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INTERVIEW WITH MATTHEW MITCHAM

Matthew Mitcham

Matthew Mitcham

Q. Congratulations on your huge success as a Brisbane boy, both athletically and as a gay ambassador. What lead your transition from gymnast to diver?

Matthew. I had been doing trampolining for a couple of years, I had been to one world junior championships for  trampolining. It was the school summer holidays in December 1999 and I was at the Chandler Swimming Complex, back when the diving board was open to the public. One Saturday I was mucking around on the diving board witheveryone else. They were all doing bomb dives and me, being a bit of a show pony, was doing double flips onto bomb dives, just to entertain everybody. That’s when one of the national diving coaches just happened to be walking out of the office to his car and he see me and called me over to the side of the pool. I thought I was in  trouble, and he said to me ‘how do you know how to do that?’ and I said ‘I do trampolining.’ He asked if I would be interested in diving, and I said yes. For a while, I was doing trampolining and diving and school all at the same time. This wasn’t sustainable though, so eventually I had to make a decision. Trampolining was a huge sport – numbers wise – but there was only one spot on the Australian team for a trampoliner and I was competing with people who had 10 years more experience than me. So I chose to concentrate on diving, it seemed like the more sensible choice.

Q. What emotions did you go through when you were picked for the Australian Olympic Team?
Matthew.
Well, it wasn’t really a surprise. I went to the Athens Olympic trials when I was 16 and in all four events I trialled for, I missed out by one spot. So, when I made the Beijing Olympic team it wasn’t that much of a surprise because I won the Beijing Olympic trials and I knew I was good enough, but I did feel very proud.

Q. What is the camaraderie like of travelling with the team to compete against the rest of the world?
Matthew.
Most of the athletes were training in the national training centre in Brisbane before the games so most people spent every day together anyway and then there were a few others from other programs around Australia.  We all spent a lot of time travelling around together prior to the Olympics so yeah, we are like comrades but also like brothers and sisters.

Q. Standing on the podium, listening to the crowd cheering, you’ve just won a gold medal …. what was going through your head at the time?
Matthew.
The two biggest emotions were disbelief and relief. I mean, winning a gold medal has always been the thing I thought I would never be able to achieve, especially not in Beijing. I thought the best result I could’ve hoped for was a bronze medal after two Chinese divers, that was the disbelief. And then just to realise that everything I had given up and everything I had put into this dream had all been worth it was the relief side of it.

Q. Who was the biggest scallywag larrikin on the team and who did you hang out with after the serious competition is over?
Matthew.
Well, I didn’t do much partying, at least not with other athletes [laughs]. After the Olympics I went to Rome for a month with some of my friends and we went out a bit there and had a good time. Since I’ve been back in Australia and started training again, I haven’t really had much time to go out, really.

Q. Were you isolated from your boyfriend or do you get to see him at the games?
Matthew.
No, the only time I saw him was after my event.

Q. What were the gay games in Cologne like?
Matthew.
There are a lot of similarities between the gay games and the Olympics. There were 11,00 athletes in Beijing and there were 10,000 participants in Cologne. They are both multi-sport events. I didn’t allow myself to enjoy Beijing very much just because I wanted to stay really focussed. But the gay games were so much fun and just so motivational. I was moved to tears quite a few times. They sponsor people from around the world to come and participate in the games who wouldn’t have otherwise been able to afford it. The experience was so fantastic that it made me want to participate in and help out with every gay games from here on in.

Q. What gives you your inner strength, your drive and passion?
Matthew.
I just want to be special, I’ve wanted to be different and stand out ever since I was a kid. I was terrible at all the popular sports like cricket, rugby and swimming. So, I was pretty lucky that I found my niche.

Q. Who was your mentor or role model as an aspiring athlete?
Matthew.
I do take a lot of things from many different athletes. I really like Greg Louganis, he was so ahead of his time. He was one of the best divers in the world, a real diving powerhouse. I think Greg Louganis is going to be  untouchable for a very long time.

Q. You have been vocal as kind of a gay ambassador how does it feel to be one of only a few Australian openly gay role models for young gay people?
Matthew.
In Beijing, there were only 11 out gay athletes participating and I was the only male. It’s a role that I take on whole heartedly and it influences a lot of decisions I make. I’m very conscious of how I present myself as a role model.

Q. What was it like growing up in Brisbane?
Matthew.
It was good. I had my friends, you tend to form friendships very easily in Brisbane and I had more time to see people when I was training there. Here in Sydney I’ve found it more difficult to make friends but I’m fortunate because my two best friends from Brisbane are now living in Sydney too. But no, Brisbane is great.

Q. How difficult is it for young gay people to succeed in sport and what advice would you offer them?
Matthew.
Make sure that you’re in an environment were you’re comfortable and happy. The way you succeed in sport is through hard work and you’re not as prepared to put in all the hard work if you’re in an environment where you’re not entirely happy.

Q. There are heaps of other gay sporting people including Rugby and AFL players. Why is it, do you think, that they are so afraid to come out?
Matthew.
It’s a hard thing. Especially in a male orientated sport. Every person and situation is different. There’s a lot of pressure on sports stars and they’re watched so closely.

Q. Stephanie Rice seems like a cool person. Do you think it is right that people come down so heavily on someone for making one dumb comment (on Twitter she recently called the South African Rugby team ‘faggots’) and what is she really like?
Matthew.
Yeah, that’s why I defended her. It was an extremely careless, thoughtless and stupid comment. But she’s
not a homophobic person. Her and I are quite close friends and we’ve spent a few one week training blocks  together and in that time I never picked up on even a hint of homophobia.

Q. Matthew you are now a Foxtel Sports Ambassador … what does that mean? Is it a truck load of cash hopefully or just good seats?
Matthew.
Well, I want to get into TV when I finish up with diving. So it allows me to practice and get my face out there a bit. They’re supporting me in every way they can. They have fantastic coverage of the Commonwealth Games and are very supportive of sports.

Q. How cool are the Foxtel people to work with?
Matthew.
Very, very cool!

Q. You have won an Olympic gold medal a huge achievement, what else would you like to achieve?
Matthew.
I’ve won an Olympic gold, a World Cup gold and I would really like to complete it with a Commonwealth Games gold!

Q. What other things are in your bucket list of must do things in life?
Matthew.
Travel the world, help people, enjoy myself and have a lot of fun. If I could earn enough money doing a job that I really loved and I was able to retire at 40, that would be excellent. If I could find a job that I loved enough that I could do until I was 70, that would be even better.

Q. One question we ask everyone Matthew what is your life’s motto?
Matthew.
Harder, better, faster, stronger.

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