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'We still have a long way to go' | Olympian Missy Franklin reflects on the mental health movement in sports

In different countries across different sports, some of the world's most dominant physical athletes are opening about mental health.

ATLANTA — Mental health took center stage in Tokyo last year. 

"It's okay to sometimes sit out the big competitions to focus on yourself," Simone Biles said in a press conference at the Summer Olympics, where she famously removed herself from some of the competitions to prioritize her mental health. 

A similar conversation came up in Beijing at the Winter Games this year.

"I put pressure on myself to be perfect at all times, and that would cause a lot of issues," two-time Olympic snowboarder Chloe Kim said. She announced she would take the 2022-2023 season off to focus on her mental health. 

Olympic skier Mikaela Shiffrin felt it at the most recent Winter Games, too. The skiing star crashed out and did not finish three of her races. 

"I couldn't tell you why in those moment in those races it not only didn't work, but it like it was like the worst of it not working," she said. 

Athletes spoke up again in France. Tennis star Naomi Osaka dropped out of the French Open in 2021, citing mental health issues in a Tweet.

"The truth is, I have suffered long bouts of depression since the U.S. Open in 2018," Osaka said in her Twitter post. "I'm going to take some time away from the court right now, but when the time is right I really want to work with the Tour to discuss ways we can make things better." 

In different countries across different sports, some of the world's most dominant physical athletes are opening about mental health.

It’s a movement that’s gained momentum since the 2016 Rio Games.

Five-time Olympic gold medalist, Missy Franklin, is known for her big smile and bubbly personality.  After the Rio games she opened up about her mental health.

"It was really difficult the first time I talked about my own mental health struggles publicly," Franklin told 11Alive's Cheryl Preheim. "I had no idea what the backlash was going to be." 

Anxiety., depression after a devastating injury, hateful comments - all magnified under the world's microscope. 

Franklin said she remembers how it all started for her.

"I remember in London and I think it was on Twitter, but I remember getting and reading my first, I guess you would say, hateful comments," she recalled. "I just remember being like totally blown away like, oh, my gosh, I'm just out here swimming."

After years of work, therapy and prioritizing her mental health, the former Georgia Bulldog is committed to being an advocate as she cares for her growing family.

"We all know that life brings change. And sometimes that change is wonderful, and sometimes that change is really hard," she said. "Being able to to love yourself no matter what it is you're going through, no matter what period of life you're in, how you're showing up every day, knowing you're just doing your best and surrounding yourself with people that are going to love you no matter what."

Franklin salutes Simone, Naomi, Chloe, Mikaela and other athletes keeping the conversation going. 

"We have come such a long way. The conversations we're having now are great," she said. "We need to recognize our progress and celebrate that. But we do still have a long way to go."

Her message to anyone, athlete or not:

"No matter what you're experiencing in your life, particularly as an athlete, whether you're succeeding, whether your results have been disappointing, you are enough right now as you are."

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