Borders wheelchair racing champion and Paralympic hopeful Sammi Kinghorn talks about mental health in sport

Borders wheelchair race champ Samantha Kinghorn believes mental health is a critical issue in sport – and she is glad it’s being discussed.

Thursday, 26th August 2021, 2:07 pm
Updated Friday, 27th August 2021, 10:45 am

The former T53 double world champion, from Gordon, is due in action this weekend at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo, competing in the T53 100 metres, 400m and 800m, plus the 4x100m universal relay.

Before heading for the Japanese capital, she said she would fight very hard for a medal – but all she could do was give her best performance.

There was heavy pressure and expectation on athletes in a range of sports to win, she said, and that could often give rise to the kind of controversial debate over the mental state of performers, which had taken on a high profile in global sport. Notable cases recently were gymnast Simone Biles pulling out of several Olympic events and tennis player Naomi Osaka withdrawing from the French Open and Wimbledon.

“Your state of mind comes before anything else in life,” said Kinghorn, 25. “Make sure you are happy, fit and well in your own head, because you're not going to compete as well if you’re not there and ready in your own head. So that's going to make it even worse if you don't do as well as you think you should be doing – and it's hard as an elite athlete, because we are expected to do well at these games.

"Our funding and everything relies on it, so it puts a lot of pressure on you mentally, especially for some athletes who have been doing it year after year after year without really getting a break at any point until they retire one day.

"It is a lot of mental strain and I am glad it's getting spoken about a bit more, because it's definitely not easy to have the world of pressure.

"It's just the little things – people are like ‘well, good luck – go for gold’. And suddenly you’re thinking ‘oh gosh, if I don't get gold will they not be proud of what I have achieved?’ and little things like that. That pressure constantly that fifth or sixth isn't good enough any more.

"Well, fifth or sixth in the world at something – why isn't that good enough? It's a constant pressure and a constant battle with yourself, just if you don't think you're doing well or having the same motivation and determinaton, because that comes and goes with everyone, even elite athletes.”