By Sharon Robb
PEMBROKE PINES, July 28, 2020—In one of the most riveting HBO sports documentaries, Michael Phelps talks candidly about his mental health struggles before, during and after his four Olympic appearances.
The legendary swimmer narrates and executive produces the one-hour documentary “The Weight of Gold” that premiers tonight on HBO at 9 p.m.
The gut-wrenching film shows another side of Olympic fame seldom talked about by Olympians and coaches.
Phelps, 35, the most-decorated Olympian of all time, looks at the mental health effects on Olympic athletes and their relentless training, intense pressure of competing and the aftermath when the Olympic spotlight no longer burns bright.
“None of us had normal childhoods,” Phelps said. “Now there are good sides to that and bad sides to that.”
Phelps has intimately discussed his depression before. He went on record in 2018 and announced that he suffered from depression, revealing that he contemplated suicide following the 2012 Olympics.
“A good 80 percent, maybe more, go through some kind of post-Olympic depression,” Phelps said in the film. “There was one question that hit me like a ton of bricks. Who was I outside of a swimming pool?”
Phelps talks candidly again along with other athletes Sean White, Lolo Jones, Bode Miller, Gracie Gold, Sasha Cohen, Apolo Anton Ono, Katie Uhlaender and the late Steven Holcomb. The champion bobsledder was found dead in 2017 in his room at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, N.Y. with alcohol and prescription sleeping pills in his system.
“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.”
Peter Nelson, Executive Vice President of HBO Sports, added: “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. When Podium Pictures and Octagon brought us this project, we quickly recognized its power along with the relatability of its theme for so many.”
Sharon Robb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org