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Charlotte Worthington discusses mental impact of Olympic gold


Image source, Getty Images

Comment on the photo, Charlotte Worthington won Olympic gold in Tokyo

  • author, Jess Anderson
  • Role, BBC Sport journalist

Three years ago, British BMX racer Charlotte Worthington sat on her bike, her arm around her coach and a smile on her face, as she waited for the result of her final outing at the Tokyo Olympics.

You just made history when you became… The first woman to do a 360-degree backflip In the competition she was on the verge of achieving even more – her score of 97.50 led to her being crowned the first Olympic BMX Freestyle Champion.

What followed that moment of euphoria was a difficult period during which the 27-year-old struggled to balance her love of the sport with a desire to compete.

Worthington arrived in Japan to compete in the event, newly introduced for the 2020 Games, as a “total underdog” and left having achieved the Holy Grail in women’s BMX freestyle – catapulting her into the limelight.

“There’s a lot that I love about BMX, and I lost sight of that in the year after the Games,” she told BBC Sport.

“I lost a lot of fun and pushing myself and taking risks for it [thinking] Why do I do this anymore? Is it worth it? What’s really fun about this?”

Image source, Getty Images

Comment on the photo, Worthington’s 360-degree backflip was the highlight of her gold medal-winning routine

Worthington isn’t the first athlete to talk about the highs and lows of being an Olympic champion.

Worthington said she discussed her own issues with Beattie and other GB teammates after the Tokyo Games.

“He was going through a bit of a difficult phase and we talked and I asked him how you were doing after getting your first medal?” “Down the toilet,” she said.

“I’m so grateful to talk to the other athletes because if I hadn’t been able to talk to them it wouldn’t have felt much more normal.

“That’s why I don’t mind talking about it now because I’m sure it will help others.”

Image source, Getty Images

Comment on the photo, Charlotte Worthington celebrates after learning her winning result at the 2021 Games

‘It was not sustainable’

Worthington had only been riding for five years before the Olympics, having previously worked as a chef, and the sudden spotlight brought stress and challenges.

“I was a little girl from Manchester working in the kitchen, and suddenly I was on the Olympic stage and winning a gold medal,” she said.

“It was very stimulating at the time to think about what could be possible.

“But I would start treating every competition like the Olympics and then you realize how much preparation it actually has and that’s actually not sustainable.”

In the wake of her historic achievement, Worthington was awarded an MBE and people showed increasing interest in her career.

Far from approval and appreciation, she was struggling with an internal dilemma.

“It became all about competition, and when I started it wasn’t just about competition. I started because it was a fun thing to do after school with your mates,” she said.

“I had a lot of expectations that I put on myself. Suddenly I had sponsors and I was learning how to deal with all of that.”

Worthington decided to take a break from competing, go back to basics and rediscover what she loved about the sport.

It withdrew from last year’s World Cup in Montpellier, France, a competition attended by many who hoped to qualify for the Paris 2024 Games.

“I thought I would just focus on the things that shine for me in this sport and focus on those for a while,” she said.

“I didn’t have any agenda or training, I was just riding a BMX bike and that helped me rebuild.”

The 2019 European champion had planned to compete in the 2023 European Games but instead withdrew to focus on Olympic qualifying events, including the World Championships in Glasgow in August, where she finished seventh in the 11-player group.

“I’m still learning balance.”

Worthington is now preparing for the Olympic Qualifying Series where 48 competitors – 24 women and 24 men – will compete for Olympic quota spots May 17-19 in Shanghai and June 20-23 in Budapest.

One clear goal for Worthington is to be in Paris this summer. But most importantly, she is loving the sport again.

“I feel like I’m in a much better place. I’m still learning, I’m mainly focused on having fun and I’m still training alongside that, but I don’t want to push myself too far to where it’s not fun anymore,” she said.

“I don’t know if I would maintain my own standards because I set them so high.

“I’m still learning how to find that balance and compete, be competitive and push but not forget where I’m coming from and why I’m really doing it. The result is just a byproduct.”

Events from these tournaments are available to watch on BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sport website and app on 18 May from 19:00 to 22:30 GMT.

If you’ve been affected by any of the issues mentioned in this story, BBC action line It has links to organizations that can provide help and advice.



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