The Road To London
It’s been a rough couple of years for Matthew Mitcham, having endured injuries and setbacks. But now, the diver is proving he is back in fine form, with the London Olympics firmly in his sights. By Reg Domingo.
The last time diver Matthew Mitcham was beamed on TV screens around the world was at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi where, despite a hard-fought campaign, he came away with four silver medals. It’s an amazing feat by any standard but in light of his success at 2008 Beijing Olympics where he won gold at the 10-metre platform event, and having conquered the FINA Diving World Cup two years later, the eventuality was somewhat of an anti-climax.
“Having just come off the back of the World Cup, which I won and placed me as number one in the world for the year, I was kind of disappointed to have not won a gold medal which everyone expected,” Mitcham tells SX in between training. “Four silvers are amazing. There were a whole lot of factors that could’ve had something to do with the reason why I didn’t win gold. But I think the main one was I was just really tired and I was diving with two stress fractures in my back.”
Following the Games, Mitcham took time out to heal those injuries only to be inflicted with another a few months later. As he won gold at the Canada Cup in Montreal in May 2011, he tore an abdominal muscle.
“It was a grade two to three tear,” he says. “It was a very serious tear, hanging on by a few fibres.” The injury would force Mitcham to withdraw from the FINA World Championships in Shanghai later that year.
But what comes down always goes up and injuries inevitably mend. As so it with Mitcham, who admits that, since February, he has finally started being pain-free. His return to form was in full display at Australia’s nomination trials in Adelaide last month, where he knocked up perfect scores in three of his six dives.
“It was the first time I wasn’t thinking about [my injuries] at all, so I could just dive without having any reservations. I thought that was a really good indication for me that I was heading back on the right track.”
Next is the FINA Diving Grand Prix in Fort Lauderdale later this month. It’s the final stop before London.
“It’s part of my Olympic qualifications,” Mitcham says. “This is my last round in qualifying and then I’ll know if I’m in the [Australian Olympic diving] team for sure.”
Mitcham is under no illusion of what lies ahead. Indeed, he is acutely aware of the pressure that will only intensify as the Games approaches.
“I am in very different position to the last time,” he says. “I was completely unknown, I had no expectations and I didn’t have any of that pressure put on me. So that was a really nice position to be in, to be the underdog.
“Whereas this time, I am, I suppose one way of putting it, defending my title. But I’m choosing not to think about it that way, because if think about it that way, then if I win, then that is satisfactory but anything other than a win is going to be a failure.”
Mitcham say he has been doing a lot of sport psychology to help him deal with the pressure ahead of the Games.
“I just have to remember that I already won a gold medal in Beijing, that’s an achievement. And anything on top of that, anything I get in London is a bonus.”
And Australia will be cheering him on from the sidelines, no matter the outcome.
PORTRAITS OF MATTHEW MITCHAM
As Matthew Mitcham prepares for the London 2012 Games, Sydney photographer and regular SX contributor John McRae honours the diver in an intimate and revealing solo exhibition. Reg Domingo reports.
“It’s always a joy to photograph Matt. He is a very creative individual. As a photographer, you have the feeling that you are working together with him, something of a co-creation, rather than just taking someone’s photo. I am just very thankful that Matt is generous enough to share his experience with me, the camera and the audience.
So says Sydney photographer and regular SX contributor John McRae about his new solo exhibition that showcases the many sides of diver Matthew Mitcham.
Curated by renowned art critic Jonathan Turner, the exhibition is showing at Gallery Vientiane in Paddington from May 18 to June 20, as part of the Head On Photo Festival.
“The exhibition is a kind of tribute to Matt in one way and a statement of the relationship between photographer and model – the Olympic sportsman as artist's muse,” McRae says.
“We have been friends for about five years now and the images on exhibition are a collection of shots, taken over that period of time. Viewers can expect to see some rather unusual and candid shots of Matt, mixed in with shots taken around the period of the gold medal, as well as some shots that are a little more conceptual and artistic. It's a rather varied selection and viewers can expect to see Matt portrayed as never before.
Portraits of Matthew Mitcham, May 18-June 20, Gallery Vientiane, Shop 1A, 1-11 Oxford Street, Paddington.