Coach backs Mitcham to overcome odds
21 January 2012
If Australian diving star Matthew Mitcham is to emulate his Beijing Olympics heroics in London, he must first defy an injury-ravaged year, a cautious preparation and, seemingly, the odds.
But Australian head coach Hui Tong still rates Mitcham a "high chance" of becoming the first back-to-back 10m platform gold medallist since American Greg Louganis in 1988.
Having missed last year's world championships due to a troublesome and lingering abdominal injury, Mitcham returned to competition with an encouraging win at the national titles in Adelaide in December.
Tong says the 23-year-old must carefully manage his preparations as he targets a return to peak form and fitness for London, but the coach believes Mitcham's raw ability and determination ensure he will remain a force to be reckoned with.
"I know people want him to win again and I'd say he has a high chance to get a medal or gold medal, as long as he is healthy and consistent in training," Tong said.
"I think his progression (back from injury) has been pretty good.
"He just has to be careful, you don't want to reinjure yourself.
"But on the other hand if you don't go to international competition and compete, people wonder, and you want to show everyone `I'm still there' and give a good impression."
Mitcham will return to the international stage at next month's German grand prix (February 12-16) ahead of the FINA Diving World Cup in London (Feb 20-26), the final major international diving event before the Olympics.
While the Beijing platform gold medallist undoubtedly remains Australian diving's headline act, Tong also has been encouraged by the emergence of some surprise Olympic selection candidates within his squad in recent months.
Among them is 32-year-old Athens Olympic bronze medallist Loudy Wiggins, who marked her comeback to the sport with a surprise win in the 10m platform at nationals.
Another bolter, South Australian Rachel Bugg, finished second ahead of a field also including Melissa Wu, Alex Croak and teenage prodigy Brittany Broben, leaving Tong delighted about the depth in the women's ranks ahead of Olympic selection trials in April.
"We have a lot of good competitors for our team to choose from for the Olympic games and whoever can get these spots can get a medal," Tong said.
Australia has already sealed the maximum qualification spots in the women's Olympic competition but will attempt to secure second spots in the men's platform and springboard events, and inclusion into the men's synchro events, at next month's World Cup.