nude, Australian, damp
Diving’s a sport where splashes are ordinarily discouraged. But Australian Matthew Mitcham’s decision to come out of the closet has attracted the whole world’s attention to this top-ranked jock’s shot at Olympic gold.
Mitcham has only one goal in mind. “I just want to be known as the Australian diver who did really well at the Olympics,” he says. “It’s everybody else who thinks it’s special when homosexuality and elite sport go together.”
It was The Sydney Morning Herald that broke the story; in the course of profiling the diver as part of its Olympics coverage, a reporter from the paper asked Mitcham whom he lived with.
“I hadn’t planned to do it at all,” Mitcham says today. “It was just a question” -- which he answered by saying he lived with his partner of two years, Lachlan -- “and it went from there.”
The subsequent attention turned out to be a bit of a distraction for Mitcham, who was hunkered down for pre-Olympic training when the story ran in The Herald May 24. He received so many media requests that his coach had to set aside a morning for interviews and photo shoots a couple weeks later. But by 2 p.m. Mitcham had to be back on the diving platform.
Mitcham almost lost his chance at a medal before he even had a shot at one: He quit the sport after burning out two years ago. A trampolinist as a child, he started diving at 11, after he was spotted by a coach as he was playing on a board in the Brisbane suburbs where he grew up. By the time he was 16, the rigors of training had made his body a wreck: He had a stress fracture on his lower back and 13 ganglion cysts -- a kind of joint and tendon swelling—in his right and left wrists. By his senior year of high school those health issues -- combined with a heavy academic load, a hectic competition schedule, and daily 5 a.m. workouts -- overwhelmed him.
So he took six months off, catching up with friends, hitting the bars, doing everything he couldn’t do as an aspiring Olympian. He also met Lachlan (about whom he’s tight-lipped for the sake of his privacy). But it didn’t take long before his desire to compete returned, so at the beginning of 2007 the couple moved to Sydney and Mitcham resumed his diving training.
He’s been so focused on Beijing since then that he hasn’t been out with friends for more than a year and a half. And now that he’s won his ticket to China, he’ll be cheered poolside by Lachlan, courtesy of a $5,000 travel grant from Johnson & Johnson’s Athlete Family Support Program.
The Advocate presents this as a fait accompli, but actually in previous stories Mitcham has mentioned some difficulty over getting Lachlan recognized as a family member for the purposes of the grant. It's nice to see they ended up doing the right thing.
Back at the pool, with the interview over, Mitcham is comparing thigh muscles with a much bulkier teammate, then asking another if the spray-on tan missed a spot on his back. Relaxed, smiling, occasionally chirpy, he’s quite charming in person -- and it’s clear that he knows it.
But once practice begins, his competition face comes on, all determination and commitment. The gay kid barely out of his teens breaks out from time to time, flashing a toothy grin when he catches someone’s eye or sticking his tongue -- and his tongue piercing -- out on request. But Mitcham is an elite athlete with a job to do now. If he wants to win the gold, he has to work hard.
“The passion is diving, but the goal is winning,” he says. “It’s not mine to lose, but hopefully it’s mine to win.”
Source: The Advocate, which has a couple more pics