The Essential Olympic Stories - Greg Louganis’s leap of faith
THE ESSENTIAL OLYMPIC STORIES – Greg Louganis is the greatest diver of all time. First man to win the double double, at the Los Angeles and Seoul Olympics, the American took his discipline to fresh heights. But the legendary Louganis did so while being weighed down by a heavy burden throughout the 80s: his HIV positive status, which he kept a secret.
The Essential Olympic Stories - Greg Louganis’s leap of faith
Like a picture, a shrug can say a thousand words. From anger to indifference, via sadness, irony, or resignation: much is concealed behind a simply bodily expression as easy to perform as it is hard to decipher. The shrug of the shoulders is to man what the flapping of wings is to a butterfly: a way of gaining height, but also of escaping.
The day Julie Sondgerath, an information technology manager from Chicago, saw Greg Louganis shrug his shoulders in front of a box of Wheaties cereal, she had little difficulty reading between the lines. Like the millions of Americans who watched Back on Board, the HBO documentary recounting the tormented life and major achievements of the greatest diver in history, she quickly understood the meaning of his gesture.
“It kind of broke my heart,” she explained to a journalist from the New York Times in the middle of the summer of 2015. “This is a guy who did everything right. He trained from his teens. He went to the Olympics. He won a silver in 1976. He won gold in 1984 and again in ‘88. He did everything right.” And yet…
Despite four Olympic titles, five world titles and his raft of national titles, Louganis had not even been granted the universal accolade bestowed upon established American sports stars: that of having his image plastered across a box of Wheaties, the so-called “breakfast of champions”. The iconic orange cereal boxes have become symbols of US pop culture, displaying the images of some of the greatest sports champions in American history. But they never took the plunge with Greg Louganis.
Feeling that this was nothing short of an injustice, Sondgerath started a petition on Change.org to right this wrong. Some 48,000 signatures and eight months later, General Mills, the maker of Wheaties, announced that the former diver would soon grace the famous orange box as part of a “Legends” series – even if the company denied any influence from the petition.
About time too. Louganis only had to wait the best part of three decades. The same time it had taken for Muhammad Ali – the first boxer to grace the Wheaties box, previously considered too much of a hot potato to adorn the breakfast table of the average American – or Jim Thorpe, the first Native American to win a gold medal for the States, who himself finally featured on the box nearly half a century after his death.
Louganis laid bare
Greg Louganis never looked to blame anyone. But he was no fool. Deep down, he always knew. His triumphs and domination came during an era where passions ran hot. The world was not ready for a star like Louganis – and he could lump it or leave it. But when he did eventually appear on the supermarket shelves, it was Louganis the man who was being celebrated – not a fake, watered down version of the extraordinary diving champion. It was Louganis laid bare: Louganis the homosexual, the HIV positive activist. So maybe it was worth the wait, after all.
“You know what, I didn’t pay attention to that,” Louganis told Fox News in 2016 about his initial snub by Wheaties. Now, it felt sweeter. “I feel like I’m being embraced as a whole person. I came out in 1995 about my homosexuality and HIV status. And so now, having this honour, it’s crazy.”
In the middle of the 90s, Louganis had decided to reveal the secret he had hidden for so long. He took inspiration from the HIV-positive basketball star, Magic Johnson, who paved the way in 1991. A few months later, the tennis star Arthur Ashe followed in the footsteps of the Lakers point guard, revealing how he contracted the disease from a blood transfusion he received during heart bypass surgery in 1983.
Louganis used his autobiography, Breaking the Surface, as a medium for his official coming out. The book was number one on the New York Times bestseller list for five weeks and also allowed him to open up about the sword of Damocles hanging over his head since March 1988. For it was, incredibly, just six months before the Seoul Olympics that Louganis tested HIV positive.
‘I didn't know what I was'
Born on 29 January 1960, Louganis’s entry into the pool of life was not as neat as those he would perfect from the diving board. His birth parents were Hawaiian teenagers far from ready to raise a child, and Greg was promptly put up for adoption. This proved easier said than done. For baby Greg had a dark complexion that did not fit with the blonde-hair-blue-eye ideal sought by the majority of adopters. He wouldn’t know it until they were reunited in 1984, but Greg inherited these features from his biological father, a Samoan, rather than his mother, who originated from Sweden.
Frances and Pete Louganis didn’t have a problem with this. Quite the contrary. Frances could not have children, so the couple turned towards social services. The Louganises had already adopted a one-and-a-half-year-old girl, Despina, who herself had Indian, French, Italian and British heritage. The Louganis were elated with the new addition to their family, Greg, who arrived aged nine months.
Frances came from a family of Texas farmers and moved to San Diego, California, in the late 1940s. Pete was from Boston and was of Greek origin. Frances would later admit that Pete was “born old and angry”. He had a mild drink problem, a bad habit that became a stain upon the daily life of the Louganis family, especially the precocious Gregory Efthimios. Fortunately, Mama Louganis kept her husband in check.
School might have been a refuge for Louganis in these circumstances, but that didn’t prove to be the case. Louganis was called a “n*****” by the white kids on account of his dark complexion. “At the time, I didn’t know what I was,” he explains in his autobiography. “I knew my natural father was from Samoa, but I didn’t know where Samoa was. For all I knew, I was from Africa, so it made odd sense to me why they were calling me that.”
Dyslexic, Louganis had a stutter and was called “r****d” by his peers. He also developed ophiophobia, a fear of snakes, and was badly asthmatic. On top of this, he was called “sissy” because of his interest in dancing, drama and trampolining. As is so often the case, name-calling morphed into physical abuse, and Louganis was often beaten up at school. But Greg never mentioned any of this at home because he was too ashamed.
Dark thoughts and attempted suicide
Louganis struggled to find his way. His desire for revenge and feelings of injustice were not a driving force, but instead proved terribly destructive. Aged 12, three years after he started smoking, the future quadruple Olympic champion plunged into severe depression. He was soon drinking to escape his troubles. He fought with his mother, who threatened to send him to a correction facility. Three suicide attempts followed. He only began to find a solution the day he went to the adoption agency and discovered that his parents had abandoned him out of necessity – not because they didn’t love him.
If little Louganis is far from the “Mr Perfect” he will be called by the Guardian newspaper in 1984 off the back of the Los Angeles Games, the roots of his turnaround have taken seed. For amid this ocean of despair, there was a swimming pool. A real one, too; in the Louganis’ garden after they moved to a new house at the end of the 60s. And young Greg loved jumping into it.
Nimble on his legs and gifted with an innate artistic sense, Louganis showed such an interest and flair that he was taken into his sister’s tap-dancing class when just 18 months old. He soon excelled at gymnastics and was particularly talented on the trampoline. By the age of three and a half, he was performing solo routines on stage. Greg had found the outlet that would later help him cope with his myriad frustrations.
The swimming pool provided an extension of his artistic exertions. Aged nine, he was trying to replicate his trampoline moves on the diving board. More often than not, this resulted in a bellyflop. Worried that he may hurt himself, his mother decided to treat Greg to diving lessons at the nearby pool at La Mesa. “It wasn’t that my mother had a vision of me being a great diver or anything – she just didn’t want me to break my neck,” Louganis says in his book. History was in the making. This was 1969. In seven years, Louganis would participate in his first Olympics.
Before then, Louganis the teenager found himself drowning in a sea of bullying and self-doubt. In these choppy waters, one thing kept him afloat: his diving. “The one thing I did have was my performance – performing on the diving board,” Louganis says in the ESPN documentary, Thicker Than Water.
And I thought that that was the only thing that I had to offer as a person. That’s why it was so important for me to be the absolute best no matter what.
And his best would, soon enough, prove to be the best, as confirmed many years later by his trainer, Ron O’Brien: “I would call Greg the best diver there’s ever been. When he was diving the most amount of national titles held by any diver was 28. When he retired, he had 47.”
This was the same O’Brien who, on first seeing Louganis perform as a 10-year-old, was struck by this boy with “a different quality to his diving that I had seen with anyone else. He was stronger, and he had a presence about him.”
Diving’s answer to Baryshnikov or Nureyev
In an interview with French newspaper Le Monde in 1988, O’Brien traced his athlete’s dominance in diving back to his dancing ability. “If you want a decisive contribution from Greg in diving, here it is,” he said. “With him, divers have understood that they are artists. Watching Greg Louganis dive is like watching Mikhail Baryshnikov dancing.”
If O’Brien viewed his athlete as the Baryshnikov of diving, he also drew parallels with the great Rudolf Nureyev, telling the Washington Post: “A dancer, I’m not sure if it was Nureyev or Baryshnikov, was quoted as saying, ‘Dancing is creating the illusion that you’re doing nothing.’ That’s what Greg does on a diving board. He makes it look effortless.”
There’s no doubt that Louganis displayed an absolute grace on the board, which he combined with a unique power. And his physique was perfect for the discipline. In his prime, Louganis was neither too big, nor too small: his height of 1.75 metres and weight of 68 kilograms were the perfect dimensions. Add to that a standing jump of 93 centimetres and Louganis really was born to dive.
“He had remarkable diving technique with exceptional grace and aesthetics. He was a guy who was beautiful both physically and in the execution of a dive. He had no lumber arch, a great line of legs and then he was super powerful at the same time,” says Jérôme Nalliod, a French diver who competed in the Seoul Games in 1988.
He was such an extraordinary athlete that he made it all look so easy. He had phenomenal power. Long before anyone else, and around 1982 or 1983, it looked like he was 15 years ahead of everyone in terms of technique.
John Anders, a local coach, noticed him from the outset: Louganis was head and shoulders above the rest. Quickly, Greg found himself being mentored by Doctor Sammy Lee, the best in the business. Dr Lee may have had a diploma in medicine, but he was also a double Olympic champion in the 10-metre platform – from London in 1948 and Helsinki four years later. Being the first Asian American to win a gold medal for the United States, he, too, knew a thing or two about discrimination.
“The first time I saw him I knew he would be the greatest diver in history if he got the right coach.” This was Lee’s take on witnessing the 11-year-old Louganis on the springboard. Not only was he capable of jumping that much higher than all his contemporaries, he also put those a few years older than him in the shade. “With someone like him, they’re going to have to raise the scoring to 11s and 12s,” Lee would soon be telling Sports Illustrated.
When Lee started training Louganis in 1974 he had one avowed goal: to send him to the Montreal Games. He took him under his wing, shaped him and, two years later, Louganis got his first taste of the Olympics – aged 16. He qualified for the 3-metre springboard and the 10-metre platform. The world was witnessing the birth of a champion. A journalist from the Evening Tribune in San Diego suggested that Louganis was perhaps a diver for the future. This was met with mild rebuke by Lee, who claimed: “To hell with that. I may not still be around in 1980. Greg’s going there to win now!”
‘In four years, you’ll be up here’
If Lee’s predictions of glory in Montreal did not come true, he wasn’t too wide of the mark. Louganis didn’t win – but he more than made a splash. Sixth on the 3m springboard, which he later attributed to suffering from severe toothache, he went on to give the Italian favourite Klaus Dibiasi a run for his money in the 10m platform. The so-called ‘Blond Angel’ was diving for a third Olympic title and he was almost denied by the young American, who eventually settled for silver.
While Louganis was disappointed, Dibiasi had seen enough to know that his successor stood to his right on the podium. He leaned in and whispered into Louganis’s ear: “In four years, you’ll be up here”. Dibiasi was not proved correct – but neither was he entirely wrong. The next time Louganis went to the Olympics, he would indeed win two gold medals. But as it turned out, that did not happen at Moscow, but eight years later at Los Angeles.
Beyond his maiden silver medal, the Montreal Games also stood out for Louganis as the moment where he opened up about his sexual orientation for the first time. Not publicly, but to Scott Cranham, the Canadian diver who he had known since childhood.
“I thought he might be the person I could confide in. For one thing, I thought he too was gay. He was studying psychology in college, so I hoped that even if he wasn’t gay, he would be a sympathetic ear,” Louganis writes in Breaking the Surface.
Cranham, however, “couldn’t handle it”. He was indeed gay. But not ready to come out. This painful setback knocked the 16-year-old Louganis for six. He felt “disappointed and sad and angry [… and] totally vulnerable and totally alone”.
Louganis had to learn to live with being different. And it would not always be easy. When on the road with his teammates, he soon found out that no one was in a hurry to share a room with him. He often found himself paired off with one of the coaches or put in his own room.
“No one really wanted to room with ‘the f**’. In retrospect, I don’t know how much of that was true homophobia, because I’ve been in touch with a lot of the guys since then and my sexual identity is not an issue to the vast majority of them. But at the time, I was winning. I don’t know how much of it was true homophobia or how much of it was jealousy,” he says in Thicker Than Water.
Winning helped Louganis deal with the disillusion. By the time he turned 21, he already had more national titles than anyone in US diving history. He would end his career three short of a half-century. An all-time record. In 1978, in West Berlin, he also won his first world title, on the 10m platform. Clearly the man to beat heading into the Olympic cycle, Louganis was thwarted by the heating up of the Cold War. The US boycott of the Moscow Games in 1980 put his Olympic aspirations on hold until Los Angeles.
Better even than Carl Lewis
When he arrived in the City of Angels in 1984, Greg Louganis was the man to beat. He was, without a shadow of a doubt, the most complete diver of his generation – perhaps ever to grace the sport.
In 1982, at the World Championships in Guayaquil, Ecuador, he had already shown this in spell-binding fashion. Now being coached by O’Brien, his final dive in the 3m springboard earned him a score of 92.07 points: a record score on a single dive. His closest opponent finished more than one hundred points behind at the end of the one-sided final. Clearly operating on another planet, his domination continued in the 10m platform, where he became the first person in a major international meeting to get a perfect score of 10 from all seven judges. Louganis duly became the first diver to do the double in World Championships history.
It was hardly a surprise, then, when the stratospheric Louganis carried this form through to the Olympics to become the first diver since Peter Desjardins in 1928 to do an Olympic 3m and 10m double. Quite simply, Louganis destroyed the field. On the springboard he even passed the 700-point mark in the final – another Olympic first. His tally of 754.41 points was more than 92 points better than his nearest rival. It was a similar story on the platform: his fellow American Bruce Kimball finished more than 67 points behind as Louganis romped home with 710.91 points – the highest in the history of the sport. (He later admitted to listening to the music from Chariots of Fire on his Walkman while holding his teddy bear to help calm his nerves before his history-making final dive.)
Trying to contextualise Louganis’ achievements, O’Brien said:
Journalists have asked me to compare this to performances in other sports. I would say it was like jumping 30 feet in the long jump or running the 100 metres in 9:50, In the eyes of his trainer, what Louganis had succeeded in doing surpassed even the exploits of Carl Lewis during the same Games.
American athlete Carl Lewis accelerates down the runway as he competes in the Men's Long Jump event at the XXIII Olympic Summer Games at the Los Angeles
Image credit: Getty Images
But for all his success in the pool, Louganis’ private life was in freefall. The two men who shared his life during the 80s had done their best to make things a living hell – most notably Jim Babbitt, the lover who became his business manager while subjecting Louganis to a violent torrent of physical and mental abuse. Referred to as “Tom Bennett” in his autobiography, Babbitt constantly put Louganis down and even managed to siphon off a substantial part of his income for his own personal use. And when the sponsors did not come calling, Bennett was quick to remind his boyfriend that it was all down to his sexual orientation. It was a highly toxic relationship. If stealing from him and beating him wasn’t enough, Bennett once raped Louganis at knifepoint.
The scourge of AIDS
In a triumphant decade for America, Louganis was but one of the many stand-out faces. But the 80s were also the years where the AIDS pandemic raised its ugly head in the everyday life of humanity. A clear and present danger, AIDS was a new and unrecognised disease that rose up at the end of the 70s in the west of the country and wreaked havoc behind the scenes. Just as ignorance rarely rhymes with benevolence, it was a scourge which gave root to a litany of crass urban legends.
The thought that Louganis could be carrying the virus did not cross his mind at first, because he knew that he didn’t have multiple partners, nor did he lead a particularly risky love life. But the true danger of the disease hit home when he learned that Kevin, a partner from the early 80s, had been diagnosed HIV positive. It was Kevin who later encouraged Louganis to get tested.
“I started to get scared when some of Tom [Bennett]’s friends got sick and died. […] Then, in 1987, Kevin wrote to tell me that he had HIV. From the tone of his letter, I got the sense he was blaming me. In the letter he stressed that I should get tested.”
If it seemed easier to live in denial – especially with the Seoul Games approaching – the fear of shattering his Olympic dream was soon outdone by concerns for his own health. One day, Louganis could no longer put it off. It was the start of 1988 and Bennett was laid low by shingles and respiratory problems. When he was forced to go to hospital for tests, Louganis, who was training in Florida, decided to do the same. The results were just as he had feared: he was HIV positive.
“You hear a buzzing, you don’t understand everything you’re being told. I was afraid because I was seeing people die. I thought, ‘My God, it’s over’,” he explains in Thicker Than Water. “At the time I was diagnosed, we thought of HIV as a death sentence. It was six months prior to the Olympic Games, and I was like, ‘Well, I’m going to pack my bags and go home and lock myself in my house and wait to die.’”
The doctor who accompanied him, a cousin by marriage, told Louganis that, on the contrary, the best thing to do would be to target the Games: keeping in shape and positive was the best barrier against the evolution of the disease. Louganis nevertheless had to follow a very aggressive treatment, taking the antiretroviral drug AZT round-the-clock.
“It was the only drug available. I had to take two pills every four hours. It didn’t matter where I was. I had a watch that reminded me every four hours. It was a constant reminder…”
‘We’ll get through this together’
The secret was heavy to bear – and difficult to share. “It was not an option to open up and be honest: there was little compassion with AIDS,” Louganis recalls. Only one person would understand: Ron O’Brien.
At this point, O’Brien had been his coach for a decade. They had a good working relationship, and were good friends out of the pool, too. Ron was a calmer influence on Louganis than Lee, and he was able to get the best out of the shy and introverted diver. In 1984, O’Brien convinced his protégé to pursue his career as far as Seoul. What he had already achieved was exceptional, but he would only go down as a legend of the sport if he could double up again at the next Olympics.
In the spring of 1988, when Louganis, in a hotel room in Washington, had the courage to tell O’Brien about his HIV positive status, his coach did not bat an eyelid. “We’ll get through this together,” he said, while giving Louganis a hug. Together, they weighed up the potential danger Louganis could pose to others. They also agreed to keep it a secret.
“Greg didn’t want anybody else to know about it because he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to go into the country [South Korea], that he wouldn’t be allowed to compete,” O’Brien says in Thicker Than Water. “I believe that if the Olympic Committee had found out that he was HIV positive they would have taken his spot away from him on the team. If he was in a contact sport, I would have said, ‘You can’t go’, and I would have reported it. But diving – you have no contact whatever.”
Fast forward to 19 September 1988. The qualification for the 3m springboard finals. After eight dives, everything was going well. As expected, Louganis led the way ahead of Tan Liangde, silver medallist at Los Angeles and the only man to have beaten him in seven years on the springboard. Then came the ninth dive: a double somersault and a half-reverse pike. It was a dive that Louganis had mastered. But even before the moment of impact, O’Brien understood something wasn’t right.
“I got this knot in my stomach. When he took off, I knew. It was just a matter of how bad he was going to be.” And he was not mistaken: on his way down towards the water, the crown of Louganis’s head hit the springboard with a dull thud.
Louganis’s first reaction was not what we may have imagined. For before worry came dented pride. A two-time Olympic champion and five-time world champion hitting the springboard with his head… with the whole world watching… was, in a word, embarrassing. Louganis had one and only desire: to stay under the water and disappear, for the pool to swallow up his shame.
Eventually he came to the surface and exited the pool. His injuries did not appear to be serious. Certainly, nothing like the accident he had suffered in 1979 during a USA-USSR meeting when he had been knocked unconscious for 20 minutes. However, he was still worried for reasons that no one, except O’Brien, could fathom. The fear of his secret coming out; the fear of the ramifications of his secret on others.
Jérôme Nalliod, a direct witness of the scene, remembers the minutes that followed – and its consequences: “I was diving a bit after him. When he hit his head, I was in the hot tub getting ready for my dive. Obviously, I was watching him because, well, it was Louganis, and that was usually his best dive. He came out of the water and held his head. The Belgian trainer, Jan Snick, started to touch his head. Now, looking back on it today with the gift of hindsight, I remember that Louganis straight away covered the wound and made his way to the area where we were all gathered under the stands.
“At the time, I obviously didn’t know that he was HIV positive. Me and [the Mexican diver] Jesus Mena went to clean the springboard, barefoot of course. And I had a few scratches on my feet… So, when his bio came out, the first thing I did was go and do an HIV test. Looking back, I realise that it must have been terrible for him to think that he had perhaps risked infecting people without being able to say anything. That must have been terribly difficult for him to deal with. But, even between divers, we discussed it – it was a complicated situation.”
The day Louganis revealed his HIV positive status, in 1995, certain tactless media outlets tried to play lip service to the Seoul incident. To throw mud and the suspicion of a scandal around Louganis’s behaviour. However, it has since been proven that none of his opponents were endangered that day. The risk was infinitesimal. For two reasons: the amount of blood which would have entered the water was too small to contaminate anyone, and also, the chlorine present in the pool would have killed the virus.
Yet at that moment in time, Louganis was none the wiser. He had an open wound that needed stitches. The American doctor, Jim Puffer, who took care of this was not wearing protective gloves, which only increased Louganis’s anxiety even further. But he was paralysed, unable to say anything for fear of the consequences.
“I was so stunned. I mean, what was going on in my mind at the time was, ‘What’s my responsibility? Do I say something?’ This has been an incredibly guarded secret. I wanted to say something but it wasn’t an option. I knew I was in a country where I’d probably be deported right away. So I wouldn’t be able to finish what I’d started. I was terrified.”
Facing the music
Louganis was at a loss at what he should do. Speak out? Return to the competition? Throw in the towel? O’Brien put no pressure on him and said whatever decision he made would be the correct one. He, too, was going through a complicated chapter in his life, his mother having passed away that very same day. He nevertheless offered Louganis his encouragement while trying to play down the situation, in as far as that was possible.
“To reassure me, Ron said, ‘Well, hockey players get hit in the face with a puck and get fifty stitches and then come out and play the rest of the game. You only have four stitches, and you only have to do two dives.’” O’Brien added: “I know your confidence is totally shattered. But if you can’t believe in yourself, believe in me.”
After going for a stroll, Louganis decided he would continue. And when he returned to the springboard, the response from the audience assured him that he had made the correct decision – although he still had to take one huge leap of faith.
“As I stood on the board shaking out my legs and arms, they announced my name. To my complete surprise, there was thunderous applause. Then, when they announced the dive, it got eerily quiet. You could feel the tension in the hall, and I was already terrified. I still hadn’t figured out what I’d done wrong in the last dive, and here I was about to do a dive that again would put my head within inches of the board.
“I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of all those people. […] The tension broke when they saw that I was more nervous and scared than they were. Their laughter helped me relax. It made me also realise how much support I had. I realised that the audience wanted me to do a good dive.”
His score? 87.12 points. It was the best dive of the qualifications – and met with a standing ovation. One more near-perfect dive saw him qualify in third place. The finals the next evening were far from straight-forward but resulted in two gold medals. If Louganis repeated the same dive to win the 3m springboard by a comfortable margin over Liandge, the 10m platform went right down to the wire. For his last dive, and trailing China’s Xiong Ni, Louganis needed to perform a far more difficult dive, the infamous 307C – a three-and-a-half reverse somersault with a tuck known as the “Dive of Death” following the Russian Sergei Chalibashvili’s fatal skull-shattering accident in 1983.
Louganis executed the dive perfectly to come from behind and win the gold medal by just 1.14 points. With this he secured his legendary status in the sport. Louganis had become the only man to sweep the diving events at consecutive Olympics – following in the footsteps of Patricia McCormick in the 1950s. With this unprecedented double double, after the drama of the qualifications, there remained no doubt that it was now time for Louganis to hang up his Speedos.
Life out of the pool
The competition had grown since he made his Olympic bow at Montreal – and he had changed, too. “In 1976, I was skeletal, in 1984 I was just as I should be, in 1988 I was much bigger,” Louganis recalls. “In 1988, he was already a lot heavier. He had got more thick set. He was still taking care of himself, but we could all see the changes. It definitely seemed like it was time for him to stop,” Nalliod confirms.
“On his reverse dives in Seoul, he was particularly close to the springboard. We were in the same training group as the Americans, and already he was running a little scared. In competition, he often went even closer… And in the final, he did a reverse dive where he almost made contact. He was a bit heavier, so he had to take more risk. Maybe that’s also why he was closer to the springboard than in 1984.”
The Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 had made him a star. 1988 had made him a legend. But standing on his final podium, Louganis’s mind strayed beyond his achievements. He couldn’t help but worry about his own mortality. “When am I going to die?” he asked himself.
More than three decades later, Greg Louganis is still alive. More than ever. The late 80s and the start of the following decade were particularly painful, as he watched many of his friends, former lovers, and his cancer-stricken father, all succumb to their respective diseases. After his sporting career, Louganis became the artist which he already was. He’s acted in several films, including Touch Me in 1997, and he played the role of Darius in an Off-Broadway production of Jeffrey, a play recounting the life of a young gay man at the time of AIDS.
Actor, author, media pundit, LGBT activist, mentor for the United States diving team, a keen participant in dog agility competitions: Louganis has been busy since his last competitive dive. In fact, the one thing he hasn’t done is, well, dive: his house in Malibu has a swimming pool, but no diving board. Louganis also found the time to get married, in 2013 – three years before he finally appeared on the front of a box of Wheaties.
Louganis has never been able to lay down his arms in the internal conflict which pitted him against the spectre of AIDS since 1988. One thing is certain – he has never regretted freeing himself from the heavy secret of his HIV status. Because he didn’t just do it for himself. “I wanted my story to motivate people with HIV to be responsible and also to understand that life is not over yet, that HIV and AIDS are not a death sentence.”
Greg Louganis is now a dashing man in his sixties. He has never been so alive.