Olympian Matthew Mitcham reveals he tried to ‘train himself’ not to be gay
Olympic gold medallist Matthew Mitcham has revealed that, as a child, he tried to “train” himself not to be gay.
In a particularly heartbreaking episode of SAS Australia, the diver, who became the first openly gay athlete to win an Olympic gold medal in 2008, opened up about his the tough childhood he endured, which prompted him to try and hide his sexuality.
Those feelings, he told the SAS team during a routine interrogation, eventually led him to self-destructive behaviours, including trying to “train” himself to stop being gay.
“I put a rubber band around my wrist and every time I had a gay thought I would snap the rubber band against my wrist to try and associate pain with it to try and train myself out of being gay,” he admitted.
“I just didn’t feel good enough. I got overwhelmed with feelings that I couldn’t keep on the inside. After one particular episode, I went far too far, and I had to call my grandma to take me to hospital.”
Elsewhere in his interrogation, Mitcham opened up about his “ridiculous childhood trauma” that led to him almost taking his own life, the drug addiction he struggled with after his Olympic win, and his seven years of sobriety.
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His story moved viewers at home to tears, and it wasn’t long before his X (formerly Twitter) mentioned were flooded with messages of love and support.
After the episode aired, Mitcham took to social media to thank everyone for their kind words.
In a comment posted to Instagram, he wrote: “Thank you for all the love, support and hugs everyone.
“I will admit I had a little blub when I watched it again, but I’m in a good place now and I hope sharing my story can provide some experience, strength and hope to anyone else who is struggling now or in the future.
“But it is really heartwarming to see all the compassion in the community. Thank you.”
This isn’t the first time that the athlete has opened up about the years-long struggle he had with his own sexuality.
In an interview with BBC Sport in 2021, Mitcham, who is now sober and happily married, revealed that being scared to live as his authentic self almost made him quit diving for good.
“I felt stuck not being able to be authentically me,” he said at the time.
“I didn’t want to admit I’d deceived people and lied for so long, which left me feeling alienated.”
Eventually, after finding support in Brisbane’s LGBTQ+ community, Mitcham regained his confidence and his love for diving.
Before long, Mitcham found himself making the comeback of all comebacks – by competing in the Beijing Olympic Games.
It was in a pre-Olympics interview when Mitcham – somewhat accidentally – came out as gay, when he mentioned living with his boyfriend.
“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,” he recalled.
“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.”
And just days after, Mitcham took home the gold medal for Australia.
“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.”
Suicide is preventable. Readers who are affected by the issues raised in this story are encouraged to contact Samaritans on 116 123 (www.samaritans.org), or Mind on 0300 123 3393 (www.mind.org.uk). Readers in the US are encouraged to contact theNational Suicide Prevention Line on 1-800-273-8255.Readers affected by the issues raised in this story are encouraged to contact Samaritans free on 116 123 (www.samaritans.org) or Mind on 0300 123 3393 (www.mind.org.uk). Readers in the US are encouraged to contact the National Suicide Prevention Line on 1-800-273-8255
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