The Weight of Gold: The Olympics and Mental Health

Michael Phelps in The Weight of Gold (HBO).

The Weight of Gold is a documentary that seeks to explore Olympic athletes and what going for gold means for their mental health.

When the film premiered in July 2020, it came at a time when we should have been watching athletes compete in Tokyo. However, the pandemic meant delaying the games until the following summer. The film brought mental health into the conversation just one year before the same subject would dominate the Summer Olympics. Talking about mental health should never be a stigma. If anything, the conversation is becoming more public in recent years. When an Olympic athlete of Michael Phelps’s caliber is speaking out, maybe it’s time for people to listen. Post-Olympic Depression is a thing and viewers will spend an hour getting to know Olympic athletes and their battles.

Jeret Peterson and Steven Holcomb both make posthumous appearances. Linda Peterson discusses her son’s battles. The bulk of footage featuring Holcomb went onto be included in the recently released doc short, Holky: The Steven Holcomb Story. It’s worth checking out if you haven’t seen it.

While the documentary is only an hour long, it is never not powerful. Honestly, I was shocked at times by what I heard because I never heard any athlete being so open about depression during the post-competition interviews. In part, it’s also because of what interviews go viral and what don’t. For me, it was the first time learning that Olympic ice skater Gracie Gold had been suicidal for months. Athletes on the world’s biggest stage often face increased scrutiny and we never saw it more than we did last summer after Simone Biles withdrew from multiple events in Tokyo.

There are clips featuring Bode Miller and his troubles with landing on the medal stand during the Olympics. If the late night hosts knew what he was going through, maybe he wouldn’t be the target of their jokes. Comedy is one of those things that should evolve. Maybe we shouldn’t joke about athletes because we do not know what they’re going through. We should do better. Maybe the discussion will be something that we see during the upcoming Winter Olympics on NBC?

People shouldn’t be afraid of discussing their mental health issues in public. If someone tells you to shut up, you have my permission to ignore them and openly discuss it. By opening up, it means that you could possibly be helping someone else in a similar situation. That’s the beauty of airing a documentary like this. Our athletes are just as human as we are. Even if they get placed on a pedestal, they still deal with many of the same issues with us. Nobody should ever be afraid of seeking him. I’ve been in the dark place before and trust me, it’s not fun. But as Michael Phelps says, “It’s ok to not be ok.” Talking about mental health and getting more people to open up may end up being Phelps’s greatest legacy more so than what he did in the swimming pool.

The Weight of Gold shows the dark side of sports…one that hardly gets discussed in front of the public eye.

DIRECTOR: Brett Rapkin
SCREENWRITERS: Aaron Cohen and Brett Rapkin
NARRATOR: Michael Phelps
FEATURING: Michael Phelps, Jeremy Bloom, Lolo Jones, Gracie Gold, Bode Miller, Apolo Anton Ohno, Sasha Cohen, Shaun White, David Boudia, Katie Uhlaender, Jeret Peterson, Steven Holcomb

HBO aired The Weight of Gold on July 29, 2020. It is currently streaming on HBO Max.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.