I’ve been watching and blogging about the Olympics off and on since the opening ceremonies, and up to now I’ve heard precious little about gay and lesbian athletes participating in the games. The website OutSports.com counts 21 openly gay or lesbian competitors out of some 10,000 total participants in London, among them U.S. soccer player Megan Rapinoe, Great Britain’s Carl Hester (who won a gold in dressage) and German cyclist Judith Arndt.
Tonight, I got to watch 24-year-old Australian diver Matthew Mitcham participate in the qualifying rounds for the 10-meter platform dive. Mitcham, as you may remember, surprised everyone by taking home the gold at Beijing in 2008, the first Australian in more than 80 years to win a gold in diving.
Just as extraordinary was the fact that Mitcham was an openly gay athlete — a rare thing at the Olympics, then and now — and his boyfriend was cheering him on from the stands.
Of course, diving is already famous for one gay Olympian — Greg Louganis, who triumphed at the 1984 and 1988 games, though Louganis did not come out until after the fact. But times have changed, and it’s possible in 2012 for Matthew Mitcham to compete without — well, without too much fuss. Mitcham himself seems to strike a nice balance, acknowledging that he is a role model while still keeping the emphasis on the sport and on his performance.
And how’d Mitcham do? Well, he didn’t dazzle as he did in Beijing. Mitcham has been suffering from an abdominal injury, and it surely had an impact on his performance. On Friday he advanced to the semi-finals, but Saturday's performance bumped him out of the final, where Chinese powerhouse Qiu Bo, British favorite Tom Daley and American David Boudia will go for the gold. Mitcham couldn't recapture the gold this time around. But his ease with himself, and his competitive drive, are totally winning.