Why is Fu Yuanhui’s period overshadowing her Olympic medal win?
This week went a little something like this: athlete mentions her period. Internet breaks. Because, y’know, apparently an Olympic medal-winning pro getting her period before a race is still a newsworthy thing in 2016.
Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui took bronze in the 100m backstroke at Rio last week. But it was her comments after her team came fourth in the 4x100m medley relay that have made headlines this week.
The 20-year-old swimmer said, “I feel I didn’t swim very well today. I want to apologise. My period started last night. So I’m feeling pretty weak and really tired.”
She’s been widely praised in the media and papers for breaking the silence around sports and menstruation. But Fu isn’t the first athlete to break the taboo around menstruation in sport. And she won’t be the last. The majority of female athletes get their period each month. It’s not a surprise to them. They plan for it and acknowledge it may affect their performance. So why is it a surprise to the media when an athlete is open about it? And is all this talk detracting from her medal win?
Here are 7 more athletes who have already spoken out about the period struggle:
1. Britain’s number one tennis player Heather Watson on her first round defeat at the Australian Open in 2015.
“I felt very light headed and low on energy, it’s a shame it was today…I think it’s just one of these things that I have, girl things.”
2. GB Women’s Hockey player Hannah Macleod on drugs tests
“It’s the little things like drug testing. It can really embarrass you if you’re on your period and you’re told you need to have a [urine] drug test. It’s just embarrassing.”
3. Former marathon world champion Paula Radcliffe on getting her period on the morning of the Chicago Marathon, 2002.
“I tried to put it out of my head and not let it become an issue. It’s one of those things that can become a bigger issue if you let it. I broke the world record so it can’t be that much of a hindrance, but undoubtedly that’s why I had a cramped stomach in the final third of the race and didn’t feel as comfortable as I could’ve done.”
4. Anne Keothavong, former British number one tennis player on injuries and periods
“It does affect you, there’s no doubt about it. I had ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injuries on both knees and both times when I fell over it was that time of the month.”
5. Former world badminton champion Baroness Grey-Thompson on the taboo around periods and sports
“I probably wouldn’t have talked about this [periods] a couple of years ago, but it should be a massive challenge for sports to talk about it with teenage girls. How a young 13-year-old sportswoman handles it could encourage or discourage them from being sporty.”
6.British middle-distance runner Jessica Judd, on how her running times can vary by up to 15 seconds depending on her cycle.
“I ran 3000m at the national championships in 9 minutes 15 seconds and felt really tired. One week later, at the Birmingham Grand Prix, I ran the same distance in nine minutes flat with no extra training. It’s scary that it [your period] can affect you so much because it is the difference between first and last.”
7. Tennis player Tara Moore on stains…we feel you Tara
“At Wimbledon we have to wear white, so it’s quite a big deal. Especially because male players don’t understand that we have another element to deal with…[Bleeding on your uniform] is something you feel quite worried about. If something like that happens it’s mortifying – it’s a nightmare.”