Simone Manuel: interviews just after poor Olympic performances should stop

Two-time Olympic champion Simone Manuel has called for a halt to interviews immediately after athletes have suffered disappointing performances.

The American swimmer made the remarks on Twitter on Friday evening.

“Please stop interviewing athletes right after a disappointing performance before they have any time to process anything. Trust me. They gave it their all. Nothing else people need to know at that time,” she wrote.

“The amount of people who say we’re just sore losers or that we are ‘obligated’ to do the interviews is problematic. Lack of empathy for athletes is problematic. As someone who studied communication in college with multiple journalism classes, I understand the role of media.

“As an athlete, I’m hyper aware on how their role can be improved for the betterment of all of us. Personally, I believe there should be some type of/better training to know when/if to interview and how to talk about certain topics, victories, and disappointments alike.”

The pressure placed on athletes has been one of the main themes of the Tokyo Olympics. US gymnast Simone Biles pulled out of several events citing mental health concerns, and she later spoke about the pressure she felt coming into the Games, a sentiment other athletes have echoed. Athletes are often interviewed on live television immediately after their performances at the Olympics. On Friday, US 400m runner Michael Norman had to step away from a TV interview on NBC after missing out on a medal.

“Look at us as humans with emotions,” wrote Manuel. “It’s mentally and emotionally exhausting to coherently answer questions while trying to process the fact that people already saw you fall short of the goals you worked so hard for on the world’s biggest stage.

“So much of our life is public but not all our emotions have to be. For example: It’s not on public display when someone gets fired from their job or fails a test. As athletes, we aren’t obligated to give people all of our soul.

“And it seems like that’s what the media and some spectators like. By no means is this an attack on the media. Just offering solutions that I believe many athletes feel need to be made. Just give us a moment. The story can wait. Empathy and kindness is the most important thing we need in that moment.”

Manuel is well acquainted with the pressures of elite sport. She won two golds at the 2016 Games, becoming the first black woman to win an individual Olympic swimming title. However, her training for Tokyo 2020 was disrupted by Covid-19 and she was later diagnosed with burnout. She missed qualification for the 100m freestyle, which she won in 2016, and didn’t make the final of the 50m free, an event in which she won silver at Rio. She did, however, win bronze in the 4x100m freestyle relay.

Manuel also asked other athletes the worst question they had been asked by the media. Fellow US swimmer Lilly King replied: “Last time I saw you, you had just been disqualified at World Championships” ….yes thank you for the reminder”.

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