I’ve adored Greg Louganis since forever. He’s 56 and I’ll turn 56 next week. I’m a frustrated diver and he’s the greatest male diver in history. I was lucky enough to shake hands with him back in August 1983. I was an intern in a major Venezuelan newspaper covering the Pan American Games. I was assigned to cover fencing at the Academia Militar gym and managed to make it to the diving pool at Parque Naciones Unidas, in the opposite extreme of Caracas.
And there was Greg Louganis, a member of the U.S. diving team, the most perfect creature I’ve ever seen, with his olive skin, looking like a living wax Michelangelo’s statue. Dancing in the air. Flying. Free as a bird. Beautiful. Perfect. He won gold in 3mt springboard and 10mt platform.He won his first Olympic medal (silver) in Montreal in 1976. Because of the U.S. boycott to the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games, he couldn’t compete that year. But he was the first diver scoring 700 points under the actual scoring system and he scored 710.91 points in the 1984 Olympic Games in LA, something that no other diver has done yet.
In a performance as powerful and graceful as it can be, Greg Louganis won gold in both 3mt springboard and 10mt platform in the LA Olympics. And he did it again in the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, after hitting his head with the springboard.
I still remember that accident. It was September 19, 1988. The greatest male diver ever, hitting his head, falling into the water, leaving the pool, bleeding. My world stopped. The world stopped. I was in tears. But 22 minutes later, there was Greg Louganis, with a couple of stiches in his scalp, so vulnerable and at the same time becoming a new living definition of human strength, completing his routine and winning Olympic gold again.
Six months prior to the Seoul Olympics he was diagnosed HIV positive, something that, at that time, was considered a death sentence. All the sponsoring brands, but Speedo, retired their endorsements —and by the way that’s the reason all the swimming suits in my household are Speedo.
So, when today I watched him, diving, dancing in the air, more beautiful than ever, for the ESPN 2016 Body Issue, at the age of 56 and naked, I stopped everything I was doing and decided to write this piece to celebrate the life of my forever idol, the courageous, brave, amazing, inspiring, compassionate, unique, the one and only one Greg Louganis.
An adopted child, he was bullied because of his ethnicity (he’s from Samoan descendants), his dyslexia and because he did gymnastics and dance instead of football or baseball. He overcame child domestic violence, sexual abuse and battled with alcohol, drugs and chronic depression. He was the target of homophobia and had lived for almost 30 years with HIV/AIDS.
He retired from diving in 1988 and came out of the closet as a gay man in 1994. In 1995 his autobiography Breaking the surface, became a best seller. Greg Louganis evolved from a troubled, silent, isolated young individual, to an inspiring, compassionate mature man, mentor for young people, gay or straight, athletes and non-athletes, suffering from HIV/AIDS or healthy, victims of bully, dyslexic… people like you and me.
He is married to Johnny Chaillot and is currently a national speaker on issues including dyslexia, domestic violence and overcoming adversity. Soon he’ll be in Río de Janeiro, at the Olympic Games, as official athlete mentor of the U.S. Diving Team. At the age of 56, he’s fit and in perfect shape and is the oldest athlete in the ESPN 2016 Body Issue. And last, but not least, to my eyes Greg Louganis is still the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen. Beautiful on the surface, and beautiful deep inside.
Thank you Greg Louganis for not being “normal” so you can be the amazing individual you are. Thank you for paving the path so others can walk and stand free and proud. Thank you for your compassion, where your real amazing strength resides. Thank you for giving a voice to those who still don’t have a voice. Thank you for not giving up and being so resilient. Thank you for being so unique. Thank you for being who you’re. As the single mom of two boys whose dream is to become athletes, I cannot find but inspiration in you. And as your mom used to say: this world is a better place just because you are here.
Following are the sources of information I checked to write this piece:
Breaking the surface, by Greg Louganis
“I didn’t think I’d see 30” says Greg Louganis, by Morty Ain
Louganis never lost drive to dive, by Ron Flatter
The Toughest Sissy in the World: The Moment I Triumphed Over My Bullies, by Greg Louganis