Olympics 2008 News
: Gay diver Matthew Mitcham is inspires as he wins gold (News Feature)
By Peter Auf der Heyde Aug 23, 2008, 17:55 GMT
Beijing - When Australian diver Matthew Mitcham won gold in the men's 10m platform event at the Beijing Olympics on Saturday, he did not only have the support of a sports-mad country behind him, he also had the support of a large part of the gay community.
20-year-old Mitcham prevented China from making it eight victories out of eight in the diving events at the Beijing Games Saturday by taking gold.
He withheld the challenge of Zhou Luxin, who led going into the final round, to win with a total of 537.95 points. Zhou had to be satisfied with silver on 533.15 while Russia's Gleb Galperin claimed bronze with 525.80 points.
'It's going to take a while to sink in,' said Mitcham. 'My cheeks hurt from smiling, my face hurts from the chlorine, my legs are sore from jumping up and down. I'm in pain and I'm tired but I'm so happy.'
Mitcham said that only in his 'wildest dreams' did he ever envisage winning gold and that he had simply gone out to enjoy the occasion.
'I couldn't hear the crowd. In my mind I was saying 'just enjoy it'. There is nothing I can do to make the dive better or worse,' he said.
'I thought maybe I could have gotten the bronze or silver medal.'
The Australian is one of 11 athletes competing at the Olympics in Beijing who has publicly stated that he is gay, although there are several more who participated in the equestrian competition in Hong Kong.
Co-founder of the gay sports website outsports.com, Jim Buzinski, who names the 11 athletes in an article published on the website, said that the Australian is be an inspiration for many gays.
'We do not expect that his participation at the Olympics will cause a tidal wave of other gay athletes outing themselves.
'Each athlete has his or her own set of unique circumstances, be they family, team, or sports. It might be easier for some to come out and more difficult for others.
'We know of many other gay athletes, who have not come out and openly said that they are gay. Some of them have said so to team- mates or friends, but their sexual orientation is not yet out in the public domain.
'And we respect their right to privacy.'
Surprisingly, the list of 11 athletes consist of just one man: Matthew Mitcham (Australia, diving), and one bi-sexual: Vicky Galindo (US, softball).
The other nine athletes are all women: Judith Arndt (Germany, cycling), Imke Duplitzer (Germany, fencing), Gro Hammerseng and Katja Nyberg (Norway, handball and a lesbian couple), Natasha Kai (US, soccer), Lauren Lappin (US, softball), Victoria 'Vickan' Svensson (Sweden, soccer), Rennae Stubbs (Australia, tennis) and Linda Bresonik (Germany, soccer).
Hammerseng and Nyberg will be playing in the gold medal match in handball with Norway, while Kai picked up gold as the US defeated Brazil 1-0 in the women's football final. Bresonik won a bronze with her team, while Galindo and Lappin won silver with the US softball team.
Buzinski believes that one of the reasons why there are so many women who have openly stated that they are lesbians is because culture seems to be more tolerant of gay female athletes.
'Society thinks that many women who play certain types of sport are lesbians anyway. It is like a default setting.
'Woman are also in a supportive environment. It is more accepted there and they make no big thing of it.
'Or maybe, they are just braver,' he says.
In the absence of more brave gay men, it is left for Mitcham to carry the torch for gay male Olympians in Beijing.
If he wins a medal, he will, of course, not be the first gay Olympian to win a medal.
There have been several others, such as double gold medallist Camilla Andersen (Denmark, handball), Gigi Fernandez, who won two gold medals for the US in tennis, American cyclist Robert Dover who won four bronze medals and Sheryl Swoopes, who won three gold medals in women's basketball.
Possibly the most famous gay Olympian was diver Greg Louganis, who won four gold medals and a silver, but only came out once he had retired from the sport. He later also announced that he was HIV positive.
But even then, controversy followed him as he was criticized for a decision to continue competing after banging his head during a dive at the 1988 Olympics and bleeding into the pool. He said that he had been advised by a doctor that there was no danger to any other divers as a result of his blood. He therefore decided to continue in the competition and picked up another gold.
Mitcham though, does not want to be compared with Louganis. 'We're both gay divers. But that's about the only similarity - two things we share out of thousands of millions of qualities and character traits,' he told Australian media before the start of the Olympics.
'I just want to be known as the Australian diver who did really well at the Olympics. It's everybody else who thinks it's special when homosexuality and elite sport go together,' he said.