"I've cried twice since I've been here," Mitcham told the crowd at the Gay Games Opening Ceremonies. The last time that happened was when he won the gold in Beijing in 2008.
Mitcham, from Australia, has been an ambassador at large at the Games, giving media interviews, making appearances and simply having a great time. Despite his athletic fame, he is a humble, grounded person who gives off no airs of pretense. David Kopay, the first openly gay NFL player, a sports pioneer and himself a Gay Games Ambassador, was raving over how much he was impressed by Mitcham.
I approached Mitcham a bit warily Sunday after I wrote about how bored I was by the first half of the Opening Ceremonies. This prompted Mitcham to tweet: "Me included? RT @outsports: Really underwhelmed with opening ceremony of Gay Games. Way too many long speeches by people no one cares about."
I went up to him, stuck out my hand and said, "Hi, I'm Jim from Outsports, the guy you tweeted about." He broke into a big smile and we had a great conversation. For the record, Cyd and I stayed at the opening to watch Mitcham administer the athletes' oath and he was anything but underwhelming. It was clear the audience adored him. He also admitted that he missed most of the speeches since he was prepping, but that he liked the entertainment and pageantry that followed.
It's been two years this month when Mitcham won his gold and his life changed. He could have held the gay sports movement at arms length given his new stature. Instead, he has embraced it and in the process inspired countless other gay and lesbian athletes. Mitcham has been a model of how an athlete can successfully come out. If he loved every minute of his time in Cologne, he should know that the feeling from the 9,000 athletes here is mutual.