Whicker: Brilliant HBO documentary shows Olympians caught among the rings

David Boudia won a diving gold medal in 2012, at London’s Olympics. It was a bonus for Team USA, which had not won diving gold in 12 years.

It also was a bonus because Boudia was still alive.

“I had a couple of different plans,” Boudia said on HBO’s arresting documentary, “The Weight Of Gold.”

“I thought about hanging myself and said, nah. I thought about shooting myself, but I didn’t even know how to get a gun. My best idea was to drive my car as fast as I could and smoke a telephone pole. I wouldn’t feel anything.”

Lolo Jones, the fallen favorite in the 2008 hurdles, also had an exit strategy.

“I used to think that I hoped a truck would hit me and wipe me out, and nobody got hurt but I did,” Jones said. “I had thoughts of closing the door of the garage and turning the car on.”

Figure skater Gracie Gold: “I don’t know what’s on the other side but I used to think it would probably be better…I had a good day if I got out of bed before 11 and washed my face, brushed my teeth and left my apartment. It was like my life was a snow globe. I could see everything that was happening but I couldn’t get involved in it.”

The five rings don’t just interlock. They can crush the ones who bring them to life.

Director Brett Rapkin directed “The Weight Of Gold” to mirror the process that entraps those champions. Placid at first, it gets tighter and more desperate, and ends with a bleak list of those who made their final solutions come true.

These aren’t just defeated Olympians.

Michael Phelps, who narrates the film, thought about it. Shaun White, the effervescent snowboarder who spent three Olympics laughing at the top of the world, talked of “this dramatic emptiness, this incredible crash” when each Games ended.

Skier Bode Miller dealt with disappointment in 2006, victory in 2010. After he came up short in five races in Torino, he noted that his Q rating dived lower than O.J. Simpson’s, or Mike Tyson’s after he bit off Evander Holyfield’s ear. David Letterman mocked him late at night.

“The fourth place guy, he disappears, he dissipates, he becomes a civilian,” said Apolo Ohno, the gold medal speed skater. “You never hear from him.”

Which is Rapkin’s point. Olympians literally devote lives to one moment. Win or lose, they are rarely prepared for the next moment.

“Growing up, I didn’t have friends, didn’t want to go to school,” said figure skater Sasha Cohen, who fell in 2006 and wound up with silver. “Everything else was an obstacle that needed to be pushed aside.”

Every other athlete finds comfort in “wait till next year.” Almost none wear flags on their sleeves. We expect Olympians to magically appear, every fourth year, and win and stand on podiums and maybe shed a theatrical tear when they hear the rocket’s red glare.

Then we usher them into the wings until the next time, disinterested in the alarms that they never sounded, until now.

You can safely question the entire system when Phelps, the surpassing Olympic athlete of our time, is saying, “I was a swimmer, not a person. I had no self-confidence or self-love. There was one question that hit me like a ton of bricks. Who was I, outside the pool?”

And Phelps was swimming in sponsorships. The others were scraping along with little financial support, let alone mental help.

Jones, a 3-time Olympian who went from track to bobsled, served smoothies at a health club to make ends meet.

One day a customer looked up at the TV and saw Jones in USA garb.

“He said, ‘Is that you?’’ Jones said. “He didn’t get it.”

“For U.S. athletes, it’s how many golds do you have,” Ohno said. “Silver or bronze? You’re not making money. Didn’t get a medal? I don’t even know your name. Go back to the end of the line, buddy. You’re in debt every year you compete, even with the money you make.”

When Gold became depressed, she finally talked to a U.S. federation official, who blithely suggested Gold look up a therapist in her area. Had she blown out her knee, she said, surgeons and therapists would have gathered like ants on sugar.

This is not Hallmark-network viewing. No happy ending is provided or promised.

The answers only lie with a sporting structure that can’t see that a brain needs maintenance, too, and a nation that worships its heroes right up to the moment they become people.

Seek it out.

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