Diving with a tender abdominal muscle is about as painful as playing trumpet with a split lip.
With each leap, somersault and twist Australias Matthew Mitcham felt the tugs in his belly, even letting out an involuntary midair cry during a dive in the semifinal round. He scratched out of Sundays platform final at the AT&T USA Diving Grand Prix at the Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Complex.
Mitcham became one of the sensations of the 2008 Beijing Olympics when he prevented Chinese divers from sweeping the gold medals with his surprise victory in the 10-meter tower. On Sunday, he couldnt upstage Chinas Liang Huo and Bo Qiu, who finished one-two. He had to watch from the stands.
Mitcham attributes the abdominal injury, as well as two stress fractures in his lower spine, to excessive diving. Combine that with a heavy schedule of linguistics classes at Sydney University and numerous appearances. Fatigue and injuries followed.
Its been a packed year, he said. I overdid it and my body broke.
Mitcham is in demand. Hes a star in an island nation that loves its aquatic heroes. He is celebrated not only for his stunning Olympic victory but also for his candor in coming out as a gay athlete, a rarity in macho sports culture.
Mitcham has been gratified to see several European athletes come out, including British rugby player Gareth Thomas, British cricketer Steven Davies and Swedish soccer player Anton Hysen.
Hysen is receiving support from his teammates, a positive change compared to the plight of Justin Fashanu, the first high-level pro soccer player to reveal he was gay. Englands Fashanu was shunned and berated and committed suicide in 1998.
In the U.S., being a gay athlete remains a stigma. Diver Greg Louganis, who attended the meet in Fort Lauderdale, is a rarity in American sports, but even he waited until after he retired to come out.
Sexual orientation shouldnt matter. We should be beyond artificial delineations and whispered questions of Is he? or Is she? Someday well look back on gay-bashing the way we look back on the Salem Witch Trials and segregated water fountains.
But were not there yet definitely not in the homophobic sports world. Atlanta Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell insulted San Francisco Giants fans with an offensive anti-gay rant. A recent study of former college linebackers who are gay found they feared that coming out would alienate coaches, teammates and fans and jeopardize their chance at a pro career. Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 last month for directing what NBA commissioner David Stern called a distasteful term at a referee.
The F word should be as taboo as the N word in locker rooms, too, as it is in any workplace. The NBAs Grant Hill has filmed a Think Before You Speak public service announcement with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network that will air during the NBA Finals. Its time for other leagues to do the same.
Mitcham would love to see the day when being a gay athlete isnt a story, but knows that mens sports remains one of the last bastions of archaic notions of masculinity.
Fortunately, Australia is a very open society, he said. A lot of the prejudice comes from environmental and religious factors. If God created us all in his image why would he create someone he would hate?