New Zealand to review athletes' mental health support after Podmore death

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WELLINGTON, Aug 10 (Reuters) - New Zealand's cycling federation said on Tuesday it would review its mental health support for athletes following the sudden death of Olympian Olivia Podmore at the age of 24.

Podmore cycled at the 2016 Rio Olympics and the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast but was not part of New Zealand's team at the recent Tokyo Games.

A New Zealand police spokesman said police attended a sudden death at a property in Waikato on New Zealand's upper North Island at about 4 p.m. (0400 GMT) on Monday.

Podmore's cause of death was not confirmed but a friend raised concerns about her mental health and sports officials said the cyclist had reached out to support services offered to athletes.

"Right now for us it's about focusing on the wellbeing of the people who are here and having to deal with this loss," Cycling New Zealand Chief Executive Jacques Landry told a media conference.

"There will be a time for us actually to review and look at if and where we would have had missteps or where we didn't act properly."

Former Olympic rowing champion Eric Murray, a friend of Podmore, said he was with her on Monday and described her death as a "shock and a tragedy."

"I wish she had said something," the 39-year-old told reporters in Cambridge, a high performance hub in New Zealand for cycling and other sports.

"We have lost a sister, a friend and a fighter who lost that will of fight inside of her.

"If you had seen her in the last 72 hours, you wouldn’t have thought this could happen.

"That’s why there’s so much talk about mental health at the moment."

The issue of athletes struggling with their mental health has been in the spotlight since Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open.

American Simone Biles pulled out of most of her Olympic gymnastics events in Tokyo, citing a need to take care of her mental health. read more

New Zealand media reported Podmore had recently described the pressures of elite sport in a post on her social media.

The New Zealand Olympic Committee said news of Podmore's death had reached the national cycling team which was expected home from Tokyo on Tuesday.

"We are providing wellbeing support for members of her team and the wider team as we return home from Tokyo," NZOC said in a statement.

Podmore's brother Mitchell wrote in a Facebook post: "Rest in peace to my gorgeous sister and loved daughter of Phil Podmore. You will be in our hearts forever."

High Performance Sport New Zealand boss Raelene Castle said support for athletes in programmes was not perfect.

"Her legacy has to be that we make improvements," she told reporters.

Reporting by Praveen Menon; Additional reporting by Ian Ransom; editing by Richard Pullin and Tomasz Janowski

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