Olympic diving champion and gay icon Matthew Mitcham appears on Channel 10 game show Talkin’ Bout Your Generation this Sunday. Sydney Star Observer caught up with Mitcham one-on-one backstage after the program’s taping several weeks ago.
The athlete, who turned 22 on March 2, said that TV appearances tested his nerve far more than competing in the Olympics.
“It’s actually a lot harder. When I’m at the Olympics or a dive comp I’m doing what I do best, whereas this is really different for me. But I had a lot of fun with this.”
Mitcham doesn’t often work the TV show circuit, and he said it was because his sport came first.
“Diving is really my priority, and everything else has to fit around that. When something interferes with training, you really have to weigh up whether or not it’s worth it.”
The surprisingly compact Mitcham (“People are always surprised how small I am when they meet me,” he said. “It’s because all my competitors are 14, 15 years old — they only come up to my left nipple.”) is a realist when it comes to his sporting use-by date, saying that after the 2012 London Olympics he’ll be “getting a bit old” to continue as a diver.
He was famously one of only 11 openly gay athletes competing in Beijing out of a pool of over 11,000. Asked what could be done to make that number higher before the next Games, Mitcham gave a disarmingly frank response.
“I don’t know if you can. Sport is a really hard area to come out in. There’s such a macho mentality, and gay is still seen as inferior in this environment when you have to be big, strong and dominant.
“And of course a lot of other countries in the Olympics aren’t as accepting as Australia. A lot of other athletes around the world are in very different situations, where coming out could have very negative consequences for them.
“So I could never actually encourage anybody to come out, because everyone’s situation is difficult.”
He may not encourage others to follow his path, but Mitcham said he was happy with his decision to come out several months before his shock medal win in Beijing.
“I got a lot of emails and messages on MySpace from young people almost immediately after coming out. It was pretty cool to feel an immediate reaction from me doing what I did. If I had any doubts about my decision before, receiving those messages completely washed them away.
“There’s nothing that can be taken away from helping people — it’s the best gift.”
info: Matthew Mitcham stars on Talkin’ Bout Your Generation, Channel 10, 7.30pm, Sunday, March 14.