Gay diver breaks Australian sporting taboo

Australia's cities all boast thriving gay communities, and the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, which recently celebrated its 30th birthday, has become a mainstream cultural event. Yet Australian sport remains a bastion of heterosexuality – on the surface, at least.

Now a diver, Matthew Mitcham, has taken his first cautious steps towards dispelling that myth. Mitcham, 20, who will be competing in Beijing, will be the first openly gay Australian to take part in an Olympic games.

The Queenslander, who is now based in Sydney, told the Sydney Morning Herald that he had applied for a grant to enable his partner, Lachlan, to accompany him to the Games. Lachlan has supported him throughout a turbulent period during which he fought depression and temporarily retired from his chosen sport.

Mitcham's decision to reveal details of his personal life was a brave one. Australia is a sports-mad country that still expects its sporting heroes to conform to old-fashioned notions of masculinity.

The diver quit his sport in mid-2006 and returned to it last year. He is regarded as a serious gold medal prospect. Earlier this month, he beat two Chinese Olympic favourites at a World Cup event in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with four perfect dives from the 10-metre platform. Dawn Fraser, one of Australia's Olympic swimming greats, has acknowledged having had lesbian relationships. But when the gold medallist competed at the 1960 Rome Games and in Tokyo in 1964, her sexuality was a private affair.

The American gold medal-winning diver, Greg Louganis, competed at the Montreal Games in 1976, in Los Angeles in 1984 and in Seoul in 1988. Shortly after returning from Seoul, he came out as both gay and HIV-positive.

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