24 August 2008

Our Gay Golden Boy

Matthew Mitcham has captured the hearts of China,
after his near perfect final dive, which won him Gold in Beijing.

Australian diver Matthew Mitcham captures Chinese hearts

AAP | August 24, 2008 05:46pm

NO Australian Olympic gold medallist has captured international acclaim quite as much as diving wunderkind Matthew Mitcham. The 20-year-old produced the greatest dive in Olympic history on his final attempt on Saturday night to snatch the 10m platform gold medal away from China's Zhou Lexin.

His dive of a lifetime not only secured Australia's 14th and final gold medal of the Beijing Games, but prevented hosts China from claiming the first clean sweep of diving events in over half a century.

He will be forever remembered as the Aussie who gatecrashed China's party.

Mitcham's victory was so monumental that he became Australia's only athlete to join superstars Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt to grace the front page of the China Daily newspaper.

With a full page photo and appropriately headlined "Matt Finish", Mitcham took the gloss off China's diving domination with an incredibly polished performance.

"I suppose it's a big deal," Mitcham said.

"I would never put myself in the same category as Phelps or Usain Bolt, they're multiple gold medallists, but I think just because it was China's national sport and they were so sure (to win), it was one of their definite events.

"I think it was a pretty big deal.

"I don't think it will sink in for a while.

"I know I have a medal because I can feel it, I can touch it and I can see it but it doesn't feel like gold.

"Winning an Olympic gold medal and being the very best in the world is something I can't comprehend yet."

His final dive scored 112.10 points after four judges gave him perfect 10s.

He needed just one more official to award him a 10 to achieve the highest possible score in diving.

Mitcham's gold medal wasn't just a win for Australia, but a victory for the rest of the world after the diving nations adopted an 'us versus China' mentality for the Games.

He was swarmed by international colleagues after his win, a fitting celebration because it was their persistent text messages 18 months ago that prompted the former trampolinist to get back into diving.

Mitcham had quit the sport in 2006 suffering burn out from seven years of intense training and few results.

But a phone call from now coach Chava Sobrino in early 2007, and being unable to afford to fly from Sydney to Melbourne to visit his former colleagues competing at last year's world championships convinced Mitcham to get back on the boards.

"I left the sport without any intention of returning. I had fallen out of love with diving," he said.

"I wouldn't be here if I hadn't taken the time off. I know it for sure because I came back with such a drive and such fierce competitive spirit.

"Chava called me up one day and said 'no pressure but if ever you want to start diving again I'm very happy to coach you'.

"(Then) March 2007 was the Melbourne world championships and I was getting all these messages from my diving friends who are all from overseas saying you should be here.

"I really wanted to go but couldn't afford the flight down to Melbourne, so I started training not long after that because I didn't want to miss something like that again.

"It's a little bit emotional because I know everything I did, all the sacrifices I made and how hard I had to work and it's all paid off."

Matthew Mitcham during competition in the men's 10 metre platform competition
-and (inset) with his gold medal.
Photos: Tim Clayton

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