Olympic cyclist Olivia Podmore dies at 24: “She left us a message”

Olivia Podmore, a track cyclist for New Zealand who competed at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, has died. She was 24. Cycling New Zealand said Podmore died “suddenly” on Monday, but did not disclose a cause or other details.

Podmore also represented New Zealand at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast.

In a statement Tuesday, Cycling New Zealand described Podmore as a “much loved and respected rider.”

The organization noted that many are “understandably devastated” and, without elaboration, urged people to seek help for mental health if needed.

“Be kind to each other and take care of each other,” the statement said.

Olivia Podmore
Olivia Podmore poses during the NZOC cycling Commonwealth Games headshots session on October 18, 2017, in Cambridge, New Zealand. Michael Bradley/Getty

The New Zealand Olympic Committee said it has begun offering support to athletes and staff on the country’s Olympic team.

In a statement, double Olympic rowing gold medalist Eric Murray said he and Podmore had been snowboarding together on Sunday, and he was likely the last person to see her alive.

Murray said Podmore was a close friend and when he last saw her, she was happy and smiling. He said he had no cause to be concerned for her well-being.

Concerns for Podmore first arose after she posted a now-unavailable message on social media about the pressures of elite competition and social expectations. Police were called to her home at Cambridge, near Hamilton on New Zealand’s North Island, where she was found dead.

“With Olivia’s final words, she left us a message, a message that we wish will never have to be read again by anyone else,” Murray said. “We’re seeing locally and around the world the implications of mental health in sport.”

Murray said some of the highest-profile athletes at the Olympics had recently spoken about mental health struggles and “we now have a statistic and that is one statistic too many.”

“We’ve lost a sister, a friend, and a fighter who lost that will of fight inside of her,” Murray said.

Podmore’s brother, Mitchell, posted on Facebook: “Rest in peace to my gorgeous sister and loved daughter of Phil Podmore. You will be in our hearts forever.” He also said a memorial bike ride would be held on Saturday in his sister’s honor.

Cambridge UCI Track World Cup
Olivia Podmore and Natasha Hansen of New Zealand celebrate with their gold medals following the Women’s Team Sprint during the Cambridge UCI Track World Cup at the Avantidrome on December 6, 2019, in Cambridge, New Zealand. Getty

Sport New Zealand chief executive Raelene Castle said some cyclists who recently returned from the Tokyo Olympics were finding it “very difficult” in managed isolation, which is part of the country’s strict border regulations imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Discussions with the government are under way to determine whether some might be given dispensation from quarantine to attend Podmore’s funeral.

Castle said Podmore had reached out for support before her death.

The head of Cycling New Zealand, Jacques Landry, was asked whether his organization had done enough to support Podmore. He said the sport will be “questioning this for a long time.”

“She had a lot of people supporting her through her career,” Landry said. “We’re now just looking back … and want to take a step back and review that.”

If you or someone you know might be at risk of suicide, there is help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text a crisis counselor at 741741, or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org.