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Congratulations to Olympic diving champion Matthew Mitcham for his return to form in preparation for the London Olympics and for his embrace of his status as a gay role model. In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald on April 19, 2012, headlined "Olympic Champion Happy to Dive in at Deep End for Gay Rights," Mitcham declared that he was "still willing to carry the added weight of interest in his advocacy of gay rights."
Mitcham said that being a gay role model is not something he sees "as a burden," especially since there are "few openly gay sports stars . . . around at the moment."
"Ideally I would like one day for sexuality to be as unimportant and uninteresting as hair colour, or eye colour or even just gender in general. One day it will get to that," he said. But added, "until it is easy for sports people to come out without fear of persecution or fear of lost sponsorship income and stuff like that, or fear of being uncomfortable in the team environment, I don't mind attention being brought to my sexuality in the hope that it might make other people feel more comfortable . . . about who they are in their sporting environment."
Although there had been worries that Mitcham, who had suffered injuries in 2010 and 2011, might not be able to perform up to the standard he set for himself at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where he earned the highest score ever awarded for a single dive in the history of modern Olympic diving and won a gold medal in the ten-meter platform event, he is now in good shape and poised to do well in London. In the Australian trials in Adelaide earlier this month, Mitcham scored a perfect 10 from all seven judges in one of his dives and picked up 10s in two others.
Mitcham first came to the attention of international diving fans in 2004, when at the age of 16, he won silver in the one-meter springboard, three-meter synchro, and ten-meter platform events at the World Junior Championships.
In 2006, however, he quit the sport in part because he was bullied at school and came to associate diving with angst and pain.
After he returned to competition, Mitcham had to overcome numerous obstacles before he was allowed to join the Australian Olympic team. Interestingly, however, after he qualified for Beijing, he was awarded a travel grant from the Johnson & Johnson Athletic Support Program to allow his partner to accompany him to the games, the first time that such an award had been granted to a same-sex partner.
Mitcham's final dive in Beijing made history. As Linda Rapp describes the dive, "It was an extremely risky back two-and-a-half somersault with two-and-a-half twists, which he executed with a degree of proficiency that drew gasps of amazement and admiration from viewers. NBC commentator Cynthia Potter exulted, 'Matthew Mitcham has done something that nobody in the world thought anybody in the world could do!'"
As Rapp also reports, "Following the Olympics, Australians voted Mitcham the Sports Performer of the Year in 2008, and he shared the nation's Don Award (named for Australian cricketing legend Sir Donald Bradman) with pole-vaulter Steve Hooker in recognition of sporting achievements that had inspired the nation. He was also awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia."
Mitcham has often been compared to Greg Louganis, who is also gay and who is regarded as the greatest diver in Olympics history.
In the video below, Mitcham is interviewed before his historic dive.
In the following video, he is interviewed after the dive.
Below is a fan tribute video to Mitcham.