Olympic gold medallist Matthew Mitcham tried to ‘train himself out of being gay’

Matthew Mitcham

Retired diver and Olympic gold medallist Matthew Mitcham has described how he tried to “train himself out of being gay” as a child.

Mitcham, 32, became the first-ever openly gay athlete to win an Olympic gold medal when he set the record score for a single dive in the men’s 10m platform event at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

While this moment was his “proudest achievement”, the Australian athlete told BBC Sport that the journey to get there was a difficult one.

He grew up in Brisbane, living with his mother who struggled with mental illness, and attended a Catholic primary school where he began to realise he “liked boys”.

Mitcham, who married his partner last year, said: “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.” 

Diving helped him escape the pain of staying in the closet, but he soon became frustrated with hiding his true self.

He said: “I felt stuck not being able to be authentically me.

“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 self-harm and addiction.

At 18 he quit diving, but within a matter of months found that he missed the sport. He returned just 15 months before the Beijing Olympics and managed to get sober. 

Matthew Mitcham

Australia’s Matthew Mitcham competes in the diving men’s 10m platform final event at the National Aquatics Center during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games in Beijing on 23 August, 2008. (AFP via Getty/ MARTIN BUREAU)

Matthew Mitcham came out just before the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Shortly before the Olympics, Matthew Mitcham accidentally mentioned living with his boyfriend in an interview. Although he was “scared”, he agreed to the publishing of the story.

He said: “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 afterwards, feeling like I’d lied to them.

“I thought it might mean I had no supporters, but the response was fantastic and I gained this enormous colourful worldwide community. It’s honestly the best decision I’ve ever made.”

On becoming an Olympic champion, he added: “There have been other Olympic gold medallists since, and my Olympic record will be broken one day, but no-one will ever be able to take away the fact I was the first openly gay male Olympic champion.

“It was the most amazing feeling and my proudest achievement.”