Matthew Mitcham misfired on his final dive and finished out of the medals in the 10-meter platform event at the FINA world swimming and diving championships in Rome. This was the same event where the openly gay Aussie shocked the world last year at the Olympics by winning the gold with a sensational final dive.
Mitcham over-rotated his landing, making a huge splash. He buried his head in his hands after climbing out of the water, fully aware his chance to win another gold was gone.
"I didn't quite save,'' he said. "Sometimes you can save dives that are a bit over, and I really tried to fight for it, but I still kicked up a little bit of water.''
Mitcham and Qiu Bo of China were battling it out for the gold heading into the final dive, but both men botched it and the event was won by 15-year-old Tom Daley from Britain. Qiu won the silver and Zhou Luxin of China the bronze. Mitcham finished 1 point from a bronze.
One reporter, Nicole Jeffery of the Herald Sun, wrote that Mitcham is "too nice for his own good" by not putting enough pressure on Daley leading up to the final.
Mitcham doesn't have the killer instinct that other competitors use to exploit their rivals' weaknesses.
The Australian had identified Daley as the main threat for the title but would not say so publicly for fear of adding to the enormous expectation surrounding the British boy leading up to the 2012 London Olympics.
"I didn't want to put pressure on him," Mitcham said.
"I knew he felt the pressure in Beijing last year (where Daley finished seventh, aged 14) so I didn't want to do that to him. But I thought he was diving the best in the world this year."
Asked if he should have been more ruthless, Mitcham said: "It's not the way I work. I believe in karma."
Good for Mitcham. Every athlete deals with their event in their own way, and had he nailed his final dive (his degree of difficulty was higher than the dive performed by Daley), Mitcham would have won the gold. And no one can say that Mitcham can't handle pressure, given his record-setting dive to win the 10-meter gold in Beijing. Mitcham has called Daley a "well-mannered, polite and friendly young man," so he is showing class by not trying to play mind games with him.
A friend of mine watching coverage on NBC Universal said the commentators mentioned what a great thing it was for gays when Mitcham won the Olympic gold. This is the same NBC that had to apologize for not mention Mitcham being openly gay during its Olympic coverage.
However, in a positive sign, writers covering the event have not referred to Mitcham being gay, and are simply discussing his performance in the context of the competition. This shows that he will not be permanently labeled the "gay diver." I suspect this would be the case of any openly gay athlete once the curiosity factor wears off.
Mitcham won a bronze medal in Rome in the 1-meter springboard, and did not medal in the 3-meter.