The eight-time Olympic medalist says that Naomi Osaka showed "leadership" and courage in revealing her mental health struggles last month

By Lindsay Kimble
June 22, 2021 01:48 PM
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Apolo Anton Ohno wants to be a source of support for tennis champion Naomi Osaka.

Speaking to PEOPLE (the TV Show!)'s host Kay Adams, the retired Olympic short track speed skater says he reached out to Osaka after she recently walked away from the French Open due to mental health concerns.

"I said, 'Naomi, you ever need an ear, you need someone who's supportive, I'm here. Fully open and transparent for you. I want to see you win in every essence of what that is. And to know that you, and however you're feeling, you're not alone. We've all been through this process. Do what is best for you,' " he recounts now.

The 39-year-old says he thinks Osaka is a "superstar," noting that he feels she showed "vulnerability" and "leadership" by being candid about her struggles.

Apolo Ohno Reached Out to Naomi Osaka After French Open Exit: She 'Showcased That Vulnerability'
Apolo Ohno (left) and Naomi Osaka
| Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty; Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty

"She's loved by all of us, and whatever she needs to do, whatever she understands that is the most important for her and her mental health, we support her in every possible decision. And so for her to pull out is courageous," the eight-time Olympic medalist tells PEOPLE (the TV Show!). "It was much easier, I think, to stay in the game, to stay quiet, and stay within the prison of our own two ears."

Before the French Open began, Osaka — who has suffered from depression since 2018 — had tweeted on May 26 that she would not be doing press and explained how she "felt that people have no regard for athletes' mental health and this rings very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one." After being fined for skipping her initial press conference following her first-round victory, she opted to walk away from the tournament in order to prioritize her own mental wellness.

Just last week, Osaka said she has also decided to not participate in Wimbledon, which starts on June 28.

"Naomi won't be playing Wimbledon this year. She is taking some personal time with friends and family," her agent Stuart Duguid said in a statement. "She will be ready for the Olympics and is excited to play in front of her home fans," Duguid added, referencing the Tokyo Olympics in July. Osaka will be competing for Japan.

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Also during his interview with Adams, Ohno — who is part of Personal Capital's Financial Heroes campaign to help others with their financial wellness on personalcapital.com — chats about the challenges he faced after retiring.

Says Ohno, "That transition, that reinvention, that hard pivot that has to happen is, it's really challenging."

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"So for me, the thoughts are, 'What am I good at? What else can I do? What am I passionate about? What else is important in my life?' And how do I do so in a way that gives me fulfillment and joy, but also keeps me focused," says the former athlete. "As we live in a world of crazy distraction, how do I retain this kind of home base and true North? And it's been a long process I think every athlete goes through it."

If you or someone you know needs mental health help, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.