January 29, 1960– Greg Louganis:
“I guess you can tease me about being a drama queen, because that did heighten the drama.”
It takes tenacity to continue having a crush on someone for 40+ years, but here I am, still dreamy over Greg Louganis, who is still devastatingly handsome as he turns 57-years-old. He spends his mornings in spin class, followed by 90 minutes of yoga. He takes daily naps. His afternoons are devoted to his true passion, training dogs in obedience and agility. Louganis lives with his husband, in Malibu, along with their six dogs.
Louganis is simply the greatest diver in US athletic history. I first took note of him when he won a silver medal in the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics. Louganis was just 16-years-old and just a total cutie pie. It was difficult to take my eyes off him, and I began to especially look forward to his dives. He went on to win two back-to-back double Olympic gold medals and multiple world championships.
In early 1988, Louganis was diagnosed with HIV:
“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’.”
If they had known that he was infected with HIV, Louganis would have never been allowed into Korea for the 1988 Summer Olympic Games. His doctor encouraged him that the healthiest thing would be for him to continue training. Luganis:
“The diving was much more of a positive thing to focus on. I did suffer from depression; if we had a day off, I couldn’t get out of bed. I would just pull the covers over my head. But if I had something on the calendar, I showed up. Whether that was to work out, an interview or speaking or appearances, I’d show up. I’ve long suffered from chronic depression, so even when I was younger, I didn’t think I’d see 30.”
Louganis’ greatest moments came, ironically, after his worst dive. Working hard towards another gold medal in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Louganis attempted a very difficult reverse 2 1/2 Pike Dive in the preliminary round. During that dive, he struck the board and suffered a large laceration on his pretty head. The Husband and I watched in horror as it happened, and it was shocking because Louganis was true diving perfection. We are big on the Olympic Games and The Husband had just said to me: “I just love to watch Louganis. He just pierces the water like a dart”.
Amazingly, despite having a concussion, he finished that preliminary round and repeated the dive in the finals, receiving record-setting scores that brought him another gold medal.
The accident caused a controversy over the blood he spilled after the injury, with critics acting hysterical even when it was pointed out that no other athletes were in any danger of exposure to the HIV (chlorine kills the virus). But it was 1988, an era when many people called on those with HIV to be tattooed or quarantined.
“I felt so isolated because of the secrets at that time. I was out to friends and family, and everybody in the diving world knew about my sexual identity, but very few people knew about my HIV status. I felt like I was living on an island.”
The performance at the Olympics earned him the ABC Television Sports Athlete Of The Year in 1988. Louganis has written about the embarrassment and fear that he felt after the accident:
“My first feeling was embarrassment. I was embarrassed. I was thinking, ‘How do I get out of this pool without anyone seeing me?’ It’s the Olympic Games and I’m supposed to be a pretty good diver and good divers don’t do that. But then I got angry with myself, to have allowed that to happen. And then after my coach got my head sewn up, he said, ‘Do you want to continue? I’ll support you 100 percent in whatever you decide’. I turned to him with kind of a knee-jerk reaction and said, ‘We’ve worked too long and hard to get here, and I don’t want to give up without a fight’. But when something like that happens, it just totally deflates any confidence that you have, and he did turn to me and say, ‘Look, I know you don’t believe in yourself right now, but believe in me because I believe in you’.”
“I knew I had a responsibility to tell the doctor about my HIV status as he sewed my head up.”
In 1994, Louganis announced to the world that he was gay. In his well-written memoir Breaking The Surface (1995) he confesses in detail about living in a relationship of domestic abuse and rape. His boyfriend/partner threatened to blackmail him if he ever tried to leave.
“I boxed myself into the relationship with my feelings about my HIV status. I thought, ‘who will touch me?’ But I knew that to survive, I had to get out. It was a big step for me to build the self-esteem I needed to have the confidence to leave.”
In the memoir, Louganis told the world that he was HIV positive. Afterwards, most of his corporate sponsors dropped Louganis as a client when they got the news of his HIV status. Famous swimsuit manufacturer Speedo was the only exception and they stayed with Louganis as spokesperson and model for their swimwear until 2007. As if we didn’t love Speedo enough already, we have got to give the company props for their loyalty.
In 1996, Breaking The Surface was made into a good film for Showtime with the delicious Mario Lopez playing the lead and with Louganis narrating.
Last summer I watched the new, excellent documentary Back On Board: Greg Louganis on HBO, with Louganis speaking candidly about his complex, often difficult life.
The especially gifted actor Michael Fassbender based his movements and mannerisms for his portrayal of an advanced humanoid robot in film Prometheus (2012) on Louganis diving career, stating:
“Louganis was my first inspiration. I figured that I’d sort of base my physicality roughly around him, and then it kind of went from there.”
After leaving sports, Louganis has dabbled in acting. He also coaches divers of all ages and abilities. He mentored the US diving team at the 2012 London Summer Olympics. In summer 2015, Louganis was a World Games Special Olympics torch bearer in LA. He tours the country speaking about issues that affected him throughout his life: HIV, chronic depression, learning disabilitiesm and diversity (he is Samoan and Scandinavian). Louganis also has joined with other Olympians including Peggy Fleming, Caitlyn Jenner and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, talking about living with a long-term illness.
“HIV taught me not to take anything for granted. I didn’t think I would see 30, and here I am at 57.”
But mostly, Louganis uses his considerable talents working with dogs, and that is just fine by me. I prefer canines to humans. He published a book, For The Life of Your Dog (2014). Louganis:
“I’m still here, and I’m married. It’s unbelievable. I never dreamed this day would be possible. People always ask ‘How are you doing? How are you doing really?’ But, my viral load’s undetectable, my T-cells are higher than they’ve ever been. I do acupuncture and Eastern treatments as well.”
Last summer, Louganis went to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio as an official athlete mentor for the US swim team.
He claims that he wants to be remembered as more than an athlete:
“I want to be remembered as a strong and graceful diver, but as a person, I want to be remembered as someone who made a difference.”