I grew up watching the Olympics, especially the Winter Olympics for figure skating. I watched Sasha Cohen fall twice in her long program and fight back to win the silver medal. To me, these skaters were my heroes. I never thought about the cost of reaching that level.
It wasn’t until I read an op-ed in The New York Times about Gracie Gold’s eating disorder that it all became real to me. You hear things, sure, but more in Russia or other parts. You never imagine these things happen here. Netflix’s documentary, Athlete A, exposed not just the sexual abuse the young gymnasts were put through, but the emotional abuse too.
HBO’s The Weight of Gold comes at a time when a lot of people are struggling with mental health because of the pandemic and a time when there is still a stigma around admitting you need help. More and more celebrities are coming forward with the issues they are dealing with. Camila Cabello has talked about her anxiety, as well as Selena Gomez. Camila Medes from Riverdale has spoken about her eating disorder. Taylor Swift has briefly discussed her eating disorder as well.
Society puts a lot of pressure on celebrities to be perfect, but we also put that pressure on everyone. Athletes have even more pressure put on them, and we may have assumed the most significant part of it was them inflicting that pressure on themselves, but The Weight of Gold shows it’s more than that.
It shows a culture where athletes that are struggling and are unable to reach out for help, and even when they do, the Olympic Federation is unable to offer them anything.
The Olympians featured in the film discussed the depression that comes after the Olympics, whether you win or lose. They worked their entire life for that moment, and now what do they do?
While I have never been to the Olympics, I understand that low feeling after that incredible thing just happened. My first time as press at New York Comic Con, I felt that low afterward. One day I was interviewing the cast of Pretty Little Liars, the next I was back at my crappy retail job as I was trying to find a job that was related to my degrees.
That feeling of depression is real, and it’s not easy to shake until you figure out your next move.
I’ve always assumed that Olympians had it great. They achieved their dreams! What could be better than that? But what do they do from there? How do they make a living from there? As Sasha says in the film, they have a small window to capitalize on their success with sponsorships.
Apolo Ohno points out that not all Olympians get sponsorships. The number of gold medals you win accounts for the number of deals, it’s harder when you win silver, and if you win bronze, you wouldn’t be able to get anything.
And Michel Phelps says there is no assistance in helping them transition after they retire, either. It’s all about building them up for glory and then they leave them to figure out where they go next.
It makes moves like what Roger Federer did with signing a ten year deal with Uniqlo in 2018 even more critical. I knew when he signed that deal that he was setting himself up for retirement. There was no way he was going to play ten more years, but this secures him and his family’s future.
He’s also partnered with Swiss shoe brand On. Not only does he have a stake in the company, but he’s also designed a walking sneaker for them.
But not everyone has the same name recognition as Roger does to make these deals and worrying about how you will support yourself can take a toll.
The documentary goes even more in-depth with the depression these athletes face and shows so many of them have had suicidal thoughts. The film discusses five athletes from different sports that have committed suicide.
I broke down crying twice, and the second time I didn’t stop.
I appreciated that the documentary looks at Olympians who have won medals and those who have failed in capturing their dreams. It shows that it’s not isolated to one or the other.
The athletes are pleading with the Olympic Federation to help them with mental health issues. They are also telling everyone, it’s okay not to be okay, which is an important message right now during our global crisis.
While an hour-long documentary was probably not the way to go for this subject matter, they packed a lot into that one hour.
It’s an essential film for people to watch and discuss. The Weight of Gold is now available on the HBO website and app and HBO Max.
How did the documentary leave you feeling? Tweet me @MandyTTCarr or comment below.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.