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Mitcham is a surprise winner

August 24, 2008|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING -- Matthew Mitcham grabbed the moment and simply wouldn't let go Saturday night, giving Australia its first men's diving gold medal since 1924 and preventing China from sweeping all eight Olympic diving gold medals.

The man who quit diving in 2006 and came back nine months later did it with an impeccably timed final dive in the 10-meter platform event, earning four perfect 10s. The dive, a back 2 1/2 somersault with 1 1/2 twists and a 3.8 degree of difficulty, brought him 112.10 points, the highest-scoring dive in Olympic history, officials said. The packed house at the Water Cube, a largely Chinese crowd, had been enjoying a textbook performance from Zhou Luxin, who led going into the sixth and final round by more than 30 points.

But he faltered on his last dive, blowing his entry, and the door cracked open, just barely, for Mitcham, who put his hands over his face and cried after his winning dive.

Zhou said he was nervous before his last dive.

"It's going to take a while to sink in," Mitcham said. "My cheeks hurt from smiling. My face hurts from the chlorine. My legs are sore from jumping up and down. I'm in pain and I'm tired. But I'm so happy."

Finishing third was Gleb Galperin of Russia. Huo Liang of China took fourth. Americans David Boudia and Thomas Finchum were 10th and 12th, respectively. Finchum got off to a bad start, botching his first dive of the final, and couldn't recover.

Then there was the journey of Thomas Daley of Britain, who, at 14, was the youngest participant in the competition. He smiled frequently and seemed unfazed by competing against the seasoned field.

Daley was he was pleased that a "non-Chinese person won," referring to Mitcham breaking that run. That seemed unlikely through the first four rounds, as Zhou and Huo were 1-2. Huo dropped from second to fourth with his fifth dive.

"It breaks the mind barrier to know that the Chinese are beatable," Daley said. "It's like the four-minute mile. Once one person did it, lots of people did it afterward. It's nice to know people are catching up."

Mitcham started slowly with a shaky first dive, putting him in ninth place. He was in third after four rounds and moved to second after the fifth. His dive with the greatest degree of difficulty was his final one.

Said Mitcham: "It's absolutely surreal. I never thought that this would be possible. I wasn't even really sure of my medal chances at all. After I did my last dive and I saw I was in first, I'm like, 'That's it, it's a silver medal. I'm so happy with this.' And then I can't believe it. I'm so happy."

Not only did he quit diving at one point, but he battled depression and then took a big step, coming out in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald this year. The first thing he did in the mixed zone with print journalists was hug the reporter who handled the story with particular sensitivity. He was asked what this meant to him after his tumultuous last few years.

"Everything, absolutely everything I've done has been for this," he said. "I knew it was a far chance, but I did absolutely everything I could to give myself the best chance of doing it. It's actually happened, and I never thought it would."



Men's 10-Meter Platform

*--* Medal winners G: Matthew Mitcham (Australia) Score: 537.95 S: Zhou Luxin (China) Score: 533.15 B: Gleb Galperin (Russia) Score: 525.80 *--*

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