The world's first out gay male Olympic champion shared his struggles with his sexuality and addiction.
Matthew Mitcham is a happily married man who has been drug- and alcohol-free for over five years — but life wasn't always so rosy for the world's first out gay male Olympic gold medalist.
The diver, now 32, once struggled to come to terms with his sexuality, so much so that he tried to "train" himself to be straight.
“I was so scared of [being gay] 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,” he told BBC Sport. “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," he added. "I really hated it, but I knew it was my one chance to be special, so I kept going, effectively on autopilot."
In his youth, the Australian athlete also struggled with "neglect" from his mother, who suffered from her own mental health problems. As for himself, he turned to drugs and alcohol as a teen as means of "relief, escapism, and a way of shutting my brain off for a few hours, but it kept escalating."
He stopped diving at age 18 but later returned to the sport by age 20 after getting a chance to compete at the Beijing Olympics. It was then that he "cut out everything that was unhealthy — obviously the drugs and alcohol — but also junk food and soft drinks because I didn't want to jeopardize a chance to reach my first Olympics."
Mitcham went on to set an Olympic record for his dive in 2008 and took home gold; he also came out in an interview prior to the competition, making history.
The victory for him was short-lived, however, as he saw another competitor break his record mere days later. The experience left the overachiever in "a downward spiral of crippling self-doubt," and he struggled for several years with addiction again. He eventually went sober after his 2016 retirement.
After long years of struggle, however, Mitcham is proud of his place making gay history.
"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," he said.
"It was the most amazing feeling and my proudest achievement."