Gay Olympic role models such as Australian Matthew Mitcham and England’s Tom Daley have led the way for Anton Down-Jenkins to become the first diver to represent New Zealand at an Olympic Games since 1984 and be open about being gay as he heads to Tokyo in July.
The 21-year-old has been selected after securing his Olympic quota spot at the qualification event in Japan in May. Down-Jenkins finished 10th in the 3m springboard – New Zealand’s best-ever finish at a diving world cup.
Down-Jenkins is a member of the rainbow community and is passionate about being a sporting role model for LGBTQ+ people.
“We don’t see too much LGBTQ+ representation in sport, so I want to be part of that representation for my community and in turn help break down the idea that someone’s sexual orientation or identity is a barrier for success in the sporting realm,” Down-Jenkins explained to Radio NZ.
“I got really lucky because of the LGBQT representation that there has been in diving in terms of [Australian] Matthew Mitcham who won gold in Beijing and [Briton] Tom Daley who is multi Olympic medallist and world champion and having those role models proved to me that regardless of my sexual orientation or sexual identity that I can perform at the highest level of sport.
“I’ve never felt the need to hide who I am or think twice about it but I know that’s not the reality for a lot of people.”
Being an Olympic athlete gave Down-Jenkins an opportunity to show others what was possible and he wasn’t going to waste it.
“Going to the Olympics does ultimately give me a bit of a platform, it may not be huge, but it doesn’t make sense in my mind not to use it.
“It doesn’t matter how big my audience is, if someone’s seeing it and is gaining something valuable from it then that makes it absolutely worthwhile.”
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Down-Jenkins will become the first New Zealand male to compete in diving at the Olympic Games since Mark Graham and Gary Lamb in 1984.
Down-Jenkins dives for the University of North Carolina and made the Games despite testing positive for Covid-19, the effects of which set back his training 2 1⁄2 months, he said. He’s now fully vaccinated and excited about competing.
Down-Jenkins moved to America in 2018 and says the move has paid off.
“I’m super proud to represent New Zealand, we don’t have as much resource in diving as some of the big powerhouse nations and so that just makes me even more thrilled with this achievement. It’s so awesome to know that my hard work has paid off,” Down-Jenkins explained to stuff.
The former Wellington High School student began diving at a ‘have a go day’ at Kilbirnie Pool and hasn’t looked back since.
“Diving is such a beautiful sport because it requires so much strength, so much explosiveness and so much grace. There’s so many components to it and when all those components line up perfectly and you do a great dive that feeling is so amazing you can’t even describe it.”
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Down-Jenkins is very vocal about representing LGBTQ athletes, knowing many of them do not feel as comfortable as him in being out.
“There isn’t enough LGBTQI+ representation in the [sport] media, which is why I felt the need to bring it forward and to publicly announce that I am a member of the LGBTQI+ community, I want to be that representation. I want people to see that I’m out here,” he said.
“I’m thriving. I’m competing at the highest level of sport that you can and there just needs to be more of it. For sport to be a safe place there needs to be more representation in the media. It needs to become more normalized.”
Last Updated on Jun 4, 2021