AFP by phone from the stables she shares with her mentor Carl Hester in the southwest of England.
“It’s a tough place to be with the pressure and the expectations. These are pretty hard things to have on your shoulders all the time. “
Dujardin has faced other challenges, including breaking up after a 13-year relationship with her fiancé Dean Golding two years ago.
“I have to say that having the right people around to support you gets you through,” she said. “You just have to make sure you never get to the point that you don’t go back.
“I’m talking about ending your career, not anything else, and feeling like you can’t do it anymore. But with the right people, it can help prevent this. “
Since returning home, Dujardin has been partying with her friends and family who were unable to support her in Tokyo as visitors are not allowed to attend due to coronavirus restrictions.
The rider, who also won a gold medal in Rio, is still getting used to her new position as the most decorated British Olympian, at least for now.
“It was a wow moment,” she said. “I can’t really believe it. It is difficult to really quantify what I have accomplished.
“I didn’t realize it until the media kept asking ‘what is it doing’ and I was like ‘oh my God!’ – that with the second bronze medal I had beaten someone as legendary as Katherine Grainger’s record was unreal and you get such a thrill. “
© 2021 AFP