Lydia Ko, golf's world number three, has been praised for normalising the impact of periods on women in sport after rendering a male interviewer speechless with her answer to a question about some on-course treatment she received at an LPGA event in California.
The New Zealander was seen being stretched out by her physiotherapist midway through the final round of the Palos Verdes Championship on Sunday, prompting Golf Channel commentator Jerry Foltz to inquire whether the tightness in her back and hips would be a recurring problem.
“I hope not,” said Ko. “It’s that time of the month. I know the ladies watching are probably like, yeah, I got you.
“So, when that happens, my back gets really tight, and I’m all twisted. It’s not the first time that Chris has seen me twisted, but it felt a lot better after he came. So, yeah, there you go.”
Foltz floundered as he searched for a suitable response, and could only come up with “thanks”. Ko, for her part, was able to laugh off the awkward moment, saying: “I know you’re at a loss for words, Jerry. Honesty it is.”
Ko was widely lauded for being candid about an issue which evidently causes embarrassment in some circles, and is rarely talked about openly.
There is a growing understanding of the effects of menstruation and pre-menstrual symdrome on female athletes. Some professional sportswomen have their periods monitored by their sport’s governing body, with training adapted to suit different points of their cycle.
But it is only recently that athletes have spoken publicly about how it can impede performance.
At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui earned plaudits after her team came in fourth place in the 4x100m medley relay, telling reporters “my period started last night so I’m feeling pretty weak and really tired”.
In 2015, British tennis player Heather Watson put her poor Australian Open performance down to starting her period.
After Ko’s comments, Marama Davidson, the New Zealand Greens co-leader, said the issue of period pain was “definitely not acknowledged enough”.
Clinical psychologist Karen Nimmo, who has worked extensively with high performance athletes, told New Zealand’s Today FM it was refreshing to hear a truthful account of menstruation’s effect on performance, rather than it being hidden behind other “ailments”.
“It’s really healthy that we actually mention it as a normal part of sport that has to be factored in, not just physically, but also psychologically. We have to consider that people go through cycles and we have to think about that when we are planning training and events.”
“Menstrual problems are a common part of elite sport, and finally we have a gateway to discuss it,” Nimmo said. “So go Lydia, I say.”
Despite Ko’s discomfort, the 25-year-old former world No 1 finished second at the tournament in Los Angeles, two strokes behind winner Marina Alex.