Sunday, August 24, 2008

Openly Gay Diver Wins Olympic Gold

A stunning final dive, awarded the highest score in Olympic history,
ensured Australian diver Matthew Mitcham a gold medal.

Australian diver Matthew Mitcham, the only openly gay male athlete in the Beijing Olympics, has won gold in the 10m platform. He beat Chinese favorite Zhou Luxin by 4.8 points, preventing China from sweeping gold in diving events. (Regular readers may recall that Mitcham was highlighted on The Wild Reed at the start of the Olympic Games.)

Notes sports writer Maggie Hendrincks: “Mitcham is the first Aussie to win diving gold since 1924, but that’s not the only thing that makes him a trailblazer. He is hardly the first gay athlete to compete but he is one of the first to be out while competing. American diver Greg Louganis did not share his orientation until his diving career was over. To Mitcham, he is just living his life as a gay man and as a diver, and there is nothing extraordinary about that: ‘Being gay and diving are completely separate parts of my life,’ he says. ‘Of course there’s going to be crossover because some people have issues, but everyone I dive with has been so supportive. . . I’m happy with myself and where I am. I’m very happy with who I am and what I’ve done.’”

An e-mail message from my friend Phyllis was one of the ways I learned of Mitcham’s win. Wrote Phyllis:

I was following the Olympics when I could and enjoyed seeing the Aussie win the diving after only a year of training after taking time off. I was going to send you congratulations on the victory of your compatriot in any case and then I see this morning in the Yahoo headlines that it is especially sweet because he is an openly out gay man. Mostly I was thinking he appeared very likable and not full of himself so thought it was lovely that he won. I’m so glad there is even more to be happy about.

I’m glad too!

Interestingly, U.S. broadcast network NBC did not mention Mitcham’s orientation, nor did they show his family and partner who were in the stands. As Hendricks points out: “NBC has made athletes’ significant others a part of the coverage in the past, choosing to spotlight track athlete Sanya Richards’ fiancee, a love triangle between French and Italian swimmers, and Kerri Walsh’s wedding ring debacle.” also failed to note that Mitcham is the only openly gay athlete at the Olympic Games, despite the positive coverage that this distinction has received elsewhere.

The Sydney Morning Herald, however, has not been silent about Mitcham’s orientation, with Jessica Halloran beginning her August 23 article by reporting: “[Mitcham] kissed him briefly in the stands and gave him his Olympic bouquet. Later, outside the glowing blue Water Cube, Matthew Mitcham and his partner, Lachlan Fletcher, firmly embraced, both shedding tears. Next it was his mother Vivien’s turn to hold her golden boy, and more tears fell.”

Channel 7 in Australia also isn’t afraid of acknowledging the obvious. It’s coverage included both footage of his winning dive and Mitcham discussing the important role that his partner, Lachlam, has played in his success.

Recommended Off-site Link:
Sensational Dive Earns Mitcham Gold Medal in Beijing
– Rebecca Williams (, August 23, 2008).
Out-and-Out Champion Celebrates
– Jessica Halloran (Sydney Morning Herald, August 23, 2008).
Matthew Mitcham’s Partner Stands By His Man -, August 24, 2008.
Out and Golden - Michael of Norfolk, August 24, 2008.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Making a Splash
The “Dubious Politics” Behind the Olympic Torch Debacle
The Gay World Cup
Ian Thorpe’s “Difficult Decision”
A Fresh Take on Masculinity
Darren Hayes, Coming Out . . . Oh, and Time Travel
Coming Out: An Act of Holiness
My Advent Prayer for the Church
In the Footsteps of Spring


Renegade Eye said...

Why did NBC not acknowledge his orientation? Was it a ratings situation? It would have helped ratings I believe.

Clayton said...

If the goal is to have sexual orientation treated as a non-issue, why not be grateful when the media doesn't make an issue of it?

quinacridone said...

I have recently found your blog and find it an amazing and inspiring site, that fills me with hope thank you for all of your sharings and your insights. Thank you.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

As always, thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

In response to your question: A "non-issue" is one thing; a non-acknowledgment of a reality right in front of us is something else.

Would it have constituted an "issue" if NBC commentators had acknowledged that Mitcham, after his win, first embraced his partner?



Clayton said...

I guess I missed your point. It's the relationship that you wish had been acknowledged, not the orientation.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Clayton, I question if in this case (as in most - be they gay or straight) how the aspects of orientation and relationship can be separated/isolated.



South Lyndale said...

Clayton, since you have worked with Colleen Perfect, one of the top 10 haters of gay people in America, I cannot take anything you say about sexuality seriously.

Clayton said...

south lyndale,

I'm sorry you feel that way. But you are entitled to your decisions.

I have worked with Colleen Perfect in the past. I didn't experience her in the way you describe.

The Gay Species said...

"Openly gay?"

Were the others then "openly straight?"

If so, what's the relevance? Greg Louganis not register bells?

Or, are the Speedo's too bikini to wear a flashing neon sign:

"Queer in Swimsuit?" Wade at Your Own Risk?

Does everything need to be reduced to our sexual orientation? If so, there is more to life that who pitches and receives. Not all sport is sexual.

Michael J. Bayly said...

I have to disagree with you on this one, Gay Species.

Was Mitcham reducing himself to his sexual orientation when he came out in the Sydney Morning Herald interview?

Would NBC commentators have been reducing Mitcham to his sexuality if they had acknowledged the (obvious) presence of his partner at the Olympics?

I don’t think it’s a matter of “reducing” but rather lifting up an aspect of reality that is generally discounted or suppressed by societal assumptions.

We don’t hear folks talking about “openly straight” people because we unfortunately still live in a society where, by and large, it’s assumed that people are straight. Unless one fits the stereotype of, for example, a gay man (i.e., a total flamer) or unless one comes out publicly, these assumptions remain unchallenged.

I for one think they need to be challenged, and not necessarily in an in-you-face kind of way, but in ways that, more often than not, can be low key and what I’ve come to call natural.

For example: Mitcham opened up and “came out” when he was asked in an interview about who he lived with. His response was low key, “natural” to the conversation, and truthful. And an assumption was shattered.

No one or nothing has been reduced, except ignorance. Isn't that a good thing?



The Gay Species said...

We agree to disagree.

Reducing people to narrow aspects without relevance to their immediate tasks seems exploitative.

We don't want sexual orientation to deny us jobs, so why do we want it to intrude on them?

What does swimming in the Olympics have to do with sexual orientation. I'm not suggesting he has anything to hide, I only suggesting what he does in the intimacy of his privacy and how he competes in athletics is really "reducing" us to Types.

I'll accept the biological differences between male and female, since I don't think it requires "disclosure." Ditto racial differences. But sexual orientation at the Olympics is entirely irrelevant.

If he chose to disclose this information to land a date, their are more suitable means of doing so. I did not see any straight person reduce his/her competition to sexual orientation, or advertize for dates. I would not expect gays and lesbians have a need any greater or less than straights for disclosing sexual orientation at a swimming meet.

What next? Before Communion, "bless me father, I am gay?" So?

Sage said...

I believe a very relevant issue here, in this discussion, is visibility. Sports, if not specifically diving, has been a world where those who are LGBT have been significantly invisible. I also believe it is fair to say that sports, in general, has been one of the most hostile places for LGBT people to be "out" in, especially professional sports. Young LGBT athletes all over the globe benefit in both seen and unseen ways by seeing LGBT people in every single sports activity imaginable, being out and open about their sexual orientation. This, in my opinion, does not make it an experience of everything being reduced to sexual orientation. Rather, stories like Mitcham's become, in their own small or perhaps very big way, beacons of hope for young LGBT athlete's everywhere and for them to find yet another way to gain empowerment and self esteem around something they often find little or no empowerment and self esteem around---their sexual orientation.