The Weight of Gold highlights the painful, unseen struggles of being an Olympian

Olympians are celebrated for their athletic heroics, but the new HBO documentary The Weight of Gold sheds light on the darkness that follows.

The Weight of Gold Review — Grade: A

Olympic athletes are celebrated and revered for their physical strengths, but behind their smiles, there is often hidden pain.

HBO’s new sports documentary, The Weight of Gold, provides Olympians a platform to reveal the depression and emotional anguish that they suffer while attempting to attain perfection and the emptiness that follows.

Director Brett Rapkin (Welcome to Dodgertown, On the Clock: The NFL Draft) relies on the narrative voices of Michael Phelps, Shaun White, Apolo Ohno, and a cacophony of other athletes.

The Weight of Gold centers on Phelps, who is the most decorated Olympian in history. He won 28 medals throughout his 16-year Olympic career. Phelps opens up about his mental health struggles, but also serves as a conduit to the tribulations of others.

Phelps is an executive producer of the documentary, which shows how invested he is in helping other past and current Olympians who are battling invisible demons. Some of the athletes featured in the film are prominent, while others are lesser-known. Still, they reveal similar stories regarding the eroding toll the Olympics took on their mental and emotional well-being.

Olympians are an elite, small group. Not many know what it’s like to be in their shoes, but Phelps and all the athletes in this film try to make people understand that their journeys aren’t always glamorous and can be extremely isolating.

The Weight of Gold puts the lives of Olympic athletes in perspective and shows their everyday hardships and that they need help too.

Phelps enjoyed the most success of any Olympian, but happiness evaded him for a portion of his career. He felt alone and under the microscope and tried to find an identity outside of being an Olympian. Extreme depression set in.

All the athletes featured in The Weight of Gold asked themselves the same two questions: Who am I? What now?

The Olympics consume their identities. They’ve sacrificed what most would deem normal lives in the pursuit of sports greatness. Wanting to win is a compulsion that has detrimental effects on mental health.

Phelps’s voice is a bit mechanical while narrating throughout the film, but his on-camera interviews are poignant and revealing. The same can be said about all the individuals that courageously shared their stories. It takes a lot of guts to share your mental health struggles with the world.

The most startling revelation made in the film is that many Olympic athletes’ depression led to suicidal thoughts. Several former Olympians have fallen victim to despair and taken their own lives.

The Weight of Gold successfully achieves its purpose, which is to openly discuss the mental and emotional trauma Olympic athletes face and to push for those in charge of the Olympic games and national team organizers to offer their athletes help.

This documentary normalizes the lives of Olympians and shows that they are human, like everybody else. They win, lose, question themselves, have fears, and experience pain. Olympic athletes need resources and treatment for depression and mental health issues. The Weight of Gold advocates for a change. Hopefully, those in charge finally get the message.


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The Weight of Gold premieres on HBO on Wednesday, July 29, at 9 p.m. ET.

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