Movie Review: The Weight of Gold

The Weight of Gold is a sports documentary that explores what it’s like for Olympic athletes who dedicate their lives in the pursuit of winning gold at the games. Globally recognised as the absolute pinnacle of sporting achievement, this fleeting yet momentous occasion is the stuff of legends. Being the best in the world and taking top honours in a competition designed to see humans go faster, higher and further is all about winning and being the best you can be. Being an underlying caveat of what it means to be American, it’s no wonder the country dedicates itself to fostering the natural talents of its people, pushing them to greatness.

While the top podium position, accolades and star-spangled banner may encompass much of America’s gung-ho drive, The Weight of Gold takes a look at the flipside of what it means to be an Olympian. Now with the Olympic Games in full swing after being postponed for the first time in 125 year history, this timely documentary produced by one of the most famous Olympians of all-time, takes a behind-the-scenes look at the real sacrifice and psychological toll of dedicating your life to a sport.

Michael Phelps has 28 medals making him the most decorated Olympian of all-time. The competitive swimmer competed in the 2000 Olympics at the age of 15, making him the youngest American to make an Olympic swim team since 1932. Just months later, he broke the world record for the 200m butterfly at the 2001 World Aquatics Championships. Phelps has been breaking records since the age of 10 and it’s easy to see how his swimming career has become synonymous with his identity. A natural born winner, who’s streamlined physique and champion spirit has guided him – the man has become associated with winning.

However, as The Weight of Gold uncovers… there’s a tremendous amount of pressure being asked to perform at such a high level for so long in the perpetual pursuit of gold. The image management behind go-getting Americans who attain gold medals at the Olympics would have you believe they’re indomitable and unstoppable. Yet, the truth is much darker as this eye-opening documentary comes to terms with some of the realities of becoming so focused and goal-orientated.

weight of gold documentary

“It’s not LOL, it’s Lolo!”

Interviewing a number of US Olympians including: Shaun White, Lolo Jones, Bode Miller, Apolo Ohno, Katie Uhlaender, Gracie Gold and Michael Phelps, we get a first-hand account of their hidden pressures. While these top athletes do receive a stipend and top medical support, the preconditions are quite overwhelming, forcing them to keep winning in order to retain these benefits. Moreover, they can’t depend on these funds to fuel their careers forcing many top sportspeople to take on supporting jobs in order to cover their living expenses. While sponsorships can be lucrative, these deals usually only target the pinnacle athletes with many medal-winning stars burning brightest for a month before and after the Olympic Games.

The Weight of Gold unpacks the hidden financial constraints with brutal honesty with Lolo Jones recounting how she worked at a gym juice bar. Going into the constant pressure to take home gold and the quest for perfection, these athletes work years to achieve in races that take seconds, suffering the fall out of mistakes or failures that can haunt them forever. Leading these triumphant lives yet hiding the darkness from the public eye, they’re called to be ambassadors and keep spirits high even when burn out and mental fatigue can leave them hollow.

This important documentary goes even deeper to examine the effects of sacrificing decades of your life to a core focus only to realise you haven’t lived. Cutting out family, friends and significant relationships in order to maintain peak physical condition, these world famous sports stars often struggle with fame and discover they haven’t had a chance to develop a true sense of self. It’s easy to write their “sob stories” off in light of their fame, status and talent but they too are human beings who offer a window into their so-called success stories.

Starting with a trigger warning, The Weight of Gold goes to some uncomfortable places – discussing depression and thoughts of suicide. Covering some of the athletes that have taken their lives, this documentary about mental health doesn’t pull punches offering a heartfelt and sincere deep dive into the hidden pressures of being an Olympian. The sports documentary comes in at just under an hour making it TV-friendly. Gathering interviews from a range of Summer to Winter games contestants, the focus is purely American, but does send shockwaves out to the rest of the Olympic community. While it could have had a wider array of interviewees, possibly from athletes in other countries as a contrast, it serves its purpose well. Hopefully its release will create awareness, lead to better treatment of national heroes and encourage all viewers to seek help in this age of widespread mental duress.

The bottom line: Eye-opening