In a recent interview with Stellar magazine, swimming legend Ian Thorpe hailed Naomi Osaka for shining a spotlight on mental health in sports. The Australian commended Osaka's transparency regarding the matter, stating that mental health issues can affect people from all walks of life.
"I applaud her for showing people that mental-health issues can impact anyone," Thorpe said.
The five-time Olympic champion emphasized that athletes put overwhelming pressure on themselves to succeed. The Australian pointed out that while athletes may be capable of producing extraordinary results, at the end of the day they too are just human beings.
"It doesn’t matter how successful you see that person as being," Thorpe added. "Remember, athletes put higher expectations on themselves than anyone else. We may be able to create these superhero-like efforts in performances – but we are humans at the end of it."
Ian Thorpe himself has struggled with mental health issues throughout his life. He spent most of his professional career as a closeted gay man, which caused him a lot of anxiety. The Australian also considered committing suicide at one point in time and was admitted to a rehabilitation clinic in 2014 to deal with depression.
Naomi Osaka's stance on mental health has inspired other athletes
Prior to the start of the French Open, Naomi Osaka stated that she would be skipping press conferences during the event to prioritize her mental well-being. She withdrew from the claycourt Major after her first-round match following the backlash she received for her decision. Osaka also pulled out of Wimbledon later that year.
Naomi Osaka's actions led to a huge conversation on the topic of mental health in sports. Legendary American gymnast Simone Biles took a leaf out of the Japanese's book and withdrew from high-profile events at the Olympics to prioritize her mental wellbeing.
More recently, Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price voluntarily entered the NHL/NHL Players’ Association joint player assistance program after reportedly struggling with mental health issues.
Naomi Osaka is currently on a break from tennis and has not featured since her third-round exit at this year's US Open. In a recent appearance on the talk show, "The Shop: Uninterrupted," Osaka did reveal that she'll resume playing soon as she feels the desire to compete again.
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But exactly when she plans to return to action is a mystery. Her prolonged absence from the tour has caused her to drop out of the top 10 of the rankings for the first time since 2018, and her downside will continue if she does not return to the tour soon.