Matthew Mitcham produced the performance of his life --- no less than the highest scoring dive in Olympic history --- to win the 10-metres platform event at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. 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. Mitcham’s background was remarkable: 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 win. “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.”
Mitcham returned to Olympic competition at 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.
Harry Gordon, AOC Historian