Matthew Mitcham: Greg Louganis Taught Me 'I Wasn't Damaged'
With Twists and Turns, the gay gold medalist details his struggle with depression, drugs, and sexuality.
As an Olympian diver, Australia’s Matthew Mitcham has been making waves since age 16. After coming out in the pages of the Sydney Morning Herald, Mitcham quickly became the youthful and charismatic face of the 2008 Beijing Olympics’ gay community. The groundbreaking headline read: "Out, proud and ready to go for gold.” He shocked us all again when he did just that. Beating the odds, Mitcham became the first openly gay gold medalist after recording the highest single-dive score in Olympic history. Not only that, but he’s also in the books as the first Australian male diver to do so since Dick Eve in 1924.
Mitcham has a new autobiography, Twists and Turns, in stores now. In it, he candidly discusses his ongoing struggle with depression, as well as his addition to a slew of prescription and illicit drugs. Most recently, he had a stint in rehab fighting methamphetamine, an addiction that resurfaced after the “void” following his big win at the 2008 games. The Olympian discusses this and more in a recent interview with The Huffington Post, in which he describes Greg Louganis's own tell-all and its positive affect on him:
"The thing that resonated with me the most," says Matthew, "was that we have a lot of similarities in our childhood, namely depression, anxiety and drug use. I think harnessing the lessons of others is one of the things you need to do to become a successful athlete. That book really helped me a lot. As well as his insights into diving, his bigger and most important message for me was that, as a person, I wasn't damaged."
The memoir tackles more than his addictions, including his strained relationship with his mother and his struggle with the absence of his never-known father. In terms of his sexuality, Mitcham tells the Post that he made the conscious decision to be true to himself while on the Olympics’ world stage.
“If people were going to support me at the Olympics, I wanted them to support me for who I was,” he says. “In the back of my mind, I was also thinking how awkward it would be to come out after the games if I did well. But while it was coming out to the media and the rest of the
world, it wasn't really my coming out; everybody around me already knew, so it wasn't such a big deal."
With such an stolid confidence, Mitcham has established himself as a standout inspiration for the international LGBTQ community. Despite the fact, he says that he does not consider himself an activist.
"I guess I think of it more as pacifism, really," he says. "Yes, I'm making a point by being exactly who I am, but I'm not going out of my way to do anything. I suppose it is a form of activism, but I don't feel like I'm actively doing anything. I'm just being me."
And that “me” seems to be heading in the right direction. Though he did not win gold at this year’s London Olympics—and, to our dismay, did not dive naked—all’s well with his newfound sobriety and the release of Twists and Turns. And lucky for us, he recently told the Sydney Morning Herald that he’s altered his retirement plans; we can all expect to see him in Rio come 2016.
“In no matter what capacity—whether it's a diver, maybe just a springboard diver, or whether it's media or anything, I'm definitely going to be in Rio, no matter what,” he says. "I'm always going to be an Olympic champion."