Michael Phelps has personally and more than once explored the depths of the existence of high-performance athletes. He was barred from consuming cannabis. A while later he almost ended up in prison for drunk driving. But at some point he discovered the common thread of all calamities: the Olympic gold medal, most decorated with a yield of 23 gold medals, realized that he was suffering from a number of mental disorders, including depression.
Unlike many other athletes with similar problems, he found it helpful to be aggressive. Suggestions in summer 2016 turned into a real project after he left the swimming pool. The most striking result to date: the documentary “The Weight of Gold”, which was broadcast on Wednesday on the pay-TV broadcaster HBO. Director Brett Rapkin had already tried to address how difficult the struggle for gold is on the souls of some exceptional talents. He was concerned with the fate of bob Olympic champion Steven Holcomb, whom he had interviewed extensively before his death with an overdose of sleeping pills and alcohol.
Since then, the names of American athletes who committed suicide and who did not belong to the group of former football and ice hockey professionals who had suffered serious long-term brain trauma in their career, including freestyle ski world champion Jeret Peterson and bobsledder Pavel Jovanovic, have been known. The film, which Phelps co-financed as a co-producer and in which he directed commentators on interviews with athletes such as snowboarder Shaun White, speed skater Apolo Ohno and skier Bode Miller, is an indictment of organized sport. “I don’t think anyone was interested in helping us,” Phelps says.
What the documentation lacks is an overview of how the topic is handled elsewhere. It does not capture the tremendous dismay with which Germany’s 2009 goalkeeper Robert Enke’s suicide was reacted to. He still goes into activities such as the study by the football players’ union Fifpro, which already outlined the above-average high risk of depression among professionals in 2014.
According to the “New York Times”, those responsible for American sport seem to have become more sensitive to the topic. The National Olympic Committee provides a growing number of athletes with access to advice from therapists. However, the system has limits. It is being implemented by a giant company that makes its money by assisting human resources departments that face employee mental health problems.
The approach has little to do with classic, much more expensive forms of therapy. Therefore, a new partner is said to be found. We are talking about a company called Talkspace, in which Phelps participated as an investor a while ago. “I want to try to save the lives of as many Olympic athletes as possible,” said the 35-year-old as part of his advertising campaign for the film. “I can no longer see these suicides.”