The USA’s 2008 Olympic all-around individual gold medallist Nastia Liukin was working as a broadcaster at Tokyo 2020 when mental health was in the spotlight.

Nastia believes that, as athletes, you should never be defined by your accomplishments, and that recognising this is crucial to your well-being.

Tokyo 2020 saw the introduction of the Mentally Fit Helpline, available to all Olympians and Paralympians during and up to three months after the Games.

Caring for your mental health should be a priority throughout your entire athletic career, through both your challenges and successes.

Unconditional love

Both my parents had competed in gymnastics. My mum was a world champion in rhythmic gymnastics, while my dad won two gold and two silver medals at Seoul 1988. I was fortunate that my dad was also my coach. If anyone could help me prepare mentally for the Olympic Games, it was my dad. He shared his experiences with me, and he knew what to expect.

We were a team: I was the athlete, my dad was the coach, and my mum was the glue that held us together. Aside from sharing their experiences, my mum would always remind me that no matter what happened, they would still love me, and that the love they had for me wouldn’t change.

It’s so important for you to remember that you’re never going to be defined by an accomplishment, and you will always be loved and supported, regardless of what you do on the competition floor.

Coping mechanisms

As well as having the love and support of my family, visualisation was a key part of my mental preparation. I would run my routine over and over in my head. I also read a lot of books. If I was in my hotel room or at the Olympic Village, I loved to read and take my mind off competing.

It’s impossible to know how you’ll feel until you’re actually at the Games and, as athletes, we can overthink things too much. Reading was something that distracted me. Physically, I was prepared; mentally, I was trying to stay present and to relax as much as possible.

Check in with yourself

Every athlete wants to win titles and gold medals, but you must remember that you’re still human. Part of being human is making sure that you’re okay, and that should come before anything else. You can still work towards your goals and your dreams – it’s about finding balance.

When your competition ends, what matters is that you can walk away feeling safe, in one piece, and with the rest of your life ahead of you.

For advice and resources on how you can support your mental health, check out #MentallyFit.

Caring for your mental health should be a priority throughout your entire athletic career, through both your challenges and successes.

Nastia Liukin

Tokyo 2020 athletes can access the Mentally Fit Helpline for up to three months after the Games. It’s free, confidential, and available 24 hours a day in over 70 languages.