BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — After weeks of feeling so anxious she could hardly sleep or eat, WNBA star Liz Cambage decided the best way to ensure she maintained her mental and physical health was to pull out of Australia’s Olympic team.
The two-time Olympian has been worried about life inside the so-called bubble at the Tokyo Games, which are starting next week with the Japanese capital under a state of emergency because of rising COVID-19 cases.
Cambage posted a statement on social media Friday to say the prospect of having no friends, no family, no fans and no support system outside of the women’s basketball squad during the Olympics is “honestly terrifying for me.”
“It breaks my heart to announce I’m withdrawing from the Olympics,” Cambage said, “but I think it’s best for the Opals and myself.”
The absence of the powerful center and prolific scorer is a major setback for Australia’s medal chances in Tokyo.
Cambage made headlines for a dunk at the London Olympics on the way to a bronze medal in 2012. She was among the leading players in the Olympic tournament four years later despite Australia’s fifth-place finish.
The 29-year-old Las Vegas Aces center said for the last month she’d been having panic attacks, not sleeping and not eating.
“Relying on daily medication to control my anxiety is not the place I want to be right now,” she said in the statement. “Especially walking into competition on the world’s biggest sporting stage.”
The Tokyo Olympics, already delayed by 12 months because of the COVID-19 pandemic, are set to start July 23.
The Opals play their first match four days later.
Athletes won’t be allowed to leave the Olympic village or competition and training venues and are being encouraged to leave Japan as soon as possible after their events. Fans have been banned from most stadiums.
Cambage, who has been with the Australian team in Las Vegas for the last week for warmup games, said she needed to “take care of myself mentally and physically.”
She was in uniform for the WNBA All-Star team against the U.S. Olympic team on Wednesday, but didn’t play in her team’s 93-85 win. Her team beat the Americans in an exhibition game on Friday 70-67.
Coach Sandy Brondello said the team supports Cambage’s decision.
“Mental health is a real issue. For now she’s not going to be with us, we’re focused on the future and not the past,” Brondello said.
Brondello said the team is looking into being able to replace Cambage on the roster. “Hopefully we can get to 12. It’s in in the hands of the IOC,” she said. “They usually say physical injury or COVID. Mental health is an injury too. Can’t let things that our out of our hands worry us.”
Cambage isn’t the first Australian athlete to withdraw from the Tokyo Games because of concerns over the restrictions. Tennis player Nick Kyrgios pulled out earlier in the week citing concerns about his health, the pandemic, and the fact no fans would be allowed into the stadiums.
Cambage said anyone who knew her knows “one of my biggest dreams is winning an Olympic gold medal with the Opals.”
“Every athlete competing in the Olympic games should be at their mental and physical peak, and at the moment, I’m a long way from where I want and need to be,” she said. “It’s no secret that in the past I’ve struggled with my mental health and recently I’ve been really worried about heading into a ‘bubble’ Olympics. ”
AP Basketball Writer Doug Feinberg contributed from Las Vegas.