Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Tom Dumoulin opens up on mental health and the merits of his break from cycling
“Everybody knows that I had a strange year. I was overtrained in the spring and also mentally I definitely needed to step back and take a helicopter view of my cycling career, about my life and what I want to do in the future. I set my goal for today actually. I wanted to get a medal here," Tom Dumoulin told Eurosport. You want it? We have it. Stream every Olympic event live on discovery+.
'Super special' - Dumoulin reflects on silver medal and 're-finding love for cycling'
But his team, Jumbo-Visma, welcomed him back to racing in June. And Dumoulin, who says that he could not have beaten Primoz Roglic to gold even if he had continued racing through the season, says that the medal is a result of him having rediscovered his love for the sport.
“It’s super special,” Dumoulin told Orla Chennaoui in Tokyo.
“Everybody knows that I had a strange year. I was overtrained in the spring and also mentally I definitely needed to step back and take a helicopter view of my cycling career, about my life and what I want to do in the future.
"It was very necessary and useful and very cool also, I had a really good time actually. And I re-found my love for the bike and for professional cycling.
“I set my goal for today actually. I wanted to get a medal here and aim for the highest, which was a medal for me, maybe not even gold.
I’m super happy with silver, this is a silver medal with a gold touch for me.
Dumoulin also finished second in the time trial in Rio five years ago. But the Dutchman says that this medal means more.
“This is definitely more special to me. With my time off and my setbacks in the last couple of months, it’s very special this one.”
'What a day!' - Roglic celebrates gold glory in time trial
Dumoulin’s decision to take a step back from the sport due to mental fatigue, and Jumbo-Visma’s willingness to support him, was celebrated as a gear-shift in the attitude towards mental health in cycling.
And a contented Dumoulin says he is back and in a better place thanks to his break.
“It’s me doing my thing, me listening to what I needed at that time and what I need now,” he told Eurosport.
“I don’t want to be a fighter for whatever, I’m taking my decisions in life and I’m very happy that I did.
“I can only encourage everyone, not to do the same choices, but to sometimes take a step back and to look at your life. That’s good.”
Tom Dumoulin of Team Netherlands rides during the Men's Individual time trial on day five of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Fuji International Speedway on July 28, 2021 in Oyama, Shizuoka, Japan.
Image credit: Getty Images
The subject of mental health is a dominant narrative of the Tokyo Games, after four-time Olympic gold medallist Simone Biles withdrawing from the team gymnastics competition after the first rotation.
Biles has subsequently opened up on her mental health struggles in the face of feeling the “weight of the world” on her shoulders, and has also withdrawn from Thurday’s all-around final.
And Wiggins says that Dumoulin, like Biles, has been extremely brave to have the courage to open up on his struggles.
"Elite sport is brutal and the demands and pressures athletes put on themselves are such a high standard now,” Wiggins said.
It feels like life and death when you’re out there. It’s OK when you get further down the line, you’re out the sport and it feels not that important. But it’s important when you’re doing it and that’s what becomes hard.
"I’d like to think cycling has changed a bit this year with what Tom [Dumoulin] has done. It’s testament to Tom as it’s come from his courage to say I want a break. It’s a brave thing to do because there’s no guarantee of coming back but he’s walked the walk."
Wiggins added: "It’s a testament to his team as well, it might set to pathway for some sort of welfare within the sport, that people can go away to have a breather without the pressure of contracts – which is difficult in this day and age.”
'We're having that conversation now' - Bradley Wiggins on athletes and mental health
Wiggins: I was insecure as an athlete
Meanwhile, five-time Olympic gold-medallist Wiggins has openly discussed his mental health struggles in the past.
In a frank conversation with fellow Team GB stars Adam Gemili and Andrew Pozzi on Eurosport’s Gemili & Poz podcast, Wiggins provided a deep insight into his life as an elite athlete.
“I was insecure in many ways as an athlete really,” Wiggins admitted.
“I had a veil and fronted as a bit of a rock star and things like that. I played the guitar – that was all just a front really.
“It wasn’t really me – it was just a veil that I hid behind.”
‘I came from a dysfunctional family on a council estate’ – Wiggins on his upbringing
The 2012 Tour de France champion added: “You’re expected to be so mentally strong when you’re an athlete – people say – ‘oh you won the Tour de France, you must be so mentally strong’. But it doesn’t correlate to normal life.
“I think a lot of elite athletes are insecure – I was very insecure off the bike – constantly questioning myself, constantly doubting myself.
“But when I could execute a performance, I seemed to be able to have something that dialled in and was able to block out all the emotion and everything. But off it, I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
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