Warning: This text contains references to drug dependancy, suicide and psychological well being points.
“Successful Olympic gold is essentially the most excessive pure excessive you may ever expertise,” says Matthew Mitcham, who then pauses, laughs and provides: “That is why I grew to become a drug addict!”
This light-hearted response could appear at odds with such a critical subject material, however Australian former diver Mitcham is now a fortunately married man, totally at peace together with his troubled previous on the age of 32.
In January he celebrated being 5 years clear from the “crippling” each day drug and alcohol consumption he says drove him to think about taking his personal life on a couple of event.
He’s additionally conscious that, whereas the post-Video games comedown – sometimes called ‘Olympic blues’ – was a key think about his struggles, his issues actually started lengthy earlier than.
His means of restoration has been helped most of all by reflection, trying again on the troubled path that led to a historic achievement – changing into the primary brazenly homosexual man to win particular person Olympic gold.
Mitcham had a difficult childhood. He craved an escape from the “neglect” he endured residing in Brisbane together with his mom, who struggled with psychological well being issues.
He additionally realised from a younger age that he “favored boys”, however stress from society, bullies and his Catholic convent main college left him feeling “ashamed” of his sexuality.
“I used to be so fearful of it that I’d truly tie a rubber band round my wrist and each time I had a homosexual thought I’d snap it, to try to affiliate ache and struggling with the homosexual thought. To try to practice myself out of being homosexual,” he tells BBC Sport.
Diving was initially an escape, however having offered himself as straight to his team-mates for years, he started resenting the game.
“I felt caught not with the ability to be authentically me,” he says. “I did not wish to admit I might deceived individuals and lied for therefore lengthy, which left me feeling alienated.
“Diving grew to become this darkness which permeated the remainder of my life. I actually hated it, however I knew it was my one probability to be particular, so I saved going, successfully on autopilot.”
That is how Mitcham slipped into melancholy. As a younger teenager he would recurrently self-harm, take medicine and binge-drink, regardless of “hating the style” of alcohol.
“I’d actually block my nostril and drink, drink, drink as a result of the purpose wasn’t to get drunk, it was to throw up and move out faster than I did the week earlier than,” he remembers.
“It was aid, escapism and a means of shutting my mind off for a couple of hours, but it surely saved escalating.”
At 18, Mitcham stop diving and spent a yr doing “very unhealthy issues” together with his physique, however he additionally grew extra assured together with his id after being embraced by Brisbane’s LGBT+ neighborhood.
He admits it took him six months to cease hating diving. It was one other three earlier than he missed competing. Supplied an opportunity to return in late 2006, he relocated to Sydney to make an official comeback, simply 15 months earlier than the Beijing Olympics.
“I minimize out every little thing that was unhealthy – clearly the medicine and alcohol – but in addition junk meals and delicate drinks as a result of I did not wish to jeopardise an opportunity to succeed in my first Olympics,” he says.
“The issue was that I used to be nonetheless occupied with medicine day by day.”
Mitcham didn’t plan to come back out publicly, however inadvertently revealed he was residing together with his boyfriend throughout a pre-Video games interview. After consulting associates, he gave the go-ahead for the article to be printed.
“I used to be scared concerning the response, however going into the Olympics I did not need the Australian public to think about me a method – as straight – after which have to come back out afterwards, feeling like I might lied to them,” he says.
“I assumed it’d imply I had no supporters, however the response was implausible and I gained this monumental vibrant worldwide neighborhood. It is actually the perfect determination I’ve ever made.”
He smiles when he remembers the “mind-blowing” expertise in Beijing and brings out his finest Welsh accent to imitate Little Britain character Daffyd when describing himself because the “solely homosexual within the village” at these Video games.
The large day got here on 23 August, 2008, the penultimate day of competitors.
Hosts China have been anticipated to finish a clear sweep of the diving medals and safe their ‘fortunate’ eighth gold with success within the males’s 10m platform occasion.
Mitcham had different concepts. Together with his ultimate routine he set an Olympic document rating for a single dive – 112 – to stun the house crowd.
“There have been different Olympic gold medallists since, and my Olympic document shall be damaged at some point, however no-one will ever be capable of take away the actual fact I used to be the primary brazenly homosexual male Olympic champion,” he says.
“It was essentially the most wonderful feeling and my proudest achievement.”
Mitcham jokes that successful Olympic gold “magically” remodeled his picture, however in actuality it didn’t make him happier.
Then aged 20, he loved his success for a “matter of days” earlier than discovering he was nonetheless ranked as world quantity two behind Chinese language rival Zhou Luxin – the Olympic silver medallist – who had attained extra success within the World Sequence.
“It should not have, but it surely despatched me right into a downward spiral of crippling self-doubt once more as a result of I might had this obsession about being the perfect on this planet,” says Mitcham.
“Being an Olympic champion made me really feel even worse as a result of I had no proper to really feel that means once I had the world at my ft.”
“Ashamed,” Mitcham slipped again into previous habits. He grew to become hooked on crystal meth. He hid his behavior from these round him.
“Realizing I’d be drug-tested at each competitors I’d detox from medicine for the weeks earlier than competing and I might undergo these horrible withdrawals,” he remembers.
“They have been so dangerous that I might promise myself with each cell in my physique that I used to be not going to make use of once more, however I could not ever maintain the promise.
“It received darkish. My shallowness was shattered, at instances killing myself appeared like the best solution to take care of this however I lastly took myself to rehab.”
Mitcham, extremely, achieved the world primary rating he craved in 2010, however harm issues noticed him eradicated within the semi-finals at London 2012 and, though he would add a maiden Commonwealth title to his assortment in 2014, he retired in early 2016.
The Australian has been clear ever since and in February final yr married his British associate Luke Rutherford.
“I am actually proud of how my life is, not least as a result of I received married final yr, so I’ve received a husband and he is actually good trying,” says Mitcham with a beaming smile.
“I have been arduous on myself all through my life, however I look again with kinder eyes now, and I am pleased with not solely what I received however with the ability to do all of it as an brazenly homosexual man, due to the oppression that’s nonetheless felt in so many international locations all over the world.
“In Beijing there have been 11 brazenly LGBT athletes after which there have been over 20 at London 2012 and greater than 40 in Rio 2016, so it is doubling every Video games.
“I am happy to have hopefully performed a small half in that as a result of visibility is so vital.”
In the event you’ve been affected by points raised on this article, there may be info and assist obtainable on BBC Action Line.