‘It’s important to support someone when they say they’re not coping’: Former world 400m champion Roger Black backs Ben Stokes and Simone Biles for putting mental health first
Former world and European 400m champion Roger Black has given his backing to England cricketer Ben Stokes and American gymnast Simone Biles after they withdrew from events last week to help their mental health.
‘It just so, so important to support someone when they speak out and say they’re not coping,’ Black, 55, told the Mail on Sunday.
‘This isn’t a new issue. We’ve all been there at one time or another dealing with similar things. It’s just that we’re talking about it these days, and that’s a good thing for society, and speaking as a parent, a positive thing.’
Former 400m world champion Roger Black gave his backing to Ben Stokes and Simone Biles
Black (right), said he ‘absolutely hated’ being at the 1992 Barcelona Games due to injury pain
Biles pulled out of two events at Tokyo 2020, saying she needed to put her mental health first, while Stokes has announced he will play no part in the forthcoming series against India ‘to prioritise his mental wellbeing.’
Black won three Olympic medals for Team GB across the 1992 and 1996 Games, a bronze in the relay while injured in Barcelona then silver in the individual and relay events in Atlanta.
‘I went to the Games in 1992 with an injury and in constant pain,’ he said.
‘You’re meant to be enjoying yourself but I absolutely hated it. I walked away with a bronze and it just didn’t mean much, and not because it was a bronze. I was struggling.
‘There are dark places and there are really dark places and I’m fortunate I had support and was back as a different athlete in 1996.
‘I know others who’ve been in dark places, like Kelly Holmes in the years before won two golds in Athens.
‘She’d overcome years of injuries and personal issues but the difference was she went into Athens having been physically and mentally fit for four, five, six months. When you’re not hurting physically, your mind is free.’
Stokes has withdrawn from England’s series with India to prioritise his mental wellbeing
Black also sympathised with Biles after she withdrew from several events at the Olympics
Black said that while injuries are often a factor in a decline in an athlete’s mental health, being in a good condition mentally was equally important.
And he dismissed criticism Stokes and Biles have got from some sections of society for being weak for withdrawing from competition.
‘When you walk out into an Olympic stadium or arena, you are totally exposed, and you need to be a good condition, physically and mentally, to excel,’ he said.
‘You might hear the occasional commentator or critic claim that Ben Stokes or Simone Biles are somehow weak for doing what they’ve done.
‘Well first I’d say if you think they became one of the best cricketers in the world and the best gymnast ever while being weak, you really don’t understand elite sport.
‘And almost certainly you haven’t been at the pinnacle of global sport, where the pressure can be so extraordinary.’