The Weight of Gold Documentary

Garden Kitty

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HBO Sports has acquired the rights to a documentary called The Weight of Gold which focuses on the mental health challenges of Olympic athletes. Michael Phelps seems to be the main athlete featured, but the article discusses other athletes including Gracie Gold and Sasha Cohen. It will air on HBO on July 29th and be available on some of their streaming platforms as well.


In a typical year, more than 3.6 billion people around the world tune in to watch the Olympic Games. What most of these viewers DON'T know is that just like one in five Americans, many of these Olympic athletes similarly face serious mental health challenges and struggle to find the necessary support and resources. In THE WEIGHT OF GOLD, Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympic athlete of all-time, shares his account of his struggle, along with other high-profile Olympic athletes including Jeremy Bloom, Lolo Jones, Gracie Gold, Bode Miller, Shaun White, Sasha Cohen, David Boudia, Katie Uhlaender, and, posthumously, Steven Holcomb and Jeret "Speedy" Peterson as shared by his mother, Linda Peterson.
 

Frau Muller

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Aurgh! I've heard about this and wanted to see it but didn't realize it was on HBO. I don't have HBO. :wuzrobbed

I believe that this is the documentary...same title and theme:

Sasha Cohen is among the panelists. If there’s another one, please let us know.
 

Sylvia

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If there’s another one, please let us know.
The YT you linked was a panel discussion in 2018. The actual documentary premieres on July 29:
The Weight of Gold seeks to inspire discussion about mental health issues, encourage people to seek help, and highlight the need for readily available support. It features accounts from Olympic athletes who share their own struggles with mental health issues, including Michael Phelps, Jeremy Bloom, Lolo Jones, Gracie Gold, Bode Miller, Shaun White, Sasha Cohen, David Boudia, Katie Uhlaender, and, posthumously, Steven Holcomb and Jeret "Speedy" Peterson (via his mother, Linda Peterson).
 

Wyliefan

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I wonder if they would consider dedicating this to Katya Alexandrovskaya. It sounds like what she went through is exactly the sort of thing they're talking about.
 

Sylvia

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Sasha wrote:
"It's about time the complete story was told about the Olympian's journey and what we face as we retire from a lifelong pursuit to reach the pinnacle of our sport. This has been a long time in the making and I'm very excited to see it finally come together. #mentalhealth #olympians #olympics"

Gracie Gold's message on Instagram yesterday for "The Weight Of Gold" documentary: https://www.instagram.com/p/CCv77MIHx3C/
“You don’t have to be grateful it isn’t worse.”
I didn’t understand that sentence for a long time. Olympians are seen as superheroes to most, the best of the best. We train our whole life to be perfect, we aren’t allowed any flaws. People tell us things like, “Your life is so perfect, why would you be SAD? Do you know how many people have it WORSE?” There is no pain Olympics, no medals for who can suffer the most. Our mental illnesses are valid.
When an Olympian breaks a bone, everyone rushes to help. The world is so accepting of our physical injuries...but what happens when our brain breaks? We get left in the dark. It’s ignorance. And that ignorance has created a world that doesn’t understand depression, that doesn’t understand mental health.
I’m so proud to be part of something as special as this film.
 

Sylvia

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Articles about 2 of the Winter Olympians who will be featured posthumously in The Weight of Gold:

Steven Holcomb:
Holcomb died last May [2017] in his bed at the Olympic training facility in Lake Placid. He was 37. The coroner’s report said the likely cause was pulmonary congestion and that he had high quantities of alcohol and sleeping pills in his system. His family want to keep the details of his death private. In his autobiography, But Now I See, Holcomb wrote at length about his struggle with clinical depression and revealed how he had once tried to take his own life by overdosing on whisky and prescription pills.

Jeret "Speedy" Peterson who committed suicide in 2011:
 

Sylvia

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Brett Rapkin is the director of The Weight of Gold and he had interviewed Steven Holcomb in Lake Placid about a month before his death -- here's an article from 2018:
"There was no indication to me that he [Holcomb] wanted to harm himself," Rapkin says. "He was excited about teammates that were returning. He was excited about some new equipment that he had gotten for his bobsled. He had so much that he was looking forward to. And his family and friends feel very strongly that his death was not intentional. So we may never know exactly how he died. But we know that he was someone who had suffered."
After Holcomb’s death, Rapkin decided to expand his project — to speak to other Olympic athletes about their struggles with depression and the after-effects of competition. And soon, athletes started reaching out to him.
"I basically got on the phone with Brett. I just thought this was such an important story," says Sasha Cohen, who won silver in ladies' singles figure skating at the 2006 Games in Torino, Italy.
And while Sasha's never been diagnosed with depression, she’s experienced the pressures of being an Olympian. That pressure only intensified heading into those 2006 Games, where she was considered a medal contender following her Olympic debut in 2002.
 

Sylvia

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2-minute trailer:

I don't have HBO so would appreciate impressions from anyone who can watch the documentary (premiering on Wednesday).
 

Aceon6

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I just finished watching. I’m sad and mad at the same time. After an hour of hearing first person accounts of not being able to get the necessary help, the thing that pops up before the credits is “Mental health resources are available to Team USA athletes by contacting US Olympic and Paralympic Committee Athlete Services” along with a URL. Ya, right. Kinda like protection from predatory coaches is available from USAGym.

If you have HBO or have an option for a free trial somewhere, the documentary is worth your time.
 

Aerobicidal

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I thought this was largely a waste of time. An hour was not enough to tell even one athlete's story with nuance and substance, but trying to cram in 5+ stories did total injustice to all of them. The message and the intent were laudable, but it was so lightweight (no pun intended, but irony realized) and didn't capitalize on the intelligence, insight, or emotional resonance--the big picture--that these stories connect with.

A two-hour documentary about Gracie or Speedy or Michael Phelps (who was a really bad narrator, IMO, but that's beside the point) would be great and I'd happily watch that.

On a positive note, I thought Sasha and particularly Gracie came off well, but I've seen ten- or fifteen-minute youtube videos about Gracie that were more moving and substantive than this.

This would be a good introduction for people who are unaware of the issues and stories the documentary covers, but I don't think that demographic has a lot of overlap with people who post on FSU.
 

FiveRinger

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I just finished watching. I’m sad and mad at the same time. After an hour of hearing first person accounts of not being able to get the necessary help, the thing that pops up before the credits is “Mental health resources are available to Team USA athletes by contacting US Olympic and Paralympic Committee Athlete Services” along with a URL. Ya, right. Kinda like protection from predatory coaches is available from USAGym.

If you have HBO or have an option for a free trial somewhere, the documentary is worth your time.
I will definitely be watching. I’ve got this on my list, as well as a panel discussion that included the producers/journalists for Heavy Metals that included Jennifer Sey and Tasha Schweikert. I also want to listen to Gymcastic’s podcast this week because of course they have a response to Heavy Metals and a response to the nonsense the spewed from Svetlana Khorkina, who I lost all respect for. Aliya Mustafina has restored some of my faith in Russia. I’m sure that she has a lot of sympathy, having dealt with the likes of Rodionenko. I’ll link the panel discussion again when I relocate it (I think I saw it on ESPN, can’t guarantee that, though). Unfortunately, there is a lot going on.
 

FiveRinger

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I thought this was largely a waste of time. An hour was not enough to tell even one athlete's story with nuance and substance, but trying to cram in 5+ stories did total injustice to all of them. The message and the intent were laudable, but it was so lightweight (no pun intended, but irony realized) and didn't capitalize on the intelligence, insight, or emotional resonance--the big picture--that these stories connect with.

A two-hour documentary about Gracie or Speedy or Michael Phelps (who was a really bad narrator, IMO, but that's beside the point) would be great and I'd happily watch that.

On a positive note, I thought Sasha and particularly Gracie came off well, but I've seen ten- or fifteen-minute youtube videos about Gracie that were more moving and substantive than this.

This would be a good introduction for people who are unaware of the issues and stories the documentary covers, but I don't think that demographic has a lot of overlap with people who post on FSU.
This is supposed to be a series, if my DVR is to be believed. It asked me if I wanted to record the entire series, to which I said yes. I’m hoping there’s more than just a 2 hour episode. As you say, there is way to much to address in that short time frame. None the less, I will be watching.
 

Aerobicidal

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This is supposed to be a series, if my DVR is to be believed. It asked me if I wanted to record the entire series, to which I said yes. I’m hoping there’s more than just a 2 hour episode. As you say, there is way to much to address in that short time frame. None the less, I will be watching.
No, it was just the one hour. Any website about it will confirm that but here's HBO's.
 

Erin

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A two-hour documentary about Gracie or Speedy or Michael Phelps (who was a really bad narrator, IMO, but that's beside the point) would be great and I'd happily watch that.

On a positive note, I thought Sasha and particularly Gracie came off well, but I've seen ten- or fifteen-minute youtube videos about Gracie that were more moving and substantive than this.

This would be a good introduction for people who are unaware of the issues and stories the documentary covers, but I don't think that demographic has a lot of overlap with people who post on FSU.

I found what little we got of Katie Uhlaender’s story was compelling and agree that it could have been a two hour documentary on its own.

I enjoyed every time Gracie said something was shit or horseshit.

I felt like some parts of it were weirdly edited, like having Apolo Anton Ohno talk about how hard it is to get post-Olympic endorsements and almost no one gets them, while showing pictures of the numerous ads he was in.

I agree with your conclusion that it was a decent intro for the general public but nothing particularly new for people who regularly follow Olympic sports.
 
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Sylvia

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HBO Max has a 7-day free trial.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, everyone.

An hour was not enough to tell even one athlete's story with nuance and substance, but trying to cram in 5+ stories did total injustice to all of them.
That's what I was concerned about.
 

viennese

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Michael Phelps' narration was just fine, I thought. I am really impressed with all he is doing to de-stigmatize mental illness and promote resources for getting help.

Was anyone else kind of stunned by the incredibly low stipends that athletes get, even those in big sports like swimming? (I think I heard $1500 or $1750 for national team members of USA swimming - to cover everything, rent, food, travel). Non-marquee sports like skeleton, bobsled get even less.
 

Sylvia

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One stressor the film names is money. While many people tend to think that athletes are well-compensated from sponsorships, the reality is very different. "For every athlete who has a sponsor, there are hundreds who need to take a second job just to make ends meet while they're training," Phelps says. The Olympic stipend for the USA swim team, Phelps reveals, is $1,700 a month. That comes out to $20,400 a year.

More reviews:


ETA that I posted this review with Sasha/Gracie excerpts a few days ago in GSD:
They participate in vastly different sports — swimming, figure skating, track and field, bobsledding, etc. But their stories follow a common theme. They sacrificed a normal life to compete. Many don’t make much money. And after their time in the spotlight ends, however brightly it might have shined, they struggled to adapt to life outside their sport. Who retires in their 20s or 30s, Phelps asks.
Cohen is especially poignant on this topic, talking about taking a bus for athletes to the venue to compete and knowing when she got back on her fate would be sealed, one way or the other.
The interviews are fascinating, particularly those with [Lolo] Jones and Cohen, neither of whom won gold but both of whom came agonizingly close.
...
Gold, whose struggle with depression was chronicled at length by the New York Times, is a forceful voice for change, for more help for those who need it — as is Phelps. Gold is urgent in her demands, Phelps quiet but insistent. Both are effective.
 
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missing

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I watched it this morning while I was on my treadmill and found it engrossing (which means I didn't look every two minutes to see how much longer I had to tread).

One thing I found glaring was the lack of African American athletes.
 

viennese

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There should have been more African Americans represented.
Lolo Jones is biracial or multiracial
 

overedge

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Mr. Overedge and I watched it last night.

I didn't feel that having so many athletes speak didn't give justice to their individual stories. I thought it gave collective weight to the theme that their mental health is not being supported. I was particularly impressed that Michael Phelps participated. When the person with the most Olympic medals of anyone on earth says that athletes' mental health is taken for granted, that has some weight.

The part that was missing for me was more attention to the structural factors that force athletes to keep quiet if they're in trouble. It was troubling to me that there was very little attention to how commercialized and sponsor-driven the Olympics are, and how so many people do well out of that structure (administrators, Olympic federation members, sponsors) while athletes are struggling. I got the importance of athletes being able to ask for help, but if the structure of Olympic sports continues to put unrelenting pressure on them, that is what should change. The responsibility for sport being healthy and enjoyable to participate in shouldn't be completely placed on the athlete. The system needs to change too, and I felt that aspect was not given as much attention as it should have.

Personally I would have dumped the stuff about the v*r*s, because athletes are suffering these problems all the time, and were suffering them long before there was a p*nd*m*c. Also, what about the elite athletes who don't get to go to the Olympics? If the athletes at this level don't feel supported, what about the athletes who go to national/international events but don't go to the Olympics? They must be suffering even worse.

My heart was broken by the Stephen Holcomb footage. He seemed like a really thoughtful guy, and he was successful in his sport. That to me gets back to what I said above about how the sports structures need to change, not just the athletes.
 

marysy

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It was troubling to me that there was very little attention to how commercialized and sponsor-driven the Olympics are, and how so many people do well out of that structure (administrators, Olympic federation members, sponsors) while athletes are struggling.

This was something that struck me as well. The athletes are basically treated like commodities, only useful if they are able to produce medals but tossed aside the second someone newer and younger comes along. I get that sports is big business nowadays, and if you’re an athlete in one of the major professional leagues, it’s possible to make a decent living and be set up for the rest of one’s life after retirement. Olympic sports is quite different in that the they often don’t have powerful federations with deep pockets and the window to capitalize on sponsorships is so short and rare, adding to the pressure that athletes must feel.

Not to make this political, but the ruthlessness of this country’s lack of social safety nets was made even more stark when Lolo Jones said she’d be losing her health insurance a month after she was no longer on the national team. For athletes who are more likely to have injuries and health issues after retirement, health insurance is even more important afterwards than during their career. But since they’re no longer useful or making money for the federation or country, out they go. I do wonder what the system is like in countries where sports are more centralized - what sort of support is available for the athletes after retirement?

On the whole, I thought the documentary was well done and brought to light some truly poignant and heartbreaking stories, and it’s certainly important to have mental health addressed by people who are seen as athletic heroes to de-stigmatize the issue. I agree that the documentary should’ve been longer because there are so many stories that could’ve been addressed with more depth and a whole host of issues at play here, from mental health to structural issues involving funding and support for the athletes, to Olympic sports requiring such singular focus that athletes aren’t exposed to outside education and interests, to head injuries that may contribute to depression and suicide. It would’ve been nice to see this as a series, perhaps exploring some of the differences in the different sports as well.
 

Braulio

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I do wonder what the system is like in countries where sports are more centralized - what sort of support is available for the athletes after retirement?

In Mexico unless you are an olympic medal winner (not that we have won many medals) you will get ZERO support after you retire, so only the few who win medals get exposure, media attention, endorsements, commercial sponsorship for a while specially if they keep competing, but if you retire you better get whatever comes after the olympic success because 2-3 months after the Games everything comes back to normal and you are going to oblivion zone.

Some of them go into sporting association and government related jobs like Fernando Platas (Silver in Diving at Sydney) Ana Guevara (Silver 400m in Athens) Maria Espinosa (3 time olympic medalist in Taekwondo) but those are one of few cases that go and make a life working for sport, government, but the rest go back to normal life and have to make a living and start from scratch
 

CantALoop

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This was something that struck me as well. The athletes are basically treated like commodities, only useful if they are able to produce medals but tossed aside the second someone newer and younger comes along. I do wonder what the system is like in countries where sports are more centralized - what sort of support is available for the athletes after retirement?

Here's what happens to Chinese athletes who don't make it: https://nextshark.com/what-happens-chinese-olympic-athletes-who-fail/

I imagine it's very similar in Russia and other countries where kids are selected and are expected to do nothing but sport at the expense of education and their childhood.
 

text_skate

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Yesterday I watched the doumentary with friends. We felt all a bit like "What tf???" No-one has expected this magnitude.
For us living in Germany the part about not having health insurance is very hard to fathom, because we have (almost) everything, long-term therapy included
 

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