Matthew Mitcham – Twists and Turns

This is a re-post of a review I did last year on my old blog. Tonight seemed like a good time to share it again.

I wave and look at the camera, because I want to connect with people unconditionally.

In August 2008, one Saturday morning, I came downstairs, wrapped up in my duvet, incredibly hungover and put the television on. Naturally, BBC1 came on first and I discovered boys in pants diving off platforms into water. It was the final of the Mens 10m Platform Diving in the Beijing Olympics.

I hadn’t seen any other moments of the 2008 Olympics, and I certainly didn’t know the rules of diving, short of ‘make sure you land in the water’, but being the pervert that I am, I decided to stick with it. Especially when the first diver I saw was incredibly attractive, just my type.

When he pulled himself out of the pool after his dive and grinned and waved at the camera, my gaydar pinged and I realised there was a (albeit slim) possibility that I might just be his type as well.

By the final round of diving, I’d studied enough on the internet to know how the scoring worked, and to know a little bit more about my new favourite diver – notably, that he was the only male out gay athlete in the Olympic village.

Twists and Turns tells the story of Matthew Mitcham, his childhood, his love of trampolining, his transition to diving and his goal to win gold at the London 2012 Olympics.

It also tells of his battles with depression, self-harm and drug abuse.

It’s not spoiling anything to reveal that Mitcham actually achieved his goal, four years early in Beijing, snatching victory from the Chinese with an incredible last dive. Even I, as a complete newcomer to the sport, knew from the moment that Mitcham hit the water, that he’d earned the top spot.

Fast forward four years, I’ve sort of kept up with Mitcham, but only really a little bit, by following him on Twitter. I honestly didn’t know much about him, but I was excited to see him dive again in London.

As a self-appointed honourary Australian when it comes to the sport of diving I was committing treason in the eyes of my friends by supporting Mitcham and not Tom Daley. I was gutted for Mitcham when he didn’t make it into the finals, missing out by one place.

But now, having read his autobiography, I can see what a huge achievement it was for him to even make it to London.

Twists and Turns is an incredibly honest and candid account of the struggles that he faced, both physical and emotional. Reading this book, and learning about him, made me change my mind set about him, and put me in mind of an internet meme that was doing the rounds just after the Olympics.

It showed the American gold medallist David Boudia looking quite stoic with the caption “USA celebrates Gold like it is Silver…” then Chinese Silver medallist Qui Bo crying: “China celebrates Silver like it is nothing…” – and lastly underneath is a picture of Tom Daley being carried into the pool by the rest of his teammates “…but Britain celebrates Bronze like it is motherfucking Platinum!”

It’s quite uplifting, but I can’t help now thinking there should be a fourth picture of Matthew Mitcham standing on the Olympic rings (Google it: it’s a fab picture) with the caption ‘Mitcham Wins’.

I’m not a biography type of person, people who have read this blog before will know that, but I adored this book. It was a real insight into someone who I have admired, but it also taught me something new about him. It showed me worlds that I’d never before experienced, and taught me that while it’s important to work hard on your goals, it’s just as important to work hard on yourself.

Mitcham has readjusted his goals based on his experiences and will be competing in the 3m Springboard competition in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014. I will be there (in spirit only sadly, not quite lucky enough to get tickets), cheering him on and awarding my own points, but knowing full well that it’s not about him winning.

Because he’s already a winner.

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