What do you say when menstruation messes with your athletic performance? From ‘It’s girl things’ to ‘Bleed freely and just run’ – these athletes have opened up about their periods. Click on the images to follow them on social media.
From back in 1996 to now in 2022, when elite female athletes speak about their menstruation it creates a media stir. Blast from the past: it all started with Uta Pippig.
‘I had some problems with my period’ – marathon runner Uta Pippig
Uta Pippig (Germany) suffered from diarrhoea and menstrual cramps when she won the Boston Marathon in 1996. She crossed the finish line with blood on her legs. Male commentators ignored the blood stains and also female commentator Katherine Switzer only mentioned the diarrhoea. ‘I had some problems with my period,’ the athlete explained later. Afterwards, in the media, Pippig’s period was referred to as ‘physical problems’, ‘female issues’, ‘cramps’ and ‘stomach pain’. (Photo: Twitter).
‘I think it’s just one of these things that I have, girl things’ – tennis player Heather Watson
Top tennis player Heather Watson (UK) lost in the first round of the Australian Open in 2015 and attributed her loss to her period, telling BBC Sport about how she felt dizzy, nauseous and a bit crap: ‘I think it’s just one of these things that I have, girl things.’ Her confession caused other female athletes to also open up about their periods, like the British tennis player Tara Moore and the British marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe. (Photo: Twitter).
‘Hope I wouldn’t cramp, bleed freely and just run’ – marathon runner Kiran Gandhi
Kiran Gandhi (USA) decided to just go with the flow when she ran the London Marathon in 2015. As she described on her blog: ‘If there’s one person society can’t eff with, it’s a marathon runner. I decided to just take some midol, hope I wouldn’t cramp, bleed freely and just run.’ Although she’d just run 26.2 miles, it was the fact that she bled freely and had a blood stain on her clothes that caused a lot of attention. (Photo: Twitter).
Pippig, Watson and Gandhi paved the way: in the last few years, more athletes have opened up about their periods. Unsurprisingly, most of them reveal that it’s not their favourite time of the month to perform.
‘I couldn’t go against my nature’ – tennis player Zheng Qinwen
Tennis player Zheng Qinwen (China) attributed her loss at the 2022 Roland-Garros French Open tournament to her period. She told the media: ‘I cannot play my tennis, (my) stomach was too painful. It’s just girls’ things, you know. The first day is always so tough and then I have to do sport and I always have so much pain in the first day. And I couldn’t go against my nature.’
‘The numbers don’t lie when you’re lifting heavier’ – rugby star Rachael Burford
Rugby star Rachael Burford (UK) is positive about her period as well. ‘The numbers don’t lie when you’re lifting heavier [in the gym] during that phase. It gives you great encouragement about it, rather than seeing it as a negative.’ can be read on HuffPost.
‘When you’re in so much pain you can’t walk more than a few steps and your legs buckle under your own weight, there’s no chance you can jump.’ – long jumper Jazmin Sawyers
In 2017, Rio 2016 Olympian long jumper Jazmin Sawyers (UK) pulled out of a competition in Boston because her menstruation just started. On Twitter, she explained her decision: ‘About an hour before I was supposed to leave for the track I came on my period – I get VERY bad periods for the first 1-2 days. Can’t walk, intense pain radiating down my legs, head spinning, full body sweating, shouting, crying kind of bad. Five minutes before leaving for the track all of the above happened. If you don’t have periods, or don’t have them this bad, it’s hard to imagine why I can’t just suck it up and compete. But when you’re in so much pain you can’t walk more than a few steps and your legs buckle under your own weight, there’s no chance you can jump.’ (Photo: Twitter).
‘I always try to make day one an easy or a rest day, as I often suffer with cramps so bad I can’t move’ – marathon runner Aly Dixon
Top GB marathoner Aly Dixon (UK) says she’s lucky that her races often fall at the right time of her cycle: ‘I’ve found that I can race quite well on day three, but the previous four days are not so good. I always try to make day one an easy or a rest day, as I often suffer with cramps so bad I can’t move from a curled-up ball on the sofa.’ (Photo: Twitter).
‘My period came last night and I’m really tired’ – Olympic swimmer Fu Yuanhui
Swimmer Fu Yuanhui (China) was holding on to her stomach after a race at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Some reporters asked why. Her reply: ‘I feel I didn’t swim well today. I let my teammates down. My period came last night and I’m really tired. But this isn’t an excuse, I still didn’t swim as well as I should have.’ (Photo: Facebook).
‘A very real issue’ – former world champion swimmer Libby Trickett
In 2015, former world champion swimmer Libby Trickett (Australia) told Australian media: ‘It certainly consumes a huge amount of energy. I mean obviously with swimming you’re in very little swimwear and it’s a very real issue.’ (Photo:Twitter)
‘Having to put on a bikini while on my period, an achievement in itself’ – beach volleyballer Becchara Palmer
Also Olympic beach volleyballer Becchara Palmer (Australia) isn’t too happy about the skimpy dresscode when menstruating. In 2022 she revealed: ‘Rocking up to training and to competitions and having to put on a bikini while I’m on my period is something that I’ve had to do for years and years and I think is a real achievement in itself’. (Photo: Twitter).
‘Both times when I fell over it was that time of the month’ – tennis player Anne Keothavong
Former number one tennis player Anne Keothavong (UK) sustained knee injuries when playing on her period. Keothavong, who has since retired from tennis, claims her menstruation does affect her coordination: ‘There’s no doubt about it. I had ACL injuries on both knees and both times when I fell over it was that time of the month.’ (Photo: Twitter).
‘It’s the difference between finishing first and last’ – runner Jessica Judd
Runner Jessica Judd (UK) experienced a difference of 15 seconds on her 3,000 metre time depending on the stage of her menstrual cycle. Running while on her period, she was significantly slower than the week after, whilst not having had any extra training. Judd: ‘It’s scary that it can affect you so much because it is the difference between finishing first and last.’
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Some athletes actually feel their menstruation has a positive effect on their performance.
‘I’m on my period, so that’s great’ – former professional cyclist Leontien van Moorsel
Former professional cyclist Leontien van Moorsel (the Netherlands) prefers to menstruate during an important match, because her pain threshold is higher. ‘I’m on my period, so that’s great,’ she told newspaper Trouw in 2003, before she indeed established a new world hour record. (Photo: Twitter).
‘Once it happens, I’m on fire’ – cyclist Marijn de Vries
Also cyclist Marijn de Vries (the Netherlands) performs better when menstruating: ‘The day before I’m often a bit listless and grumpy. But once it happens, I’m on fire,’ she wrote in her column in Trouw. (Photo: Twitter).
Period! is an independent, online magazine about all aspects of menstruation. Period! is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. If you’re suffering from medical complaints, always visit your doctor or GP. Editorial articles can contain affiliate links. Sponsored collaborations can be found in the category Spotlight. Any questions? Check our Contact page.
Intro picture: Shutterstock