I remember when Greg Louganis, the greatest diver of all time crashed his head onto the springboard with a thud. It was the 1988 Olympics’ Final Qualifying round. Greg Louganis flopped backwards, limp into the water. The world gasped.
He surfaced, holding his hand to his head, trying to stem the blood flow. Only he, his coach Ron O’Brien and a close few knew that he was HIV positive at the time. Louganis had just twelve minutes to recover and have his head stitched before his next dive. It was flawless. He made the Final.
The next day he won the Gold medal with the same ‘Death Dive’ that had earlier killed a fellow diver. A 3 1/2 reverse somersault. And then he won another. He is the only male diver to sweep the 3m and 10m diving events in consecutive Olympics. I’ll never forget the beauty and grace of his dives, dangerous, yet appearing effortless.
After that, Louganis retired and dropped out of sight. I never knew what happened next, until now. The documentary Greg Louganis: Back on Board tells this missing story.
The other medal-winning US athletes went on to lucrative sponsorships. Paid millions to have their faces on Wheaties packets. But Louganis got nothing. Suspected of being gay, he was not their ideal Brand Ambassador, he explains. This was the 80s when HIV/AIDS was deadly and strafing its way through that community. Fear and prejudice were rife.
His boyfriend allegedly stole 80% of his earnings from him and died of AIDS not long after. By the time Louganis resurfaced as a Mentor for US diving athletes Olympics – at the London 2012 Olympics – he was on the verge of losing his house. Greg Louganis was dealt a shitty hand.
But that’s not the story that made me cry and left me speechless as the credits rolled. And it’s rare that a documentary has such an effect on me. It was the story that was unsaid. I am not a gay, nor an Olympic diver, but it resonated with me. I am sure that a lot of people will see themselves in him.
Louganis yearned for acceptance as a child, from his adopted father. And from those who bullied him at school. He retreated into the one thing he was good at and it drove him to try to prove himself and succeed. But he was lonely and he didn’t get pleasure from it.
He was a victim to a controlling partner, who didn’t have his best interests at heart. He was living a lie about his sexual identity and HIV status. And after he came out, he recoiled at using his standing as an iconic athlete to represent the gay community. His life crumbled and fell apart. He was in debt and alone.
Like mine, when I hit rock bottom in an abusive relationship, Louganis’s life was out of line. He wasn’t in control of it. It was controlling him.
But as I did, step by step he realigned. He realigned to find what was true to him and his core values. And as he did so, he turned his life around. When he finally found his love for diving, he won Gold and became the World’s Greatest Diver. When he started to love himself more and sought a restraining order against his boyfriend, he took control of his life back, by not accepting unacceptable behaviour. He then addressed his financial problems head on.
When he felt comfortable with his sexuality and that it was okay to be a gay icon, new opportunities came his way. He wrote his memoirs. He became a mentor and inspired another diver, Ji Wallace to come out as well. At the eleventh hour, he saved his house.
Greg Louganis says what I always say. That only when we are true to ourselves can we find the real meaning of happiness and success. And like mine, his story has a happy ending.
Louganis found his soul mate Johnny Chaillot, a man who is good to him and supports him. I found the same, in a man who shares my core values and beliefs, who loves and supports me.
But what left me lost for words came at the end of the film, when the silver-haired Louganis stepped onto the 10m platform. Now in his fifties, he dived. It was the same flawless, graceful perfection I remember so well. Greg Louganis is back. But he always had it within him. We all do. You just need to find that inner strength.
Do you remember Greg Louganis? Have you seen this film? Let me know in the Comments below.