‘The Weight of Gold’ sheds light on Olympians’ mental health and sparks broader conversation

Audiences at the Eclipse Theater in Breckenridge await the start of ‘The Weight of Gold’ on Tuesday August 9th. The 2020 film produced by Podium Pictures and HBO explores Olympic athletes’ mental health issues as they battle for Olympic medals.
Elaine Collins/Courtesy Photo

Before Simone Biles attended the majority of the 2020 Summer Olympics due to her mental health issues – or Mikaela Shiffrin was candid about what was going on internally at the 2022 Winter Olympics, he was common for athletes to keep all their mental struggles to themselves.

One of the reasons athletes would keep their emotions and struggles to themselves is that the stigma in sports is that athletes have to act stoic and unbreakable.

“The Weight of Gold” has worked to break this stigma and raise awareness of the mental health epidemic present at the Olympic level.

On Tuesday, August 9, Photos of grandstands, Breck Film Society and Centura Health brought the 2020 film to the Eclipse Theater in Breckenridge for a one-night screening.

When premiered in the state of Colorado, the film benefited the ongoing missions of Podium Pictures and Building Hope Summit County.

During the film’s 60-minute run, viewers saw several Olympic athletes, including Breckenridge’s Katie Uhlaender and Olympic snowboarder Shaun White, talk about the depression they faced while striving for Olympic glory.

The most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps, is the main subject and narrates sections of the film. Phelps opens the film with a monologue explaining that every athlete’s journey to the Olympics begins the same way as everyone else’s: with the dream of getting there.

These athletes then become so hyper focused on this dream that their sport often becomes their entire identity with little social life outside of their sport and most of their time training.

The result is that when these Olympic athletes fail to win a medal or receive support from sponsors, their entire world can often crumble around them, leading to a downward spiral of mental health issues.

Even successful athletes, like Phelps with his 28 Olympic medals, can be subject to mental health issues.

Phelps and White explain in the film that after the post-Olympic celebration ends, athletes often fall into post-Olympic depression because the very thing they have tirelessly devoted their lives to for the past four years is now complete.

The film ends with the many athletes featured in the film speaking about the lack of support they receive to deal with their mental health. Olympic athletes have coaches for their sport, nutrition, and strength training, but for many years they didn’t have a single mental health professional on staff.

The upshot is that there have been numerous Olympic athlete suicides in recent years, including American bobsledder Steven Holcomb, who was featured at the start of the film before his death in 2017.

The film’s conclusion is a call to action for the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee to address the mental health epidemic that is affecting the well-being of some of its most prized athletes.

A panel discussing the film and its significance followed the screening. The panel included filmmaker Brett Rapkin, a former professional snowboarder, and Steve Fisher, of Breckenridge, a mental health consultant at Soft[Mental] Sports Ashley Hughes and Athlete Education Manager at US Ski and Snowboard Mackenzie Saint Onge.

Rapkin opened the panel by explaining the inspiration behind the film. He said the film was going to focus on the physiological journey of competing at the Olympics, but after Phelps opened up about his experiences in an interview with Rapkin, the film took on a whole new direction.

“He explained to me that the resources weren’t enough,” Rapkin said. “With Michael’s help, we have more and more athletes. They were looking for a way to tell this version of the story. This is not part of the story that NBC tells before the Olympics.

St. Onge then spoke about the stigma that is brought up repeatedly in the film and how mental health, for whatever reason, has often been a taboo subject in contemporary society.

After St. Onge, Hughes shared how she overcame mental health stigma in her own life. One thing that helped her tremendously was discovering that many other people and athletes are dealing with the same emotions and feelings that she thought she was dealing with alone.

Fisher added his own perspective to the conversation, drawing on his experience as a professional snowboarder.

“It’s not widely accepted to be an 18, 19-year-old to really say, ‘I don’t want to do this today,'” Fisher said. “Until Simone Biles did it at these Olympics it was widely frowned upon. Coaches are incentivized. They’re there for you but they have jobs. When athletes perform they get paid and that’s something we never talk about.

The panel then focused on the film’s impact since 2020 and the hope for future Podium Picture movies on mental health.

“I had no idea what resources were provided,” Rapkin said. “I’m proud to say that this film was released in July 2020 and by September the US Olympic Committee had found a few million dollars to improve mental health resources. You can see why I want to do more of this stuff. Creating institutional change is truly inspiring, but it also applies to all of us.

To wrap up the panel, the conversation shifted to what can be done in Summit County and for people on a personal level to address the mental health epidemic among athletes and much of the population. American.

“I’m a big believer in the tools that are out there,” Rapkin said. “A lot of these issues can be dramatically improved if you work on them. But it’s been almost ignored in a way. You have this organ in your body called your brain that needs attention. It needs attention. chemical and must be soothed and taken care of.

Rapkin was quick to point out the great work Building Hope Summit County is doing at the local level to address mental illness. A firm believer in the phrase “it’s OK, not being OK”, Rapkin, alongside the rest of the panel, encouraged the public to contact the organization if you or someone you know needs help. .

Breck Film’s next event will be their annual film festival taking place September 15-18. Tickets are available BreckFilm.com.

“The Weight of Gold” is available on HBO Max with a subscription.

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