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LGBT+ History Month: Matthew Mitcham's troubled path to historic Olympic gold

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Matthew Mitcham on being the primary overtly homosexual male to win person Olympic gold

Caution: This text comprises references to drug habit, suicide and psychological well being problems.

“Profitable Olympic gold is probably the most excessive herbal top you’ll be able to ever revel in,” says Matthew Mitcham, who then pauses, laughs and provides: “That is why I turned into a drug addict!”

This light-hearted response would possibly appear at odds with this kind of severe material, however Australian former diver Mitcham is now a thankfully married guy, totally at peace along with his afflicted previous on the age of 32.

In January he celebrated being 5 years blank from the “crippling” day-to-day drug and alcohol intake he says drove him to believe taking his personal existence on multiple instance.

He’s additionally mindful that, whilst the post-Video games comedown – frequently known as ‘Olympic blues’ – was once a key think about his struggles, his issues in reality started lengthy prior to.

His technique of restoration has been helped maximum of all via mirrored image, having a look again at the afflicted trail that resulted in a historical fulfillment – changing into the primary overtly homosexual guy to win person Olympic gold.

Short presentational grey line

Mitcham had a difficult youth. He craved an break out from the “overlook” he persisted dwelling in Brisbane along with his mom, who struggled with psychological well being issues.

He additionally realised from a tender age that he “appreciated boys”, however power from society, bullies and his Catholic convent number one college left him feeling “ashamed” of his sexuality.

“I used to be so afraid of it that I might in fact tie a rubber band round my wrist and each and every time I had a homosexual idea I might snap it, to take a look at and affiliate ache and struggling with the homosexual idea. To check out and teach myself out of being homosexual,” he tells BBC Recreation.

Diving was once to begin with an break out, however having offered himself as instantly to his team-mates for years, he started resenting the game.

“I felt caught now not having the ability to be authentically me,” he says. “I did not need to admit I might deceived other people and lied for goodbye, which left me feeling alienated.

“Diving turned into this darkness which permeated the remainder of my existence. I in reality hated it, however I knew it was once my one probability to be particular, so I stored going, successfully on autopilot.”

That is how Mitcham slipped into melancholy. As a tender teen he would incessantly self-harm, take medicine and binge-drink, regardless of “hating the style” of alcohol.

“I might actually block my nostril and drink, drink, drink for the reason that goal wasn’t to get under the influence of alcohol, it was once to throw up and move out faster than I did the week prior to,” he recollects.

“It was once reduction, escapism and some way of shutting my mind off for a couple of hours, but it surely stored escalating.”

Matthew Mitcham diving during the men's 10 platform at the 2008 Beijing Olympics
Mitcham idea Olympic bronze was once “past his wildest desires” however went directly to win gold in Beijing

At 18, Mitcham give up diving and spent a yr doing “very dangerous issues” along with his frame, however he additionally grew extra assured along with his id after being embraced via Brisbane’s LGBT+ group.

He admits it took him six months to forestall hating diving. It was once every other 3 prior to he overlooked competing. Introduced an opportunity to go back in overdue 2006, he relocated to Sydney to make an legitimate comeback, simply 15 months prior to the Beijing Olympics.

“I minimize out the whole lot that was once dangerous – clearly the medication and alcohol – but in addition junk meals and comfortable beverages as a result of I did not need to jeopardise an opportunity to achieve my first Olympics,” he says.

“The issue was once that I used to be nonetheless serious about medicine each day.”

Mitcham didn’t plan to return out publicly, however inadvertently published he was once dwelling along with his boyfriend right through a pre-Video games interview. After consulting buddies, he gave the go-ahead for the thing to be revealed.

“I used to be scared concerning the reaction, however going into the Olympics I did not need the Australian public to consider me a method – as instantly – after which have to return out afterwards, feeling like I might lied to them,” he says.

“I believed it would imply I had no supporters, however the reaction was once improbable and I won this monumental vibrant international group. It is in truth the most efficient choice I have ever made.”

He smiles when he recollects the “mind-blowing” revel in in Beijing and brings out his easiest Welsh accessory to imitate Little Britain personality Daffyd when describing himself because the “simplest homosexual within the village” at the ones Video games.

The massive day got here on 23 August, 2008, the penultimate day of pageant.

Matthew Mitcham
Matthew Mitcham struggled with habit during his aggressive diving profession

Hosts China have been anticipated to finish a blank sweep of the diving medals and protected their ‘fortunate’ 8th gold with good fortune within the males’s 10m platform match.

Mitcham had different concepts. Together with his ultimate regimen he set an Olympic document rating for a unmarried dive – 112 – to stun the house crowd.

“There were different Olympic gold medallists since, and my Olympic document might be damaged at some point, however no-one will ever be capable of remove the reality I used to be the primary overtly homosexual male Olympic champion,” he says.

“It was once probably the most superb feeling and my proudest fulfillment.”

Matthew Mitcham kisses his Olympic gold medal after winning the men's 10m platform diving competition at Beijing 2008
Matthew Mitcham turned into the arena’s first overtly homosexual Olympic person champion at Beijing 2008

Mitcham jokes that profitable Olympic gold “magically” remodeled his symbol, however actually it didn’t make him happier.

Then elderly 20, he loved his good fortune for a “subject of days” prior to finding he was once nonetheless ranked as international quantity two in the back of Chinese language rival Zhou Luxin – the Olympic silver medallist – who had attained extra good fortune within the International Sequence.

“It should not have, but it surely despatched me right into a downward spiral of crippling self-doubt once more as a result of I might had this obsession about being the most efficient on this planet,” says Mitcham.

“Being an Olympic champion made me really feel even worse as a result of I had no proper to really feel that method once I had the arena at my toes.”

“Ashamed,” Mitcham slipped again into outdated behavior. He turned into hooked on crystal meth. He concealed his dependancy from the ones round him.

“Realizing I might be drug-tested at each and every pageant I might detox from medicine for the weeks prior to competing and I might undergo those terrible withdrawals,” he recollects.

“They have been so unhealthy that I might promise myself with each and every mobile in my frame that I used to be now not going to make use of once more, however I could not ever stay the promise.

“It were given darkish. My vanity was once shattered, now and then killing myself gave the look of one of the simplest ways to care for this however I after all took myself to rehab.”

Mitcham, extremely, accomplished the arena primary rating he craved in 2010, however damage issues noticed him eradicated within the semi-finals at London 2012 and, even supposing he would upload a maiden Commonwealth name to his assortment in 2014, he retired in early 2016.

A split image of husbands Matthew Mitcham (left) and Luke Rutherford (right) holding up their wedding rings on the left and kissing on the right
Matthew Mitcham and Luke Rutherford married in early 2020

The Australian has been blank ever since and in February closing yr married his British spouse Luke Rutherford.

“I am in reality pleased with how my existence is, now not least as a result of I were given married closing yr, so I have were given a husband and he is in reality excellent having a look,” says Mitcham with a beaming smile.

“I have been exhausting on myself during my existence, however I glance again with kinder eyes now, and I am happy with now not simplest what I received however having the ability to do all of it as an overtly homosexual guy, as a result of the oppression this is nonetheless felt in such a lot of nations all over the world.

“In Beijing there have been 11 overtly LGBT athletes after which there have been over 20 at London 2012 and greater than 40 in Rio 2016, so it is doubling every Video games.

“I am happy to have confidently performed a small phase in that as a result of visibility is so necessary.”

Should you’ve been suffering from problems raised on this article, there’s knowledge and improve to be had on BBC Motion Line.

Divers Matthew Mitcham (left) and Tom Daley (right) smiling as Mitcham holds up Daley's 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medal
Mitcham believes Tom Daley has made it “such a lot more uncomplicated” for athletes to return out because of his public profile
Australian divers Domonic Bedggood (left) and Matthew Mitcham (right) on the podium holding up their medals at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games
Mitcham received Commonwealth gold at Glasgow 2014 in his closing main pageant for Australia

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