By Bob Ballard
We knew it was a good last dive - everyone in the commentary area sprang out of their chairs like they had suddenly been electrocuted, but when the marks came up, a hush descended on the Water Cube, while the commentators, myself included, went into overdrive.
112.10. 112.10! I was ready to book an early appointment with the opticians; these contact lenses are malfunctioning I thought. But no, it was on my computer screen, the back 2 1/2 somersaults with 2 1/2 twists had been performed by Matthew Mitcham to near perfection. One judge, whose marks counted, gave it a 9.5 but coupled with the perfect 10's it gave him a world record score, beating by some three points the previous mark of Germany's Sascha Klein, who didn't manage to make it into the last 12.
It was all too much for the next diver, China's Huo Llang, who despite the encouragement of the home crowd couldn't even manage to displace Gleb Galperin of Russia for the bronze.
In retrospect, I shouldn't be that surprised that the 20-year-old from Sydney nailed his last dive. I was at the Aquatics Center a little earlier on Saturday night to watch the practice dives of all the main competitors. Mitcham was repeating a dive to the point of being obsessed by it. It looked fine to me just about every time, but he was intent on getting it right. If you believe the adage about practice makes perfect, and you surely must after that, then the Aussies attention to detail paid off in a big way.
When the inevitable waterworks started after the final result came up, there could hardly have been a dry eye in the house. All of the non-Chinese divers, and those who weren't involved in this competition, rushed to congratulate Mitcham, he was mobbed by just everyone, coaches from other teams, volunteers and his entourage.
It was a very special sporting moment - one of the highlights of the Games and not because of the significance of his win.
When I talked briefly with the 10 meter platform victor following the medal ceremony, and several TV interviews down the line - Mitcham played down the fact that it has been a momentous year on many fronts, just, modestly, highlighting that he had completed the job he set out to do in the competition with his best ever dive. He paid tribute to the Chinese divers who had pushed him all the way and when I suggested that the noise in the venue could have affected him adversely on his final dive, he confessed to shutting everything out but the task he had to perform by taking that few extra seconds to make sure.
As we spoke I think the realization of what he had achieved was starting to dawn on the rather shy but affable Aussie. His life has changed in so many ways in 2008, but this must eclipse everything. The fact that he unburdened himself and was proud to represent his country as a gay Olympian, should make it easier for those who want to follow that path.
Matthew Mitcham you are a true ground-breaker.
Related: News story on Mitcham winning gold.
Photo: Matthew Mitcham with the author: