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The Weight of Gold: a look at mental health and elite sport

The HBO documentary, which examines the negative impact that sports can have on athletes, is set to be released on July 29

Photo by: Instagram/m_phelps00

A new HBO documentary called The Weight of Gold will be released on July 29, and it will look into the lives of several Olympic stars, including swimmer Michael Phelps and U.S. hurdler and bobsledder Lolo Jones. Unlike most other sports documentaries, this film will not glorify the path to the Games. Instead, it will show viewers the toll that working toward the highest level of sport can take on the mental wellbeing of athletes. Jones, a world champion, Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history, and many other high-profile athletes are set to be featured in this interesting and important film.

“None of us had normal childhoods.” This is Phelps (who helped produce the project and also narrates the film) speaking at the start of the documentary‘s  trailer. While there are certainly some Olympians who found their sports later in life, so many of these athletes got started on their high-performance pathways from young ages. If a child shows promise in a sport, he or she will be groomed for years as they work toward the Olympics, and although a lot of athletes love their lives in professional sport, many are unprepared for what comes after the Games or after retirement. 

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Phelps talks about a “post-Olympic depression” that many athletes go through. Speed skating champion Apolo Ohno echoes Phelps’s words, bringing up the question of “Then what?” An athlete makes it to the Olympics, and she wins gold. Then what? She has accomplished her life-long goal, but what’s next? The Weight of Gold will put this question of “Then what?” on display, showing viewers that many athletes don’t have an answer for it. 

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While so many things feel uncertain, I want to remind you all that now, more than ever, it’s crucial to make sure you’re taking care of your mental health. If you don’t know how to do that or where to start, @Talkspace has a variety of free resources that are available. You can join their free therapist-led Facebook support group, ask one of their therapists a question on their Instagram stories, or get clinically backed information from their blog. They are also donating 1,000 free months of therapy to healthcare workers who are fighting against COVID-19. You can visit the link to learn more and to take advantage of these resources. I encourage you to find support, stay connected, and above all, be kind to each other. We will get through this! (Link in bio)

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At another point in the trailer, Ohno mentions the “sole focus” of high-performance athletes. “That sole focus is the Olympics,” he says. “And now the next 40 seconds [of an Olympic race] will dictate our human lives.” Jones is also featured in the trailer. She is a two-time world indoor 60m hurdles champion, she ran in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics (she finished in fourth in the 100mH in 2012) and in 2014 she represented the U.S. as a bobsledder in the Winter Games. 

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“I’ve given my blood, sweat and tears,” she says, “and all I’m asking is that someone can help me get through this.” It looks like this will be an eye-opening film for viewers. From the outside looking in, it’s easy to assume that the life of an Olympic or world champion is a perfect dream, but looks can be deceiving, and The Weight of Gold will show just how wrong the assumption is in many cases. The film will be available on HBO and HBO Max on July 29 at 9 p.m. ET.