Story transcripts

High Dive

Friday, November 16, 2012

Reporter: Liz Hayes
Producer: Stephen Taylor

Whoever could forget that dive at the Beijing Olympics? Or the look of pure joy on Matthew Mitcham's face when he realised he'd won gold.

But behind the smiles and Matthew's extraordinary athleticism, all was not as it seemed.

You see, there's another, darker side to Matthew.

A tortured childhood, battles with depression and, most disturbingly, the revelation that he was hooked on drugs - addicted to crystal meth or ice, as it's known.

And as Matthew's life unravelled, he feared he would lose everything he loved and had worked so hard for.

Full transcript:

MATTHEW: I look so pretty.

HAIRDRESSER: Pretty, pretty princess.

STORY – LIZ HAYES: Getting dolled up for a glitzy magazine awards night, Matthew Mitcham is right at home among the beautiful people.

MATTHEW: That’s fabulous, awesome.

LIZ HAYES: This 24-year-old seems confident and comfortable in his own skin -

LIZ HAYES: Alright, so this is yours?

MATTHEW: This is my stuff, it’s Prada.

LIZ HAYES: Oh beg your pardon. - and even when preparing to get into someone else’s. I mean, this does look like a gratuitous shot, but it’s not really. I mean this is –

MATTHEW: Am I making you uncomfortable?

LIZ HAYES: You are used to this, I’m sweating a little. While the undies aren’t too bad – so let’s watch the transformation – the tuxedo’s even better.

MATTHEW: I don’t know, what do you reckon?

LIZ HAYES: I reckon you look fantastic. But this is Matthew Mitcham at his very best –

ANNOUNCER: Matthew Mitcham can win this.

LIZ HAYES: - launching from the 10m platform at the Beijing Olympics, in the dive of his life.

ANNOUNCER: Yes! Yes! Oh, my word.

LIZ HAYES: It was a gold medal performance that was, and to this day remains, the highest scoring dive in Olympic history.

ANNOUNCER: Oh, my word, I’ve never seen a dive like it.

MATTHEW: That was like - that was just the best moment ever.

ANNOUNCER: Matthew Mitcham.

LIZ HAYES: At first glance, the Matthew Mitcham story is a golden fairytale. But he’s just written a book which also reveals a life that’s been both tough and tragic. These were very, very dark days? Battles with depression, self-harm, suicide, and drugs. Are you an addict?

MATTHEW: Um, I certainly was addicted to crystal meth.

LIZ HAYES: How long did it go on for?

MATTHEW: Start to finish, about a year and a half. Yeah, a year and a half.

LIZ HAYES: I mean, I’m struggling with how you survived?

MATTHEW: I tried to be professional at all times. But it was the shame I felt of being a sham, you know, having this big dirty secret.

LIZ HAYES: Matthew was raised by his single mum in Brisbane. Theirs was an often volatile relationship. Alcoholism, and her own mental health issues, left him feeling isolated and frightened.

MATTHEW: She used to smack me a lot, and even just her screaming at me was - instilled a lot of fear in me, and I think that was a way of maybe controlling me, to keep me from being too naughty, was the fear of her wrath.

LIZ HAYES: You say that you, you were a lonely child?

MATTHEW: Mmm.

LIZ HAYES: And you weren’t athletic?

MATTHEW: Not at all.

LIZ HAYES: Skinny, uncoordinated.

MATTHEW: Mmm.

LIZ HAYES: I mean, it doesn’t paint the picture of an Olympic gold medallist diver.

MATTHEW: No, it doesn’t. And I was always picked last at lunchtime for the soccer or cricket team, or the football team - always picked last.

LIZ HAYES: It’s a mark of Matthew Mitcham’s persistence that he’s reached the heights he has. But while he always looked so graceful on the outside, it’s been very different on the inside. At 11 he struggled with being gay.

MATTHEW: I’d read about Pavlov and conditioning behaviours, and so I tried to condition myself out of having the gay thoughts by putting a rubber band around my wrist and flicking myself every time I had a gay thought, because I felt that it was going to be easier for me if I could make myself straight. But it didn’t work.

LIZ HAYES: Then at 14 his life was thrown into turmoil. He left home and the urge to self-harm began to overwhelm him. Do you remember that first time you cut yourself?

MATTHEW: Yeah. I can still – like, I’ve still got all the scars on my arms, as reminders of the worst times.

MARION: The doctor said he’d cut himself about 70 times, and I was really distressed that he was so distressed.

MATTHEW: He actually placed and cut out every single one of those stills.

LIZ HAYES: Marion Mitcham is Matthew’s grandmother, and protector. She looked after him through his dark teenage times.

MARION: 14 gold medals for Australia, and you got one of them.

MATTHEW: Like, I feel really guilty for putting her through all that stuff. Yeah, she was worried sick about me. She went around the house and hid anything sharp that she could find because she was just so worried about me hurting myself.

LIZ HAYES: You also tried to commit suicide. What saved you?

MATTHEW: My grandma was a large part of it. Like, she - just unconditional love, you know?

LIZ HAYES: She was always there?

MATTHEW: She was always there, like no matter what, and she still is.

LIZ HAYES: And did you understand his pain?

MARION: Oh yeah, I knew. I did, very much so.

LIZ HAYES: You knew where it was coming from?

MARION: Mm Hmm, I understood why it was there.

MATTHEW: I think oh God, the black hair phase.

LIZ HAYES: In spite of everything, Matthew continued to excel in diving.

MATTHEW: I went through this rebellious phase, where I got my tongue pierced and dyed my hair black.

LIZ HAYES: But at 18, disillusioned and dejected, he gave the sport away.

MATTHEW: I had so much shame for the depression I felt as a teenager, because I felt like I had no reason to be depressed. And there was a whole sports macho mentality about that as well, like I didn’t - I saw it as a weakness, and if I had’ve known what I know now, like, I could have saved myself all that pain.

LIZ HAYES: He strikes me as a guy you should never underestimate.

CHAVA: No. Never. Look at the body. Good, nice body type for diving. A little better.

LIZ HAYES: Wow, that’s brilliant, not better. Australia has a lot to thank Chava Sobrino for, because just 15 months before the Beijing Olympics, this coach enticed Matthew out of retirement and back to the pool.

CHAVA: You didn’t need to be an expert to sort of know that what you were watching is an amazing thing. I would rate him as one of the most exciting divers I’ve ever had to watch.

MATTHEW: I thought that’s - this is the man that’s going to look after me, that’s going to sort of nurture me back into becoming like - getting me to my full potential.

LIZ HAYES: He said you are not really a competitor, but an artist.

MATTHEW: Mmm.

LIZ HAYES: Is that fair?

MATTHEW: Well, I mean, I was a show pony. I quite liked the adulation and I quite liked the spotlight, so you know, diving ended up being quite a perfect sport for me to be that.

ANNOUNCER: Matthew Mitcham can win this.

LIZ HAYES: Even though he was underprepared for Beijing, it didn’t matter. Matthew’s extraordinary dive made won the hearts of a nation. Well I love this, A) because it’s gold.

MATTHEW: Yes, gold matches this complexion very well I think.

LIZ HAYES: This is Australia’s first men’s diving gold medal since 1924. Matthew was a star, but the party ended much sooner than he expected.

MATTHEW: The Olympics is just such a climactic event, and you’re on such a high. And then it’s all just - you’re left like, after it finishes, it’s just this void, this massive void in your life. So you’re just left feeling completely empty.

LIZ HAYES: And your old feelings started coming back.

MATTHEW: Yeah.

LIZ HAYES: The depression returns.

MATTHEW: Yep, and so I hadn’t felt that emptiness since I was, you know, since I was a teenager. And to just have been plunged right back into that, that same emptiness, that same black feeling - I just reached straight for the last coping mechanism that I could think of to make myself feel better.

LIZ HAYES: And that was?

MATTHEW: Drugs and alcohol.

LIZ HAYES: And your drug of choice was probably the most dangerous drug you could choose. What was it?

MATTHEW: Crystal meth.

LIZ HAYES: How did you take it?

MATTHEW: I was smoking it.

LIZ HAYES: And when would you smoke it?

MATTHEW: I was actually using it like medication. I was almost – yeah, I was - a little bit in the morning, a little bit at lunchtime, and I was sort of rationing it out.

LIZ HAYES: Most days?

MATTHEW: Yeah, most days, yeah.

LIZ HAYES: I’m shocked that you could function, you were smoking crystal meth in the car on the way to training and you trained?

MATTHEW: Mmm, I was. I was so ashamed of what I was doing, that I didn’t want anybody to find out, and I hid it so well that not even my partner knew what I was doing.

LIZ HAYES: But the threat of being forced out of diving forced Matthew into rehab. So that was it?

MATTHEW: Yeah. Yeah, exactly, that was it, diving.

LIZ HAYES: No more diving?

MATTHEW: No more diving if I didn’t stop drugs, and that was enough of a motivating factor for me.

LIZ HAYES: Are you confident you won’t relapse?

MATTHEW: There is nothing that can happen in my life that’s going to make me think that taking drugs is the best way to deal with my feelings. I know now that drugs don’t make me feel better, they make me feel much, much worse.

ANNOUNCER: Good dive from Matthew Mitcham, though not as good as his last three.

LIZ HAYES: This year, Matthew carried our hopes, but also injuries, into the London Olympics, and failed to make the final.

ANNOUNCER: Oh no, it’s a miss.

LIZ HAYES: It was disappointing, but he wants to continue competing, although no longer from the dizzy 10m platform.

MATTHEW: This was my office for, you know, most of my career.

LIZ HAYES: I had no idea of the impact that a dive from this height would have.

MATTHEW: We hit the water at 60km/h from 10m.

LIZ HAYES: So when you get it wrong it is the proverbial car crash?

MATTHEW: You get it really wrong, yeah.

LIZ HAYES: This really is a high impact sport, and you don’t realise how high until you get up here. That to me is extraordinary balance.

MATTHEW: Ta da!

LIZ HAYES: It’s obvious it takes courage just to jump. When you’re in competition, you’re thinking what as you’re about to launch?

MATTHEW: I don’t know if you can say that on 60 Minutes, can you?

LIZ HAYES: I don’t know either. Can you?

MATTHEW: I’d say, shit fuck, shit, fuck, don’t fuck it up. But I don’t think you can actually say that on Channel Nine.

PRESENTER: I’m delighted to present the 2012 Social Force of the Year to, in his own words, the “gay, Olympic gold medal-winning diver dude”, Matthew Mitcham.

LIZ HAYES: These days, Matthew Mitcham is much more than a diver. He’s a young man who’s already experienced life’s extreme highs and lows. He’s bravely fought to get his life back on track, and hopes that instead of judging him, people will understand him. Gee, at 24 you’ve crammed a lot in.

MATTHEW: Yeah. My life has actually been pretty exciting. It’s been interesting, a very interesting 24 years, and I really hope the next 24 years are just as interesting as the previous 24 years. Hopefully with a few less dirty dark secrets, but just as interesting I hope.

LIZ HAYES: I think you’ve just want another gold medal.

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