New Zealand’s cycling and Olympic communities have been left shocked by the death of 24-year-old Olivia Podmore, who represented New Zealand at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Her death, which has been confirmed by her family, followed a post on one of her social media accounts in which she outlined the pressures of her high-level sport.
Mitchell Podmore, Olivia’s brother, posted on Facebook on Monday night: “Rest in peace to my gorgeous sister and loved daughter of Phil Podmore. You will be in our hearts forever.’’
The news of her death came as some members of the New Zealand cycling team were about to leave Tokyo after the conclusion of the Olympics.
The New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) and Cycling New Zealand both conveyed their condolences to Podmore’s family.
“We offer our deepest condolences to family, friends and others in the NZ community who are grieving this loss,’’ the NZOC said in a statement.
“We are providing wellbeing support for members of her team and the wider team as we return home from Tokyo.
“Olivia represented New Zealand with honour and pride at both the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. She was a valued team member and her loss will be felt across the New Zealand sporting community.”
Cycling New Zealand said in a statement its riders and staff were “deeply saddened with the loss of one of our young cyclists. Olivia was a much loved and respected rider in our Cycling New Zealand squad.
“At this time we are providing support to our staff and riders, the cycling community and those that were close to Olivia. Cycling New Zealand extend our deepest sympathies to Olivia’s family at this time and we ask that media respect the privacy of Olivia’s family, friends and our riders.”
Waikato police confirmed they had attended a sudden death at a Cambridge property early on Monday evening.
“Police are making inquiries in relation to the death on behalf of the coroner.
“The coroner will release their finding in due course.”
Podmore hails from Christchurch but was living in Cambridge, where the national cycling squad trains. She was not in the New Zealand team that went to Tokyo.
Former national cycling coach Jon Andrews said he had heard the news but that it wasn't appropriate to comment at this time. Andrews is the father of Ellesse Andrews, who won a silver medal at the Olympics on Friday and was a friend of Podmore’s.
Podmore's most recent coach, Hamish Ferguson, was too distraught to comment, saying it was “really devastating”.
High Performance Sport New Zealand said it was “deeply saddened” at Podmore’s death.
“Our thoughts are with her family during this very difficult time,” HPSNZ posted on its social media channels.
“We are working directly with Cycling New Zealand to support their community of athletes, coaches and staff. We are also prioritising support for our HPSNZ people who have been affected by this sudden loss.
“We are very conscious that many of the current New Zealand Olympic athletes and other team members, who knew Olivia, are currently returning to MIQ [managed isolation and quarantine on arrival in New Zealand]. A significant amount of work has been done in advance to ensure the team have the support they need for their physical and mental wellbeing in MIQ, and this work will be ongoing for the duration of their stay.”
In her social media post on Monday afternoon, Podmore wrote of the highs and lows of competitive sport.
“Sport is an amazing outlet for so many people, it’s a struggle, it’s a fight but it’s so joyous.
“The feeling when you win is unlike any other, but the feeling when you lose, when you don’t get selected even when you qualify, when your [sic] injured, when you don’t meet society’s expectations such as owning a house, marriage, kids all because your [sic] trying to give everything to your sport is also unlike any other.”
Podmore won silver in the team sprint and bronze in the time trial at the junior world champs in Astana in 2015, and went on to compete at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. There, she competed in sprint, team sprint and keirin – although she was involved in a heavy crash in the latter event.
Despite sustaining injuries during the crash at the Games, she got back up and competed in the following race.
She won the national keirin champion title in 2017.
She also competed at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in sprint, team sprint and keirin events.
Podmore got into BMX riding at the age of 8. She was given her first road bike at age 12. She tried track racing and loved it, and by 2011 she had won her first national age title, a Cycling NZ profile says.
It said Podmore was “one of the group of cyclists who are blazing the trail for women sprinters – an athletic and determined rider who has background interests across a range of sports”.
Where to get help:
1737, Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor
Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
Youthline – 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or online chat
Samaritans – 0800 726 666
Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
What's Up – 0800 942 8787 (for 5–18 year olds). Phone counselling is available Monday to Friday, midday–11pm and weekends, 3pm–11pm. Online chat is available 7pm–10pm daily.
Kidsline – 0800 54 37 54 (0800 kidsline) for young people up to 18 years of age. Open 24/7.
thelowdown.co.nz – or email email@example.com or free text 5626
Anxiety New Zealand - 0800 ANXIETY (0800 269 4389)
Rural Support Trust - 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP)
Supporting Families in Mental Illness - 0800 732 825