After representing Canada at three World Championships, Bryden Hattie’s target is qualification for the Olympic Games.

Bryden Hattie is currently pursuing his Olympic dream, but he’s already got himself a Paris tattoo.

The Team Canada athlete sits forward and puts his forearm up to the camera on our Zoom call. The tattoo reads “That’s Hot ™”.

He leans back, grinning. “Yeah, I got this for Paris Hilton.”

It’s a moment that says much about this very modern young athlete, someone whose talent makes him a contender for the 2024 Games but who is still finding his feet at the elite level.

That brings pressure, but Hattie’s choice of tattoo tells you that — like Hilton — he doesn’t take himself too seriously.

He’s a diver dipped in pop culture and he literally wears his fandom on his sleeve.

That makes him enormous fun to interview. Don’t be fooled, though — his commitment to his sport is as strong as his jawline.

Mixing ambition with amusement is very on-brand for Hattie. In May, he became the Canadian 3-meter springboard champion while also pulling a “Charlie’s Angels” pose poolside in Toronto for an Instagram photo.

He studies advertising and business at the University of Tennessee. He is a Nicki Minaj stan and wants one of her album titles — “The Pinkprint” — as his next ink.

Hattie was part of the Canada quartet that won Super Final gold medals in the mixed 3-meter and 10-meter event at last month’s Diving World Cup in Berlin. A few days later, he was showing his TikTok followers how duck-walking forms part of his warm-up routine.

That video was filmed at his third World Championships, and although he didn’t hit his targets in Japan, the 22-year-old got more elite springboard competition experience under his belt, keeping him on track for a potential shot at Paris 2024.

A zest for life

Hattie’s journey begins back in British Columbia and his hometown of Victoria. “I’ve been diving at my club Boardworks since I was 4,” he tells Outsports.

“When I’m with Canada now, I still have the same coach — Tommy McLeod — that I grew up with. He’s helped me a lot in my life, not only in diving but also in being who I am.

“He really understands and communicates with every one of his divers. With me, it’s a lot about how I talk. If there’s too much math or science being thrown in, that won’t work for me. I’ll be like, ‘What are we doing?!’”

Instead, Coach Tommy has to listen for the interpretation. “On one of my dives, I wanted it to be more tight and snappy.

“I was trying to explain this to him. In the end, I said I felt that it needs to be citrusy, like a mojito — that it can’t be weak lettuce in a Ziploc bag.

“And Tommy said, ‘Oh OK!’ So now whenever I’m on this dive, he’ll say ‘citrus!’ And I’m like, ‘Period! Get that!’”

He breaks into a broad smile at the memory. Having a coach you can really connect with is important. “He’s played a major role in me being comfortable. He’s made it a very safe space.”

It was during last year’s Commonwealth Games when Hattie appeared on the “gaydar” of another safe space, Pride House Birmingham.

The inclusive venue was hosting an exhibition about out LGBTQ athletes and when contacted via Instagram, Hattie sent in a photo as a late addition, with a message that read: “Everyone deserves the right to feel accepted and live their lives authentically… we should love and be who we want without judgement.”

He feels fortunate to have largely avoided such prejudice on his own journey.

“I never came out through a social media post or anything like that,” he says.

“When I was younger, friends would sometimes ask me ‘Are you gay?’, and I would freeze, not knowing what to say.

“Over the years, I became more natural about it. I don’t know if there was a major change from what I used to post on socials to what I post now. It all just flows!”

TikTok is where he’s made the biggest splash, registering more than 1 million likes for videos that mix up his slickest dives with his silliest dance routines, with occasional references to Grindr and queer culture. There’s even a recent attempt at golf in there (he’s better at diving than driving).

“I like to give everyone the background — the ‘insider scoop.’ I find Instagram is more professional now, but with TikTok, it’s easier to post and have more fun, such as with all the different trending sounds, or by doing a collab with other divers.”

On the same wavelength

Through training and competing together, Hattie has formed a tight “bubble” with the friends he’s made on the world circuit.

He’s still closest to Tanesha Lucoe, with the pair having been besties since schooldays back in Victoria. She transferred from Alabama to Tennessee last summer and knows him better than anybody.

“Bryden and I have a bond like brother and sister,” she says. “He’s a character and great fun. That comes across on his social media, where he expresses himself completely and I love that about him.

“When it comes to diving though, he’s very collected. I think he’s got a great shot at the Olympics and he’s handling the pressure really well. I keep telling him to just trust himself.”

Another of Hattie’s close friends is his old teammate Aidan Faminoff, who shared his coming out story with Outsports six years ago.

“We kind of grew up together and have had similar journeys, although Aidan’s a few years older than me,” says Hattie.

“He went off to college in Florida and that’s when he came out. You could see how much he changed and I was beginning to experience that too — a feeling that I wanted to take that step.

“Seeing him flourish definitely helped me become more comfortable with who I was.”

Faminoff is now back in Vancouver working as a diving coach, but he’s also been impressing in his side hustle as drag queen Hazel.

Hattie recently went to watch one of Hazel’s shows and having followed in Faminoff’s footsteps as an out gay man on the diving board, he’s more than willing to follow him down the runway too.

“Aidan wanted to put me in drag before I went to Japan but we didn’t really get time,” he says. “I’m hoping that when I’m not traveling, then he can play around with my make-up and I can put on his wigs!”

Confidence and challenges

While Faminoff went to college in Tallahassee, Hattie chose the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and after the pandemic disrupted his freshman year, his performances in competition have been steadily improving.

In March, he won silver in platform at the NCAA Division I Championships, having taken bronze the year before, and was then named Southeastern Conference Men’s Diver of the Year.

He describes the change in environment compared to Canada as “eye-opening,” especially in the early days.

“When I first made it down in 2020, it was during the election so everyone there was giving their opinions,” he says. “Mine are very different, compared to some of the people who live there.”

As has been the case with every presidential election since 1996, the Republican Party carried Tennessee.

“On campus, it’s very liberal and then off campus, it isn’t,” Hattie said. “I’ve gotten used to it over the years just through being there but it’s a little wild.”

He gives an example from last Christmas, when he and a friend ended up staying in Knoxville for the holidays. “We decided to go for dinner so we got dressed up all cute and headed out.

“What we didn’t know was there was this drag queen show happening right by the restaurant. One side of the street was full of people supporting Pride and the other side of the street was filled by so many people who were not for drag queens at all.

“We were walking down there clueless, so we turned the corner to see all of these protestors on the sidewalk and I’m there wearing this little shimmery top! We ended up dashing inside real quick!”

Demonstrations like that are not unusual, and often hard to avoid. “You still get people with big signs saying being gay is a sin coming onto campus and all this stuff,” he adds.

Lucoe admits it took some adjustment time for both her and Hattie. “A lot of people will think the U.S. and Canada are very similar, but there’s something to be said about going from where we’re from in Victoria to the Deep South,” she says.

“The climate, the politics, the way people perceive things, their perspectives and views — they’re small things perhaps, but they add up. It’s just so different.”

‘Representation matters’

As Hattie has shown through his social output, he feels visibility is needed, even in a sport such as diving, which has had several out gay role models.

“That helps, especially when you’re younger,” Hattie says. “In other sports, it seems like you’re still supposed to be more macho.”

He recalls reading some of the comments when a soccer player recently came out publicly. “There was so much homophobia and I was thinking, how is that still a thing, why?

“Do people think that if a player says they’re gay, suddenly they’re not going to be as good? It baffles me.

“I’m glad that there’s more visibility and that more people are coming out, despite the trolls. They should just breathe a little bit, get in touch with reality and accept that yes, there is going to be gay in sports.”

The odd homophobic comment has been sent Hattie’s way too but overwhelmingly he says, fans who follow his sport show their support for its athletes and for LGBTQ communities more widely.

You could almost say diving is post-inclusive for some people. I mention how during the Tokyo Olympics, German diver Timo Barthel told Outsports that the initialism didn’t sit well with him and that he preferred “human” over any of the words within it. Does Hattie hold a similar view?

“I can see that, in a way. But when you can be a voice for gay athletes, you do want to make yourself known, in a sense.

“I really like being gay and being able to use that to make other people feel comfortable. I’m human — but I’m also gay.

“I don’t want it as a label when someone says, ‘Oh, you’re gay’ like it doesn’t really matter. But at the same time, it does matter for representation.”

Lucoe is full of admiration for the way Hattie is able to be a positive influence on other LGBTQ athletes.

“He gets a lot of messages, but I also feel like he doesn’t know half the people that he’s helping right now, building confidence in them just like Aidan did for him,” she says.

“He inspires a lot of the younger ones and also people his own age who are dealing with coming out or who are scared about doing it. Expressing himself the way he does, in a place like this, is so important for them to see.”

Standing out in sports

Inevitably, his everyday visibility is rather more revealing than for many athletes but that rarely crosses his mind any more.

“I’ll FaceTime my friends and they’ll say, ‘Why do you always have your shirt off?’ I don’t even realize I’m not wearing one!”

These days, several male divers are offering risque content, in some instances claiming that they need the income to fund their training and other costs.

Hattie says he has no issue with anyone who wants to show a “more spicy side” online, although he does appreciate how the intense focus on body image in the age of Instagram might be having a negative effect on a lot of gay men.

“With me being in a Speedo all the time, I do feel as if I have to keep up a good physique and diving does that for me,” he said.

“Basically, it seems like it’s about if you have abs or not. It plays out a lot in terms of mental health and that needs to be worked on in the community.”

It’s an important issue to address and while Hattie’s comments in the media about being gay won’t make headlines in the same way Greg Louganis or Matthew Mitcham did, it’s still significant as the next generation of potential Olympians looks towards Paris and beyond.

While there were 186 out LGBTQ athletes competing in Tokyo, less than a tenth of that total were men.

Hattie’s Olympic quest will continue in December at Winter Senior Nationals, at which he will aim to qualify for the next World Aquatics Championships, to be held in February in Doha. Placing in the top 18 there would open up a spot at the Olympics; then it’s down to trials to decide who fills that spot for Canada.

Should he make it to next year’s Games, Hattie won’t just be showing off his Paris Hilton tattoo.

“I’ve got one on my other arm that’s the Pride colors,” he said. “It used to be just dots going across — I had it done in Argentina in 2018, while I was there for the Youth Olympics.

“But last summer, I got little lines through them too, to make them pop a bit more.”

Yet another example of how Hattie is prepared to be, well, a little bit extra. That might just give him an edge as he looks to deliver his citrus twist on the biggest stage of all next summer.

Bryden Hattie can be reached via Instagram and TikTok.