Mitcham, 23, wants to talk about his identity so that others might be as comfortable in their skin as he is in his. Hes proud to be a role model, because his story is an encouraging one.
He came out before the 2008 Olympics when he told the Sydney Morning Herald that he lived with his partner, Lachlan Fletcher. He was the only openly gay male athlete at the Beijing Games, where 11,000 athletes competed.
And the response was?
Absolutely positive, Mitcham said. Its part of my own ethical and moral beliefs to be an honest person. I accepted who I was. When youre hiding something people sense it as a weakness.
Mitcham applied for and received a travel grant from the Johnson & Johnson Athlete Family Support Program to have Lachlan attend the Olympics.
I wasnt going to treat my partner like he didnt exist, Mitcham said. I decided I wanted Australians to know who they were supporting. Im glad I did.
At the Olympics, Mitcham went into the final dive of the final event trailing Chinas Zhou Luxin by 34 points.
China had won seven golds and they were celebrating their eighth already, he said. I was thinking silver for myself.
But on his final dive, Mitcham earned four perfect 10s and scored a record 112.10 points. He beat Zhou by 4.8 points.
NBC cut away from the coverage when a jubilant Mitcham ran into the stands and kissed his mother and Fletcher. NBC was criticized for not showing Mitchams embraces when the network wasnt hesitant to show those of heterosexual athletes. NBC said it was not an intentional slight but later said, We regret that we missed the opportunity to tell Matthew Mitchams story.
Mitcham was raised by his young single mum, Vivienne. He met his father for the first time last year and the two have developed a good relationship.
Being a diver in Australia is not nearly as lucrative as being a swimmer. Prior to the Olympics, Mitcham and Fletcher shared a studio apartment and ate a lot of noodles, toast and baked beans. Mitcham worked in an office job for a cruise line.
Going for gold
Since the Olympics, Mitcham hasnt gotten rich; corporations arent eager to align themselves with gays. But, in a sign of progress, he has signed endorsement deals with a telecommunications company, a nutrition bar company and Funky Trunks, a swimwear company. He was chief of parade for the Sydney Mardi Gras, a gay pride event.
Hes planning to go for gold at the 2012 London Olympics. By then, we can only hope for evolution in the secretive sports world. By then, perhaps more athletes will have followed Mitchams courageous example.