Directed by Anna Auster
Steven Holcomb, known to his team and friends as “Holky”, is a bobsled driver from Park City, Utah, who emerges as an unlikely best hope to end Team USA’s 62-year Olympic gold medal drought. But Steven has a dangerous secret: He is going blind.
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In the last interview conducted before he passed away at the age of 37, Steven tells his own story of rising through the ranks as a bobsled driver, hiding his blindness from his team as he becomes one of the best sled drivers in the world, his struggle with depression, and how, with the help of an experimental surgery, he overcomes his obstacles and captures gold before his untimely death.
At a time when society is finally beginning to discuss the mental health of athletes, the film makes an invaluable contribution to this important conversation.
Anna Auster is making her directorial debut after editing documentaries for nearly 20 years. Her most recent work includes editing and co-producing the four-part PBS series, Mysteries of Mental Illness and the Emmy nominated FRONTLINE, Opioids, Inc. In recent years, she’s worked with award winning filmmakers including Alex Gibney, Tom Jennings, and Sam Pollard. Anna was born and raised in Colorado and began her film career while living in Dakar, Senegal. She now splits her time between New York City and Vermont.
Steven Holcomb’s story came to me as found footage. A crew had interviewed him about what it was like to go blind, regain his sight and win Olympic gold. Steven’s sudden death, only weeks later, radically altered the interview’s valence.
Over my career, I’ve screened hundreds of interviews, and this one struck me like no other. I was taken not only by Steven’s remarkable and tragic story but by his raw honesty and depth of emotion. The tension between his tough, brave athletic exterior and his vulnerability drew me in instantly. It reminded me of male friends and family members who, as a result of societal norms, rarely get the chance to show weakness, cry in front of others, or describe their feelings in detail. Steven was willing to open up and express himself in these ways out of love and compassion for others who struggle with what he called the “dark demon” that is depression. Out of admiration for his courage, I wanted to honor his story.
Like Steven, I grew up in the mountains of the West ski racing and relishing cold weather and snow. At a time when the climate is warming and winter is also fragile, I wanted to use the landscape and temperatures to drive the story. The initial footage was filmed on an overcast day in Lake Placid. We were able to fund an additional day of shooting at the training facility in February of 2020 to capture a wider range of detail and more visceral bobsled footage.
For the audience, I hope watching the film is like riding a rollercoaster or driving a bobsled on “the fastest and most dangerous track in the world”, not in a thrill seeking way, but as a journey that leads to unexpected perspectives and insights into human behavior and emotion.