Olympic rower Eric Murray has described the sudden death of Olympic cyclist Olivia Podmore as a "shock and a tragedy".
Murray, who addressed the media in Cambridge on Tuesday afternoon on behalf of the Podmore family, said Olivia was one of his closest friends.
"I was with her this time yesterday and I wish she had said something," Murray said.
"Her death is a shock and a tragedy."
"[The loss] reverberates through not only Cambridge and Christchurch, but the sporting fraternity.
"We've lost a sister, a friend, and a fighter who lost that will of fight inside of her.
"Olivia may have been the girl that you saw at the supermarket, at the gym, on the track, on TV.
"She was loved and will be sorely missed. 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.
"We're seeing locally and around the world the implications of mental health in sport."
The widespread outpouring of grief at Podmore's death also led Health Minister Chris Hipkins to comment during this afternoon's press conference on Covid-19 vaccines.
Hipkins said managed isolation facility staff were doing their best to support Podmore's teammates and friends, who had recently returned from the Tokyo Olympics and were spending two weeks in isolation.
MIQ staff were doing their best to "surround them with love" even though the athletes were not able to be with other people, he said.
Murray, meanwhile, cited elite athletes Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles, who in recent months had put the spotlight on mental health in sport.
"And we now have a statistic and that is one statistic too many."
Murray asked for privacy for Podmore's family and friends as they came to terms with their loss.
He said Podmore's last message on social media needed to be dealt with, but not at the moment.
He hadn't seen any signs that she was struggling with her mental health.
She was a lovely person, Murray said. "If you had seen Olivia in the last 72 hours, you wouldn't have thought what's happened [would happen]."
Podmore had 'reached out for support'
The Olympic cyclist had reached out for support before her death yesterday, Sport NZ CEO Raelene Castle said earlier.
Kiwi cyclists who competed in the Tokyo Olympics earlier touched down in Christchurch this morning and the athletes were finding it "very difficult" in MIQ at the moment, Castle said.
She said the agency was contacting each coach and cyclist. Cycling NZ had done an excellent job with crisis management, Castle said.
"What I will say is that mental health is incredibly challenging," Castle said.
"I really wish that we could have a black and white and wrong and right answer for it but It's not like that, even when you put the best level of support around that athlete with an open door into psychological services, and offer all those opportunities. Sometimes they reach out. Olivia had been reaching out into those environments. Why are we here? That's the question we all want the answer to."
Cycling NZ chief executive Jacques Landry was asked whether they had failed Podmore, he said they would be "questioning this for a long time".
Landry said he had been at world cups with Podmore and said she was a very happy person, outgoing and would light up the room. Her death was a "tremendous loss", he said.
Asked about the environment at Cycling NZ since a damning 2018 report into the body, Landry said his KPI was to ensure there was a proper culture at the organisation.
The 2018 report was a review by former Solicitor-General Mike Heron into allegations about the culture of the cycling high-performance programme, including "claims of bullying, inappropriate behaviour, inappropriate personal relationships and drinking culture".
Landry said every athlete had all sorts of support and Podmore was "not an exception".
"She had a lot of people supporting her through her career. We're now just looking back... and want to take a step back and review that."
Landry said they had added an "extra layer" of protection and help for the cyclists returning from Tokyo.
"We've got your back," was Landry's message to the MIQ athletes.
"We're nimble enough to be able to support them."
Castle reiterated what Landry said, saying the two organisations worked closely together on the welfare of their athletes.
School pays tribute
Podmore has been remembered as a "gorgeous kid" who was "full of heart and enthusiasm" by her Christchurch school after her shock death yesterday.
Middleton Grange School principal Mike Vannoort this afternoon paid tribute to the 24-year-old, who was a student at the Christian school from 2002 to 2015.
"She was a vibrant young person, full of heart and enthusiasm for all she put her mind to. She gave her best in all that she did and was loved and appreciated by many," Vannoort said.
"Teachers described her as friendly, outgoing, popular, very focused and driven to succeed – especially with her cycling. She was well liked by her peers and staff alike and was fully involved in all activities at school.
"One staff member described her as 'an absolutely gorgeous kid'."
Podmore, who represented New Zealand at the 2016 Rio Olympics, died suddenly on Monday.
Vannoort said because of Podmore's cycling commitments, she was often away from school during her later years, but noted "she would always be diligent to catch up on any missed work".
Middleton Grange said that even with all of her cycling commitments, Podmore managed to achieve NCEA Level 1 and NCEA Level 2, both endorsed with Merit.
"Olivia liaised closely with her dean when trying to juggle all her cycling and training commitments," Vannoort said.
"She was so good about letting the teachers know when she was going to be away and trying to catch up work. But her focus was her cycling. In 2015 she was selected to represent NZ at the Junior World Track Cycling Championships in Kazakhstan. She returned from that in mid-October 2015 and on 5th November, 2015, she left for Cambridge to be part of the NZ Track Cycling team.
"Our staff and wider school community who knew Olivia (Liv) are deeply saddened by her sudden passing and our thoughts and prayers are with her family and close friends at this tragic time."
High Performance Sport New Zealand (HPSNZ) also today said it is "deeply saddened" by Podmore's death and a "significant amount of work" is being done to support returning Tokyo 2020 Olympic athletes who knew Podmore.
"Many of the current New Zealand Olympic athletes and other team members, who knew Olivia, are currently returning to MIQ," HPSNZ said.
"A significant amount of work has been done in advance to ensure the team have the support they need for their physical and mental wellbeing in MIQ, and this work will be ongoing for the duration of their stay."
Kiwi Olympians such as Dame Valerie Adams, Tyla Nathan-Wong and Olivia Chance commented on the NZ Team's Instagram post with black hearts, prayer hands and fern emojis.
Olympic runner Angie Petty commented, "Absolutely heartbreaking. Sending love to her family," while Commonwealth Games hammer throw champion Julia Ratcliffe wrote, "hope you've found some peace Liv, moe mai ra".
Her former teammate Natasha Hansen took to Facebook to share her heartbreak.
"Liv, I'm devastated to have to be writing this. You have broken so many hearts today," she wrote in the post. "We have been through many ups and downs together and shared in so many highs and lows. The last couple of years has been so great to reconnect on a deeper level but I am devastated that this has come to such a sudden end."
Podmore won silver in the team sprint and bronze in the time trial at the Junior World Champs in Astana in 2015. She was also the 2017 national keirin champion.
In an Instagram post earlier on Monday - since removed - Podmore outlined pressures of competing at the highest level.
Her brother Mitchell Podmore, posted on Facebook: "Rest in peace to my gorgeous sister and loved daughter of Phil Podmore. You will be in our hearts forever."
Cycling New Zealand last night said its riders and staff "are deeply saddened with the loss of one of our young cyclists".
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