Happy LGBTQ+ History Month! Every October is celebrated as LGBTQ+ History Month to recognize and educate about people, places and events that have had an impact on the LGBTQ+ Community. All month we are going to honor some influential athletes, companies, organizations and sports figures who have made a contribution toward LGBTQ+ History.
Matthew Mitcham (B. 10/2/1988) is an openly gay diver from Australia who competed and won in the 10m Platform Event in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. He achieved the highest ever score in diving in Olympic history and was the only non-Chinese diver to win a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics.
Mitcham started his athletic career as a trampoline gymnast and represented Australia at the World Junior Championships and Australia Youth Olympic Festival. He was discovered by notable diving coach Wang Tong Xiang with the Australian Institute of Sport and throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s competed in both trampoline and diving events. Shortly after the Australia Youth Olympic Festival Mitcham decided to focus solely on diving.
In the mid 2000s Mitcham excelled at diving, winning several Junior National and World Championship titles, he competed at the 2004 Australian Olympic Trails but came up just short of the Olympic team. In 2006 Mitcham competed at the 2006 Commonwealth Games where he placed within the top 5 in all his events. After the Commonwealth Games, Mitcham took a break from diving and eventually returned in 2007 under coach Chava Sobrino at the New South Wales Institute of Sport.
In 2008 Mitcham won gold in the 1m, 3m and 10m events at the Australian National Championships which qualified him for a spot on the 2008 Australian Olympic Team.
Shortly before the 2008 Olympics in Beijing Matthew Mitcham came out as openly gay in an article in The Sydney Morning Herald. Many believed he was Australia’s first openly gay athlete at the Olympic Games however that honor falls to Matthew Helm who came out shortly before the 2004 Games in Athens.
During the 2008 Olympics, Mitcham appeared on the cover of The Advocate magazine and commented on his coming out…
“I don’t see sexuality as influencing my beliefs or opinions or perceptions of anybody, whether they’re gay, straight, bi, trans, experimental, I don’t care. I see it as a very uninfluential factor in people.”
Mitcham competed in the 3m Springboard and 10m Platform events at the 2008 Olympics. While he did not qualify for the final in the 3m, Mitcham qualified in 2nd for the semi-final and final in the 10m with mixed success in the dives during the first round of the final. He entered the final round of dives in second place, 34 points behind Zhou Lüxin. The final dive was Lüxin’s worst dive of the competition with a score of 74.80, Mitcham needed an almost unprecedent 107.30 in order to clinch gold.
Mitcham’s final dive is considered one of the most perfect dives in Olympic history, with a score of 112.10 including four perfect 10s, Mitcham went on to clinch the gold medal. As a result he prevented a Chinese clean-sweep of gold in diving at the Olympics and became Australia’s first Olympic gold medalist in diving since 1924 (and second in history).
“It’s absolutely surreal. I never thought that this would be possible, I wasn’t even sure of my medal chances at all. After I did my last dive and I saw I was in first, I thought, “That’s it, it’s a silver medal, I am so happy with this” and then I won. I can’t believe it, I’m so happy.”
After the 2008 Olympics Mitcham continued diving and continued to succeed at the 2009 World Championships and 2010 Commonweath Games. He was an ambassador for the Gay Games VIII Cologne 2010 and actively promoted the Gay Games including making an appearance and diving in exhibition.
In 2011 Mitcham actively used and became addicted to recreational methamphetamine, he stated…
“I had still failed to achieve my childhood dream of becoming the best in the world at something”
As a result he turned to drug use and eventually sought treatment for his addiction with Narcotics Anonymous. He recovered just short of the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Coming off of an abdominal injury in 2011 he won the 10m Platform event at the Australian National Championships and subsequently competed at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, placing 13th and just out of the final. In 2016 prior to the Rio 2016 Games, Mitcham announced his retirement from competitive diving, ruling him out of contention for the 2016 Olympic Team.
Today Mitcham continues to make various appearances throughout Australia with his Ukelele. He published an autobiography Twist and Turns in 2012 which has recently launched as a cabaret musical starring Mitcham as himself.