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After their events have concluded it’s customary for Olympic athletes to indulge in some well deserved festivities to celebrate their achievements.
This year, it’ll be a very different story. Just like everyone else who has returned to our shores for the past year, the Australian Olympic team members have two weeks of isolated zoom drinks and care package unboxing to look forward to.
So, the Australian Olympic Committee has curated a specialised mental health program for the athletes, coaches and support team for the 14 days of hotel quarantine and beyond, and as they come off the highs and lows of being on the world stage.
The first participants in the program will be members of the gold and bronze-winning Australian rowing team who arrived in Sydney on Sunday morning. According to the COVID rules at the Tokyo Games, athletes must depart the Olympic village 48 hours after the completion of their final event.
The Australian Olympic Committee’s chief executive Matt Carroll said the “AOC quaranteam” program was focused on ensuring athletes and their teams could connect, maintain a healthy sleep cycle and have 24-hour access to psychological care while remaining isolated in their hotel rooms.
The struggle athletes face after the Olympics is not new. After the 2012 London Games, the now retired Michael Phelps said he contemplated suicide despite being at the height of his career.
Carroll said the AOC has learnt from previous Olympics that the first period after the Games is critical, “irrespective of whether they’re on a high or low after the Olympics, the return home for athletes is a very important issue. This year we’re dealing with a situation where they can’t even get a hug from a loved one,” he said.
Before Tokyo, NBA all-star and Opals player Liz Cambage, pulled out of Tokyo for fears her mental health would suffer at the lack of access to her support network. The world’s most decorated gymnast, Simone Biles, has also pulled out of several final events at the Games due to a mental-health related block known as “the twisties”.
The program focuses on what life will be like after the Games, and involves activities like website design and strategies for those who intend to retire or expand their skill set, in addition to training programs for those who will continue to compete.
To mitigate the effects of isolation, the AOC has organised an array of virtual activities ranging from trivia to “group exercises” to keep them entertained and connected to those they met in Tokyo.
“We’re even looking at dance nights with music they can tune into from their rooms as a kind of virtual party for those in quarantine.
“The hotels have been excellent and have engaged with us to ensure we can support the athletes. They’ve even decorated their foyers with balloons and signs that say ‘welcome home’,” Carroll said.
Injured athletes would have access to physiotherapy and medical care but, like anyone else, would not be able to exercise outside their hotel rooms.
“We’ve organised yoga mats and resistance bands and they’ll be able to access at-home exercise equipment.”
While the AOC has put together gift packs for the team, the athletes and staff have also organised their own quarantine kits with clothes from home before they departed, “just in case for what ever reason they tire of wearing the gold and green”.
The rowers are the first of more than 850 to return home to Australia from Tokyo. Around 189 team members will go back to other destinations between now and August 13.
At this stage, the US and some parts of Europe do not make vaccinated individuals to quarantine upon arrival from overseas. But upon arrival in Australia, the Olympians are transferred to government administered hotels and facilities to undertake mandatory supervised quarantine. As the bulk of athletes have been vaccinated they will not be required to “double quarantine” if they arrive in a state they do not reside in.
The AOC estimates hotels in Sydney will accommodate 367 athletes while Brisbane and Darwin will each take on 200. Perth is expecting 64 and Melbourne 22. Another three are likely to quarantine in South Australia.
Carroll said the returning team members would not affect the arrival capacity available for other Australians seeking to return home from overseas.
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