From winning gold at the Australian Youth Olympic Festival 11 years ago to producing the performance of his life at the Beijing 2008 Games, Matthew Mitcham won his way into Australia’s hearts.
The dual Olympian has announced his retirement today from professional diving to concentrate on his career in media and entertainment.
Mitcham, 27, has decided now is the right time to hang up the togs on a diving career which started in 1999 after previously being a successful junior trampolinist.
“I don’t feel there is anything unfinished with my diving career and I have goals in other areas now that require the same commitment that I have given to sport over all these years,” Mitcham said.
“I’ve had a really good run, and I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to do what I love for as long as I have.
“I have achieved everything I hoped for, including the big three – Olympic Gold in 2008, World Number One in 2010, and Commonwealth Gold in 2014 – which could never have happened without all the help I’ve had along the way.”
Mitcham was thrilled to represent Australia on every occasion, a feeling he knows he will miss.
“Above all, nothing has made me prouder than being able to represent my country and my community at the highest level of sport. The support from the public has been overwhelming, and I’m extremely grateful for that, too.
“Nothing can beat the feeling of wearing the green and gold at the Olympic Games and sharing the athletes’ village with athletes from around the world. It’s like a real utopia.”
Mitcham produced the highest scoring dive in Olympic history to win the 10-metres platform event at the 2008 Olympics. In doing so he denied China a clean sweep of all eight diving events on offer in Beijing’s Water Cube, and became Australia’s first male diving gold medallist since Dick Eve in 1924.
AOC President John Coates said Mitcham shone from an early age and was a role-model for young Australians in and out of the pool.
“Matthew came up through the Australian Youth Olympic Festival where he beat the best young divers from China and we knew then he had the talent to be an Olympic champion,” Coates said.
“On behalf of the Australian Olympic Movement I want to thank Matthew for his valuable contribution. He was extremely popular, he was a great Team man, and always happy to give his time for the AOC.
“He was an outstanding role model as an openly gay athlete and inspired so many Australians in and out of the pool.
“We wish him well in his retirement and know he will have great success in his future projects and will continue to entertain with his vast talents.”
Mitcham acknowledged his coach Chava Sobrino for being the most influential individual on his career and he thanked NSWIS and Diving Australia for all their support over the years.
“All the highlights in my career I achieved after I moved to Sydney to train with Chava. None of this would have been possible without him.”
He acknowledged that the future of Australian diving is in good hands and he wished all his teammates well for the Rio Olympic Games in August.
“I have no doubt that Grant Nel, James Connor and Domonic Bedggood, along with our girls, will do Australia proud at the Rio Olympic Games this year.
“There was a time where I felt there was a lot of spots in the Team and an expectation for me to fill them but not anymore. The boys are diving so well.”
Diving Australia Chairman and two time Olympian, Michael Murphy, said Mitcham’s decision brings the curtain down on a highly successful and always entertaining career.
“There’s no doubt Matthew could be regarded as our most successful diver ever,” Mr Murphy said.
“He has had his fair share of ups and downs, but he has been a wonderful ambassador for our sport and an inspiration for so many athletes in general, not just divers. His gold-medal performance as a 20-year-old in Beijing, beating the highly rated Chinese divers in their own pool, is rightly considered one of Australia’s great Olympic moments.”
His diving career has been full of ‘twists and turns’ which is the title of his book published after the London Olympics. His book was then written as a cabaret show which he has performed around Australia.
He had left the sport in 2006, disillusioned and depressed, and for a time had supported himself as a high diver at Sydney’s Royal Easter Show, plunging into a barrel of water. Before that he had trained for seven years with the AIS.
“I left the sport without any intention of returning,” the 20-year-old Mitcham said after his Beijing triumph. “I’d fallen out of love with diving. I was emotionally and physically burnt out.” He found, though, that after six months he missed the sport, and returned to train for 18 months with a new coach. Mexican Salvador “Chava” Sobrino. The break, he found, had benefited him: “I came back with such a drive, a burning desire.”
Mitcham was 30 points behind the Chinese favourite Zhou Luxin before his last dive. To win he chose a back two-and-a-half somersault with one-and-a-half twists and a 3.8 degree of difficulty. “It was his best dive and that’s why we put it at the end,” Sobrino said. “The expectancy was around 106 to 108 points. But not 112, never.” Mitcham was in pleasant pain: “My cheeks hurt from smiling, my face hurts from chlorine, my legs are sore … I’m so happy.”
After Beijing, he suffered injuries that kept him out of the pool and spiralling back into depression and recreational drug use. Remarkably he was able to fight back to full health and qualify for the London 2012 Games. His Olympic title defence was cut short when he finished 13th in the semi-final, just missing out on the 12-man final.
After winning a gold medal at Glasgow 2014 in the 10m synchro with Dominic Bedggood Olympic fans were hoping that they would see him compete on the biggest stage one last time in Rio but it wasn’t to be.
“I’m making this decision because I feel I’m at a turning point in what I hope is a long and colourful career in media and entertainment,” Mitcham said.
“I look forward to still being involved in sport in one way or another, but I can’t wait to dive into this next chapter.”
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