The five-time Olympian swim great, who won 23 gold medals, churned to glory while fighting depression and even thoughts of suicide. Hearing about gymnast Simone Biles’ decision to withdraw from the team competition over “mental health” concerns (she later pulled out of the all-around individual event as well), Phelps said Wednesday: “It broke my heart.”
“The Olympics is overwhelming,” Phelps told NBC’s Mike Tirico in Tokyo.
“We carry a lot of things, a lot of weight on our shoulders,” he added. “And it’s challenging, especially when we have the lights on us and all these expectations that are being thrown on top of us.”
Phelps has become a strong mental health advocate since his final Summer Games in 2016. He vividly recalled the pressure he was under during his athletic career.
“I felt like I was carrying, as Simone said, the weight of the world on your shoulders, so yeah, it’s a tough situation,” he said.
Phelps said he hoped Biles’ decision would enable others who are feeling overwhelmed to seek help and perhaps even expand the dialogue about well-being.
“It’s OK to not be OK,” he said.