Gold medal-winning athletes swerve social media to avoid ‘external pressure’

CNN  — 

After Simone Biles’ withdrawal from both the women’s team gymnastics final and the individual all-around competition to focus on her mental health, other Olympic athletes have said they’ve come off social media platforms to protect their own mental well-being.

Biles – one of the greatest gymnasts of all time – stepped away from a dramatic team competition on Tuesday, citing mental health concerns in an attempt to protect “her body and mind.” On Wednesday, USA Gymnastics announced she would not be competing in the individual event, a decision they supported “wholeheartedly.”

And in light of Biles’ decision to prioritize her own mental state over competing, some gold medal-winning athletes at Tokyo 2020 have said they’ve taken steps to protect their own health.

Australian swimmer Ariarne Titmus, who has won two Olympic gold medals at Tokyo 2020 in the 200m and 400m freestyle, has said she has deleted every social media app on her phone to avoid “external pressure.”

“I think as much as messages from everyone is really beautiful, and it’s good to look at it a little bit, it can sometimes be a bit overwhelming,” she said after her victory in her latest duel with American Katie Ledecky in the women’s 200m freestyle final on Wednesday.

“So I’m only really speaking to my family, a tiny bit, not that much either. So I just tried to not read anything because I think that adds external pressure. I mean, I got my best friend last night to log into my Instagram to post a post for me.

“So I didn’t even log on and post but she said, like, ‘Mate, your notifications are out of control,’” the 20-year-old added. “So when I log back on, it’s going to be a bit hectic, I think. But I think it’s good to be able to be off that when you’re racing. It’s just another thing that you don’t have to worry about.”

After setting a new Olympic record of 53.50 seconds in the 200m to claim her second gold of the Games, Titmus admitted that while she had heard of Biles pulling out, she is trying to focus on herself while she’s competing.

“It’s a little bit strange, actually at an Olympic Games, and there’s multiple events going on,” she told the media. “But I feel like when you’ve got such narrow focus, you only really think about what you’re doing. And for me, this just feels like another swim meet. So I really am not looking too much externally.”

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Titmus reacts with her coach Dean Boxall after winning the gold medal in the women's 200m freestyle.

Overcoming heartbreak

For Dutch cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten, coming off social media was a choice she made to preserve her mental state after her heartbreaking silver medal in the women’s road race on Sunday.

As she crossed the line after completing the 147-kilometer course, she threw her arms aloft in celebration, thinking she’d won the gold medal.

However, she did not realize that Austria’s Anna Kiesenhofer had crossed the finish line well ahead of her competitors to take gold.

And in an effort to cope with the backlash she might have received on social media in the aftermath to her heartbreaking moment, van Vleuten decided to just stay off it.

After finally claiming a gold in the individual time trial on Wednesday, van Vleuten said she closed herself off from social media to aid her preparation.

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van Vleuten celebrates as she crosses the finishing line of the women's road race to win the silver medal.

“I closed myself from social media, and the message I took home from the road race was that I was in my best possible shape,” she told the media.

“I let everyone in the media … I left the Twitter account closed,” she added.

“I let everyone talk but the message I took from it said: I nailed it again to be in my best possible shape ever.”