The 2020 Summer Olympics will not be starting as planned on July 29 (thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, they were postponed to 2021 back in March), but HBO will be debuting some Olympic-focused programming on that day. HBO announced Monday that they’ve picked up linear and streaming rights to The Weight of Gold, a Brett Rapkin-directed documentary from Podium Pictures and Octagon that has Michael Phelps (seen above receiving gold for the 200m individual medley in the 2016 Rio Olympics), Lolo Jones, Bode Miller, Shaun White and many more Olympic athletes talking about their battles with mental health challenges, including post-Olympic depression. The film will premiere on HBO at 10 p.m. ET/PT Wednesday, July 29, and will be available to stream on HBO Max. Here’s more from a release:
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.
…“As we all cope during this time of anxiety, Michael Phelps and the Olympic athletes of this film are courageously leading a movement for greater mental health awareness, giving a vulnerable look into the emotional costs of exceptional athleticism,” said Peter Nelson, Executive Vice President of HBO Sports. “When Podium Pictures and Octagon brought us this project, we quickly recognized its power along with the relatability of its theme for so many.”
“I believe I have experienced a state of depression after every Olympics I competed in,” said Phelps. “For a long time, I only saw myself as a swimmer, not a person. When I walked off the podium in Rio, I knew many of my teammates and competitors were not aware of, or prepared for – the post-Olympic transition. In sharing our stories, it is my hope that we can encourage others to open up, let them know they are not alone and that it’s ok to not be ok. For me, the opportunity to help break the stigma surrounding mental health and potentially save a life is way more meaningful than any Olympic medal.”
“Making documentaries always provides the opportunity to learn about your subject along the way,” said director Brett Rapkin. “Unfortunately, this particular project involved unexpectedly learning about a serious mental health crisis that I was not previously aware of: Post-Olympic Depression. The current global health crisis has only brought more urgency to finding ways to reduce the stigma of seeking help and provide excellent mental health resources for not only Olympians but everyone.”
It’s interesting to see how many sports this covers, and how it features athletes from both the Winter and Summer Olympics. There are obviously big differences between the sports these athletes compete in, from skiing to figure skating to swimming, but there are some overlaps in the challenges they face in both pursuing excellence in their sport and then having to find meaning after their events end.
And sports that are the biggest at the Olympics are perhaps particularly challenging for this. Yes, there are plenty of training opportunities, season events, world championships and qualifying events in the four years between each Summer or Winter Olympics, but those don’t come with anywhere near the same spotlight. And just making it to the Olympics itself can be incredibly challenging, and an athlete’s bid to get there can fall short for any number of reasons out of their control, which can carry its own mental challenges.
So this is certainly a notable topic to explore, and Rapkin has a solid sports background. He’s done a lot of sports work over the years, including directing and co-writing 2016’s Spaceman (the Josh Duhamel-starring biopic on Bill “Spaceman” Lee), and directing a range of documentaries (including Welcome To Dodgertown, On The Clock: The NFL Draft, and Football Freakonomics). And he has an impressive list of participating athletes here (and that’s an area where having an agency like Octagon involved is definitely helpful). So there may be something notable here for Olympic sports fans, and for those interested in the mental challenges top athletes face.
The Weight of Gold premieres on HBO on July 29.