I haven’t seen the one-man shows that Mitcham has done, where he’s brought his stories from this book (and his life) to the stage, but I have the feeling that the stories of his life may work better in that format than on the page. He’s got many great stories to tell, and they really take off when all the right details combine: the facts of the situation, his feelings about them, and a compelling narrative. So, the stories leading up to his famous gold-medal dive in Beijing, and then the lead-up to the London Olympics, have an urgency and punch to them.
And having seen one side of the story (living in Australia and following this win on TV during the Olympics), it was so interesting to learn the background story: his relationship with his coaches, his fractious relationship with Diving Australia, even how the images we saw on screen of his partner and mother cheering him on: to find that was due to the kindness of strangers was heartwarming.
But many of the stories left me wanting more. They are such compelling stories, I wanted him to dive deeper so we could understand the lead-up, why things happened, the effects, though at one point in the book, he admits, he doesn’t necessarily understand himself the reasons for his deep insecurities and depression so couldn’t explain them on the page.
So, I’ll stay tuned for these stories: how a kid from hard circumstances made his way up to being the best diver in the world, the depths and shades of a relationship with his partner that stayed strong through lows and highs, even his recovery from drug use reads on the page easier than it must have been. For example, there are explanations for the drug use, and various descriptions of some of the implications, but the obvious emotional pain is covered up; it’s told with some distance, which makes it less involving or engaging.
So that’s the main criticism: not that the book is bad (it isn’t), or that I didn’t like Mitcham as a person (he seems very likeable and charismatic). It’s that I wanted to know more and feel more, having been introduced on the page to this very interesting man, who seems to have an infectious positive spirit, and a very kind heart. I’ll have to go see one of his shows!