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Olympic champion happy to dive in at deep end for gay rights

Making a splash … Matthew Mitcham hopes the publicity surrounding him helps other people feel comfortable about who they are.

Making a splash … Matthew Mitcham hopes the publicity surrounding him helps other people feel comfortable about who they are. Photo: Jon Reid

DIVER Matthew Mitcham looks forward to the day when his sexuality will be of as little interest as the colour of a person's hair, their eyes or even gender in day-to-day life, let alone in the Olympic Games, in which he will compete this year as a defending gold medallist in London.

But Mitcham, who won the 10-metre platform event at the 2008 Beijing Games shortly after revealing he was gay, realises that day is some time away - and that it won't arrive before the start of the London Olympics, which yesterday ticked under the ''100 days to go'' mark.

Hence, as he prepares to defend his Olympic title and live up to the expectations on him, Mitcham is still willing to carry the added weight of interest in his advocacy of gay rights.

''I certainly don't see it as a burden,'' Mitcham told the Herald yesterday after training in Sydney.

''I never did, especially with how much attention the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered] cause has been getting lately with marriage equality … and with how few openly gay sports stars there are around at the moment.

''I don't mind attention being put on it.

''Ideally I would like one day for sexuality to be as unimportant and uninteresting as hair colour, or eye colour or even just gender in general. One day it will get to that.

''But until it is easy for sports people to come out without fear of persecution or fear of lost sponsorship income and stuff like that, or fear of being comfortable in the team environment, I don't mind attention being brought to my sexuality in the hope that it might make other people feel more comfortable … in being comfortable enough about who they are in their sporting environment.''

That said, Mitcham's main purpose in going to London will not be to champion a cause or belief, but to win a gold medal in an event in which he knows he will face some stiff competition.

That Mitcham is in the shape and form he is now is something of a miracle considering the state of his battered body in the aftermath of his 2008 success.

After fighting through the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi with stress fractures in his spine, he then suffered a ''grade two to three'' tear to his rectus abdominis that sidelined him until last December.

Even after diving again, it was not until the Australian trials in Adelaide earlier this month that Mitcham was able to do so without pain - with resounding success as well.

In his fifth of six dives he scored a perfect 10 from all seven judges, and in two others he picked up 10s.

Mitcham competed so well at the trials he ''scored higher than in the Olympic final in Beijing''.

His scores were up there with those of rivals such as Briton Tom Daley at the World Series that ran at the same time.

''I'm back up on par with the top three divers in the world,'' Mitcham said.

As he spoke, it was clearly Mitcham, the Olympic champion. Nothing more, nothing less.

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