Mitcham ready for one last Olympic tilt
30 April 2015
DIVING: Matthew Mitcham had made no secret before last year’s Commonwealth Games that he was ready to walk away from the sport that had made him an Australian household name.
So convincing was he in his arguments, that almost everyone believed Edinburgh would be the last time we saw the Beijing gold medallist flinging himself off a diving platform.
But this week he’s back, not throwing himself off his beloved platform, but bouncing off the 1-metre and 3-metre springboard at yet another Australian Open Diving Championships.
So what was it that convinced the 27-year-old not to throw the swimming togs away forever?
Put simply, it was the feeling of being wanted.
“Diving Australia and Chava (Sobrino, Mitcham’s coach), they told me how much they wanted me to keep diving until next year, and that was enough for me,” Mitcham said this week.
“I could see that after a long, long run of injuries, and a long time from being anywhere near my best, I could just start seeing the old me back again.
“I could see potential, and they made me feel wanted. They still wanted me in the sport, and that was enough.”
Only problem was, he’d been out of the water a heck of a long time after winning synchro gold in Edinburgh with Queenslander, Domonic Bedggood.
“I had to put a few months between the Commonwealth Games and when I started training again, because I had to rehabilitate a tear in a tendon that attaches to my elbow,” Mitcham said.
“That rehab went for several months, so I’ve only been back in the pool diving for about a month.
“That’s why I’m only doing springboard here, because I haven’t had time to get a full platform list up.”
Anyone familiar with the full Matthew Mitcham story will know he’s always been comfortable marching to the beat of his own drum, or in his case, the strum of his ukulele.
His is not the traditional lifestyle of an elite athlete, never has been. But it’s worked for him, and as far as he and Diving Australia are concerned, if travelling the country performing cabaret has prolonged his diving career, than all strength to him.
Mitcham says it’s made him a more relaxed diver. And it’s given him a life outside of sport, and that’s stopped him from falling out of love with the sport.
“Of course I’m enjoying being back in the pool,” Mitcham said.
“If I wasn’t enjoying it, I wouldn’t be doing it, because I’ve got plenty of other stuff outside of the pool to keep me going – university, cabaret.”
He’s been around the sport for long enough to know he’s up against it this week in Brisbane.
“It has been a very short amount of time, so obviously I’m not anywhere close to where I’d like to be,” he admits.
“But I’m a competitor, and I thrive off the adrenalin that comes with competition. It’ll be closer than what I would like it to be, whichever way it goes.”
He doesn’t know what events, if any, he’ll compete in at Rio. He’s not getting any younger, and there is a whole raft of fresh-faced Australian divers breathing down his neck.
But Matthew Mitcham wants to be in Rio, to have the chance to add a third chapter to a colourful, if somewhat erratic, Olympic career.
The euphoria of gold in Beijing, the heartbreak of a disappointing London. Mitcham wants to bring this part of his life to a close. He doesn’t know how it will end, but he knows what he doesn’t want the final page to say.
“I’ve kind of experienced both ends of the spectrum, really,” he said.
“I’d be happy with anywhere in between. Obviously the better I do, the happier I’ll be.
“But I certainly feel like I’m in a much better position, even now, than what I was leading into London.
“Any result would be far, far better than what I got in London.”
The Australian Open Diving Championships begin Thursday at Chandler Pool in Brisbane. The event also doubles as selection trials for this year's Aquatics World Championships.
ROSS SOLLY FOR DIVING AUSTRALIA