A Japanese swimmer is hoping the nation’s divisions might be healed by the Olympic gold rush.
Y. Ohashi Olympic Games Tokyo 2020
On Wednesday, Olympic swimmer Yui Ohashi accomplished something monumental for herself and for all of swimming history when she won gold in the women’s 200-meter individual medley.
After winning the 400-meter individual medley the week prior, she became the first Japanese female athlete to win two gold medals at the same Olympic Games.
With her victories at both the 200-meter and 400-meter individual medley events at Tokyo 2020, she became the seventh athlete in a row to accomplish this feat at the Olympics.
Ohashi crossed the finish line in 2 minutes, 8.52 seconds, winning the race ahead of Alex Walsh and Kate Douglass of Team USA.
Ohashi said Selina Wang, “It’s strange. Having finished the race, I still don’t feel like an Olympic swimmer, but here I am.
With the gold medal already in hand from the previous race, she says, “I was thinking I might lose, I might not be able to catch up, even up to 15 metres left.” “I told myself to try and do my best so that I could finish without any remorse.”
Are you Starting to feel the heat?
Ohashi, like many other competitors, had to deal with the strain of competing on a worldwide scale before she won two gold medals, as well as with voices of opposition to the Olympics and the question of whether or not they should be held at all.
Several public initiatives, including an online petition and protests in Japan’s capital, had already called for the cancellation of the Tokyo Olympics owing to the coronavirus pandemic by the time the Opening Ceremony began in July.
‘We, the athletes, went into the Olympics with a great deal of confusion,’ Ohashi explains.
Athletes had already been struggling financially and emotionally to maintain their focus on the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and the pandemic only made things worse. Some took up Uber Eats delivery as a way to make ends meet while others struggled to find a sustainable fitness routine while juggling parenthood.
Reaching an all-time low
Ohashi overcame more than just the pandemic on her way to Olympic glory.
In 2015, she experienced exhaustion on a regular basis, and despite training, her times continued to decline. At the national championships that year, she had the slowest time of any of the forty competitors in the 200-meter individual medley.
Once she found out she had anaemia after a battery of hospital tests, she “hit rock bottom,” as the Olympics website puts it.
Her health began to improve after she made certain changes to her diet and medication. She worked hard for two years, and it paid off when she won silver in the 200-meter individual medley at the 2017 FINA World Championships.
She tells, “I won a medal at the World Championships in 2017, but then I started feeling pressure, and there were occasions when I couldn’t control it,” but that experience helped her learn to manage her emotions.
But in 2019, Ohashi encountered yet another challenge as the stress of competition manifested itself in the form of worry. She was disqualified from the event she won silver in at the 2017 FINA World Championships due to a stroke regulation infringement in 2019.
Strength in Numbers
Ohashi, at age 25, can relate to the struggles faced by other young athletes who have spoken out against the pressure of public expectation.
More athletes are speaking out about the mental challenges that come with competing in the spotlight, from US gymnastics superstar Simone Biles’ withdrawal from Tokyo 2020 Olympics events to protect “her body and mind” to Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka’s hope that “people can relate and understand it’s OK to not be OK, and it’s OK to talk about it” in a magazine op-ed.
Both athletes got praise from their contemporaries like Aly Raisman, Usain Bolt, and Serena Williams, but they were also subjected to criticism, mockery, and scorn from some quarters.
Ohashi hopes that the public’s willingness to hear about Biles’ and Osaka’s mental health issues would lead to greater concern for and understanding of those who face similar challenges.
“I hope that the world will grow more supportive because there are certainly a lot of athletes that have mental health difficulties,” she says. There are some athletes out there who will be rescued by them coming out, and for that I am grateful.
In other words, “a Miracle Happened.”
Ohashi claims that the emotional and physical challenges she overcame in 2019 to win bronze in the 400-meter individual medley at the FINA World Championships strengthened her as an athlete.
At one point, she considered giving up swimming because of how challenging it was, but today she sees the benefits of her efforts.
As she looks back on her incredible performance at Tokyo 2020, she says, “Of course, I came this far thinking of earning a gold medal, but I never thought for a moment that I could win a gold medal, even though I had dreamed it.”
“I am happy of myself for winning two gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics, and I feel that my achievement could boost the Japanese swimming and sports worlds in the future,” she says.
Ohashi’s two Olympic golds represent more than just two victories to her. She thinks the tale of her triumph over adversity and Olympic gold will bring people together and help heal a divided country.
“I have received many responses from individuals who were inspired by athletes winning gold medals and other medals, seeing athletes striving so hard, therefore I am really delighted about that,” she says.
As she put it, “It was a miracle for me to participate in the Olympic Games in my own country, so it was a big event for me, and I hope that I was able to inspire people – it might be strange to say this but – inspire those who were against the Games, or people who were not so interested in sports, and I hope I’ve encouraged them even a bit.”