Retired Olympic gold medalist Matthew Mitcham has opened up about lengths he went to to try and suppress his homosexuality as a teenager.
The Australian became the first-ever openly gay athlete to win an Olympic gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He set a record for his single dive score in the men’s 10m platform event.
While this moment was his “proudest achievement”, Matthew shared the difficult journey getting there in an interview with BBC Sport.
Matthew grew up in Brisbane and began to realise he was gay while attending his Catholic school.
“I was so scared of it that I would actually tie a rubber band around my wrist,” he said.
“And every time I had a gay thought I would snap it, to try and associate pain and suffering with the gay thought. To try and train myself out of being gay.”
His diving at first helped him escape, but hiding his true self from teammates also took a toll.
“I felt stuck not being able to be authentically me,” he said.
“I didn’t want to admit I’d deceived people and lied for so long, which left me feeling alienated.”
Mitcham struggled with his mental health as a teenager, struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. At 18 he quit diving, but missed it a few months later.
Matthew Mitcham married his husband one year ago
In the leadup to the Olympics, Matthew inadvertently revealed his relationship with his boyfriend to a journalist. He ended up giving permission for the article’s publication.
“I was scared about the response. But going into the Olympics I didn’t want the Australian public to think of me one way – as straight – and then have to come out afterward, feeling like I’d lied to them,” he said.
“I thought it might mean I had no supporters. But the response was fantastic.
“I gained this enormous colorful worldwide community. It’s honestly the best decision I’ve ever made.”
After his Olympic win, Matthew describes briefly relapsing after “coming down” from the heights of the success.
Now sober again, the 32-year-old married his husband Luke Rutherford in February 2020.
“I’m really happy with how my life is, not least because I got married last year,” he said.
“I’ve got a husband and he’s really good looking.
“I’ve been hard on myself throughout my life, but I look back with kinder eyes now.
“I’m proud of not only what I won but being able to do it all as an openly gay man, because of the oppression that is still felt in so many countries around the world.”
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