Superstar Matthew Mitcham Dives Into Cologne Gay Games

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday February 15, 2010

Openly gay Australian diver and Olympic gold medalist Matthew Mitcham will be among thousands of athletes and artists who will converge on Cologne, Germany, later this year for the eighth edition of the Gay Games, scheduled to commence on July 31 and run through Aug. 7.

The Games began in 1982 in San Francisco and have taken place every four years since then in cities across the globe, from New York to Amsterdam to Sydney. In 1990, Vancouver--currently hosting the Winter Olympics--was the site of the Gay Games.

Mitcham, who took the gold in Beijing during the 2008 Summer Olympics, will not be competing in the Games, but he will appear at various events, a Feb. 14 press release from the Federation of Gay Games announced. "I'm excited to be part of something so important for our communities around the globe," Mitcham said. "This event brings lesbian and gay life out on the court, onto the track, and into the pool.

"Being 'out' means for me being just as I am with nothing to be ashamed about and no reasons to hide," the gold medalist continued. "Participating at the Gay Games is a great chance for all gays and lesbians to show that we as a community are not like the stereotypes the straight media loves to portray." Added Mitcham, "I will take time off from training and travel to Cologne, since I strongly feel we have to celebrate our own values and help others to accept that it is ok to be different." Mitcham plans to document the trip on his Facebook page, the release noted.

Federation of Gay Games co-presidents issued a statement celebrating Mitcham's planned participation. "Matthew, one of the most recognized openly gay sports persons of our time, is a fantastic role model, especially for younger people," the statement read. "Matt is only 20 years old. He is focused and successful in his sport and doesn't have to hide being gay. This is something that Gay Games founder Dr. Tom Waddell would have been so proud of. After almost 30 years, the Gay Games continues to make lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender life visible through sports and culture, thus allowing new generations to be accepted just as they are."

Kurt Dahl, the organizing team's other co-president, told the Windy City Times in a Sept. 22, 2009 interview that, "To me the Gay Games mean being able to break down barriers and allowing me to be who I am. The Gay Games allow me to do my personal best, knowing that I have the support of everyone participating in the Games." Dahl was a competitor in the swimming and softball events of the 2006 Gay Games, which took place in Chicago and drew 11,700 participants.

Mitcham will get to Germany thanks to Lufthansa, the German airline that has agreed to donate his ticket. The airline's general manager, Kai Peters, noted that his company had also provided others with affordable options for getting to Cologne. "Lufthansa created an attractive discounted airfare-package for all Gay Games participants from Australia. By flying Matthew to the Gay Games in Germany, Lufthansa wants to give something back to the community, as he represents something no money can buy: Having a fantastic young Australian athlete in Cologne at the Gay Games who fascinated so many of us when he proudly hugged his partner in public and in front of the world's media after receiving his gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics."

The Gay Games is as much a cultural event as an athletic one, and draws artists as well as sports competitors. In addition to 35 athletic competitions, the Games will also showcase five cultural events. Annette Wachter, a co-president of the Games Cologne organizing team, said, "Every registered participant is an obligation for us to serve as fantastic hosts and create a lifetime of memories for our guests from all around the globe. But to be honest, having one of the most recognized sports persons like Matthew Mitcham attending is a great acknowledgement of the work we have been doing so far. It motivates us even more to continue our intense work until we declare open the 2010 Gay Games on 31 July."

The 2014 edition of the Gay Games is slated to take place in Cleveland, Ohio.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.