Matt’s Next Act
BY Nicholas Fonseca
February 02 2009 1:00 AM ET
UPDATE: In early February, Australia's largest telecommunications company -- Telstra -- announced Matthew Mitcham as its spokesperson.
Also: Check out The Advocate's sizzling photo shoot with gold medal Olympic diver Matthew Mitcham.
"Matthew Mitcham has done something that nobody in the world thought anyone in the world could do!"
That’s a pretty lofty accomplishment to ascribe to just anyone, especially a gentle, smile-prone 20-year-old who looks less like a world-class Olympian and more like the little brother whose head is always ripe for a noogie or two. But when Australian diver Matthew Mitcham executed the highest-scoring dive in Olympic history at the Beijing Games last August -- a complicated-sounding maneuver known as a back 2½ somersault with 2½ twists -- those words, uttered by gobsmacked NBC commentator Cynthia Potter, couldn’t have rung truer.
It was a sensational come-from-behind victory that proved why so many people still consider the Olympics the best reality show on TV. Every broadcaster dreams of catching a moment like Mitcham’s gold medal–clinching dive on camera and sharing it with the world. Every athlete dreams of being the person who engenders that thrill. But more than that, every gay and lesbian fan of the Olympics -- and there are many -- can’t help but dream of seeing one of us in the middle of that moment. Matthew Mitcham became that person on August 23, 2008. His win dashed China’s well-documented hopes of sweeping all eight gold medals in the sport. It galvanized his small but committed network of supporters at home and abroad. And it made a special kind of history, because it was achieved by an out gay man, with his partner watching from the stands, in a country notorious for its poor record on human rights.
So what exactly does Mitcham do for an encore? “I don’t want to be just a one-minute wonder,” he says. “I do want to continue being the best, so that when [people] think back, there will be no doubt in their minds that Matthew Mitcham was the best diver of his time. I don’t want people to think that winning the gold medal in Beijing was just me being lucky, you know?”
One peek at Mitcham’s grueling training schedule proves that he means what he says. On weekdays he treks from his suburban Sydney home -- which he shares with his partner of more than two years, student Lachlan Fletcher -- to the Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre, an imposing complex where he trains with coach Chava Sobrino for five to six hours each day. On Saturdays he’s back again for an abbreviated workout. Sundays remain the proverbial day of rest, but that’s just semantics -- in more ways than one. For all his enviable focus -- the kind that was required to help him complete that thrilling dive -- Mitcham retains a youthful, restless energy that’s on full display as he dashes into the Qantas First Class Lounge at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith International Airport for our interview. His shock of spiky blond hair is still wet, and he’s clad in a tight-fitting lime-green T-shirt, jeans, and low-top Converse tennis shoes. In a cheeky sartorial touch that’s vintage Mitcham, his ankle socks are a distinctive shade of pink. Soon after our talk, Mitcham will make his way to a separate terminal, greet a friend of Fletcher’s who’s visiting for the weekend, and head to an afternoon barbecue. It’s the capper to a busy week of pomp and circumstance -- days ago, Mitcham traveled to Melbourne and upstaged a field of better-known Aussie athletes (including triple gold medalist and local tabloid staple Stephanie Rice) by winning the 2008 Sports Performer of the Year award, a prize that’s voted on by the Australian public. Australia GQ also named him its Sportsman of the Year. “I think the last thing I said onstage there was, ‘Oh, my God, I’m a homo and I just won the sports award!’” he laughs. “People just pissed themselves and thought it was hilarious.”
Producers and photographers confer with Mitcham throughout the shoot.