Nile Wilson: Olympic medallist says 'worst point of life' gave new perspective

By David McDaidBBC Olympic sports reporter in Yokohama
Great Britain's artistic gymnastics men's team at the 2016 Olympics
Nile Wilson (third right) was a member of Great Britain's artistic gymnastics men's team at the 2016 Olympics

Great Britain's Nile Wilson says the "really dark place" he was in earlier this year taught him to prioritise happiness over Olympic medals.

The 2016 Olympic bronze medallist says he experienced anxiety and depression after having neck surgery in February.

"It was the worst point of my life but probably the most important to turn me into the athlete and person I know I can be," Wilson, 23, told BBC Sport.

"Today I just want to wake up and be happy and do something I love."

The Commonwealth all-around champion added: "I honestly couldn't care less about Olympic gold medals, followers, fame, money."

Wilson has not competed internationally since suffering a bulging disc in his neck 12 months ago.

With the injury causing him "excruciating pain", Wilson underwent corrective surgery earlier this year.

But he says it took its toll mentally as well as physically.

"I went from one day being one of the fittest athletes on the planet to almost having to learn how to walk again," said Wilson.

"The enormity of it all just kind of tipped me over the edge. I felt lost, I felt lonely, I felt suffocated.

"That whole period - topped up with the attention from social media - I just spiralled out of control and got myself in a really dark place that was difficult to get out of.

"It's very common; anxiety and depression are real and that's something I've learned these last few months.

"It is an ongoing process and I will potentially always struggle with that. But I've learned what I need to do to be in a happy place. It's put huge perspective on my career and my life."

Wilson is in Japan with British Gymnastics team-mates on a training camp designed to introduce the athletes to the environment they will experience in next year's Tokyo Olympics, as well as prepare them for October's World Championships in Stuttgart.

"The World Championships are coming up but it's up in the air whether I'll be in the team," he said. "It depends how my neck copes with the training load and it's up and down at the minute.

"I'm just grateful to be able to do gymnastics again. It's been a rollercoaster these last few months and I finally feel like I'm coming out the other end of the tunnel."

Wilson hopes opening up about his own mental health can help others.

"Raising that awareness of mental health is massive for me," he said. "To be in the influential position to talk about mental health and help people through their tough times is one of the best things that's come out of it.

"I'm so thankful to have some amazing people around me to help me. But I believe any human can come through any trauma and with depression there is a way out of it."

If you are affected by any of the issues in this story, help and support is available at the BBC Action Line