Warning: This article consists of references to drug habit, suicide and psychological well being points.
“Winning Olympic gold is the most extreme natural high you can ever experience,” says Matthew Mitcham, who then pauses, laughs and provides: “That’s why I became a drug addict!”
This light-hearted response could seem at odds with such a critical subject material, however Australian former diver Mitcham is now a fortunately married man, totally at peace together with his troubled previous on the age of 32.
In January he celebrated being 5 years clear from the “crippling” day by day drug and alcohol consumption he says drove him to think about taking his personal life on a couple of event.
He can be conscious that, whereas the post-Games comedown – usually referred to as ‘Olympic blues’ – was a key think about his struggles, his issues actually started lengthy earlier than.
His technique of restoration has been helped most of all by reflection, wanting again on the troubled path that led to a historic achievement – turning into the primary overtly homosexual man to win particular person Olympic gold.
Mitcham had a difficult childhood. He craved an escape from the “neglect” he endured residing in Brisbane together with his mom, who struggled with psychological well being issues.
He additionally realised from a younger age that he “liked boys”, however stress from society, bullies and his Catholic convent main college left him feeling “ashamed” of his sexuality.
“I was so scared of it that I would actually tie a rubber band around my wrist 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,” he tells BBC Sport.
Diving was initially an escape, however having offered himself as straight to his team-mates for years, he started resenting the game.
“I felt stuck not being able to be authentically me,” he says. “I didn’t want to admit I’d deceived people and lied for so long, which left me feeling alienated.
“Diving grew to become this darkness which permeated the remainder of my life. I actually hated it, however I knew it was my one probability to be particular, so I saved going, successfully on autopilot.”
This is how Mitcham slipped into depression. As a young teenager he would regularly self-harm, take drugs and binge-drink, despite “hating the style” of alcohol.
“I’d actually block my nostril and drink, drink, drink as a result of the intention wasn’t to get drunk, it was to throw up and cross out faster than I did the week earlier than,” he remembers.
“It was aid, escapism and a manner of shutting my mind off for just a few hours, however it saved escalating.”
At 18, Mitcham stop diving and spent a 12 months doing “very unhealthy issues” with his body, but he also grew more confident with his identity after being embraced by Brisbane’s LGBT+ community.
He admits it took him six months to stop hating diving. It was another three before he missed competing. Offered a chance to return in late 2006, he relocated to Sydney to make an official comeback, just 15 months before the Beijing Olympics.
“I minimize out the whole lot that was unhealthy – clearly the medication and alcohol – but additionally junk meals and smooth drinks as a result of I did not need to jeopardise an opportunity to attain my first Olympics,” he says.
“The drawback was that I used to be nonetheless enthusiastic about medication day-after-day.”
Mitcham did not plan to come out publicly, but inadvertently revealed he was living with his boyfriend during a pre-Games interview. After consulting friends, he gave the go-ahead for the article to be published.
“I used to be scared in regards to the response, however going into the Olympics I did not need the Australian public to consider me a technique – as straight – after which have to come out afterwards, feeling like I’d lied to them,” he says.
“I believed it’d imply I had no supporters, however the response was improbable and I gained this monumental vibrant worldwide neighborhood. It’s truthfully the perfect choice I’ve ever made.”
He smiles when he remembers the “mind-blowing” experience in Beijing and brings out his best Welsh accent to mimic Little Britain character Daffyd when describing himself as the “solely homosexual within the village” at these Games.
The large day got here on 23 August, 2008, the penultimate day of competitors.
Hosts China were expected to complete a clean sweep of the diving medals and secure their ‘lucky’ eighth gold with success in the men’s 10m platform event.
Mitcham had other ideas. With his final routine he set an Olympic record score for a single dive – 112 – to stun the home crowd.
“There have been different Olympic gold medallists since, and my Olympic report might be damaged in the future, however no-one will ever have the ability to take away the very fact I used to be the primary overtly homosexual male Olympic champion,” he says.
“It was essentially the most wonderful feeling and my proudest achievement.”
Mitcham jokes that successful Olympic gold “magically” transformed his image, but in reality it did not make him happier.
Then aged 20, he loved his success for a “matter of days” before discovering he was still ranked as world number two behind Chinese rival Zhou Luxin – the Olympic silver medallist – who had attained more success in the World Series.
“It should not have, however it despatched me right into a downward spiral of crippling self-doubt once more as a result of I’d had this obsession about being the perfect on this planet,” says Mitcham.
“Being an Olympic champion made me really feel even worse as a result of I had no proper to really feel that manner once I had the world at my toes.”
“Ashamed,” Mitcham slipped back into old habits. He became addicted to crystal meth. He hid his habit from those around him.
“Knowing I’d be drug-tested at each competitors I’d detox from medication for the weeks earlier than competing and I’d undergo these horrible withdrawals,” he remembers.
“They have been so dangerous that I’d promise myself with each cell in my physique that I used to be not going to use once more, however I could not ever hold the promise.
“It got dark. My self-esteem was shattered, at times killing myself seemed like the easiest way to deal with this but I finally took myself to rehab.”
Mitcham, extremely, achieved the world primary rating he craved in 2010, however damage issues noticed him eradicated within the semi-finals at London 2012 and, though he would add a maiden Commonwealth title to his assortment in 2014, he retired in early 2016.
The Australian has been clear ever since and in February final 12 months married his British companion Luke Rutherford.
“I’m really happy with how my life is, not least because I got married last year, so I’ve got a husband and he’s really good looking,” says Mitcham with a beaming smile.
“I’ve been hard on myself throughout my life, but I look back with kinder eyes now, and 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.
“In Beijing there have been 11 overtly LGBT athletes after which there have been over 20 at London 2012 and greater than 40 in Rio 2016, so it is doubling every Games.
“I’m pleased to have hopefully played a small part in that because visibility is so important.”
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