Aussie Olympic Gold Medallist Matthew Mitcham Opens Up On Sexuality, Depression And Alcohol Struggles
As the first openly-gay bloke to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games, Matthew Mitcham's place in the sporting history books is already cemented.
The diver is well and truly and Aussie legend.
But his journey to success wasn't all smooth sailing as be battled with drug and alcohol addiction as well as mental health issues such as depression.
In a tell all interview with the BBC, 32-year-old Mitcham has now opened up on his troubled past which almost resulted in him taking his own life.
"I remember realising that I liked boys from a very young age," he said.
"I remember being so scared and ashamed 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.
"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.
"Diving became this darkness which permeated the rest of my life. I really hated it. I really hated it, but I knew it was my one chance to be special, so I kept going, effectively on autopilot."
After falling into a deep depression, Mitcham made the decision to turn his back on his Olympic dreams and quit diving at the age of 18.
He admits his condition was so bad that he started abusing alcohol and drugs and even began self harming.
"I would literally block my nose and drink, drink, drink because the aim wasn't to get drunk, it was to throw up and pass out quicker than I did the week before," he said.
"It was relief, escapism and a way of shutting my brain off for a few hours, but it kept escalating."
In 2006, Mitcham was offered the opportunity to return to diving in a bid to push for the Australian Olympic team heading to the 2008 Games in Beijing.
And with undeniable ability like his, it was only a matter of time before he was the first name on the Aussie team sheet - but it didn't come without a lot of hard work outside of the pool.
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"I cut out everything that was unhealthy - obviously the drugs and alcohol - but also junk food and soft drinks because I didn't want to jeopardise a chance to reach my first Olympics," Mitcham said.
"The problem was that I was still thinking about drugs every day."
Mitcham eventually came out as gay in the build up the 2008 Olympics and, if you know how his story goes, he ended up clinching gold with an Olympic record score for a single dive.
But winning a gold medal on the biggest sporting stage of them all didn't necessarily result in instant happiness for Mitcham.
"Winning Olympic gold is the best thing ever, I highly recommend it, it's the most extreme natural high you can ever experience," he said.
"That's why I became a drug addict!
"It is no coincidence that so many athletes talk about an Olympic come-down, I just fell back on what I used to do to medicate my feelings as a teenager which was hard drugs.
"It shouldn't have, but it sent me into a downward spiral of crippling self-doubt again because I'd had this obsession about being the best in the world.
"Being an Olympic champion made me feel even worse because I had no right to feel that way when I had the world at my feet.
"Knowing I would be drug-tested at every competition I would detox from drugs for the weeks before competing and I'd go through these horrible withdrawals.
"They were so bad that I'd promise myself with every cell in my body that I was not going to use again, but I couldn't ever keep 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."
After coming out of rehab, Mitcham's second coming in the sport saw him win Commonwealth gold in 2014 before eventually retiring in 2016.
He's now happily married to Luke Rutherford after tying the not in 2020.
"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 and also a very nice man," Mitcham concluded.
"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 were 11 openly LGBT athletes and then there were over 20 at London 2012 and more than 40 in Rio 2016, so it's doubling each Games.
"I'm pleased to have hopefully played a small part in that because visibility is so important."
Featured Image Credit: PA
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