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Periods and performance: we need more sportswomen to speak up

Periods and performance: we need more sportswomen to speak up

When athletes take embarrassing drug tests in their stride, why not talk about their period openly?

Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui is making waves in the pool and off it. On Sunday, the 20-year-old swimmer and her team placed fourth in the women’s 4×100-metre medley relay.

After the race, Fu was seen doubled up in pain. When a concerned reporter asked her if she had a stomach-ache, Fu said, “Because my period came yesterday, I’m feeling a bit weak, but this is not an excuse.”

Though menstruation is a normal biological process that most women in the reproductive age-group go through every month, there is a lot of squeamishness in discussing it openly.

Women athletes seldom acknowledge their pain or physical discomfort when playing during their period, not wanting to draw attention to what they see as a “personal issue”.

Last year, when British tennis player Heather Watson attributed her poor performance in the Australian Open to “girl things”, it raised eyebrows all around, including from fellow woman athletes who were taken aback by her candid statement.

Nisha Millet, who was the only woman in India’s swim team in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, spoke to The News Minute about her experience. “I realized when I got there that I was going to get my period during the event. The sports doctor we consulted told me that this would definitely impact my performance.”

Nisha was only 18 at that time and did not know what to do. “His advice was that I take birth control pills to delay my period. My parents were horrified because I was so young but the doctor told us that so many women athletes manage by doing this. So I eventually took the pills and it was fine.”

Studies on menstruating women athletes have shown that their menstrual cycle affects their training and performance. And just like ordinary mortals, these champions too worry that they are going to stain their clothes.

Nisha says that prior to this instance at the Olympics, she’d never heard fellow women athletes discussing periods as an issue when it came to performance. “We hear about it only because it’s the big stage and everything is very serious. Every small factor counts. You have top notch sports doctors assisting you and it’s only then that we even mention such a thing,” she says.[…]

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