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In to the Pool and Out of the Closet

A Word About HIV Positive Olympic Diving Champion Greg Louganis

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Updated October 25, 2008

The Beijing Olympics is finally here: a world class competition held against a backdrop of human right's violations that have tarnished China's past. When I think about the Olympics' past and the champions that are a part of that history, I think of an Olympic champion who has dealt with his own abuse and social prejudices but has prevailed. I think of Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis.

Olympic Champion - Greg Louganis

Gregory ("Greg") Efthimios Louganis born January 29, 1960, in El Cajon, Calif., is of Samoan and Swedish descent. The American diver broke on to the Olympic diving scene when he won a silver medal at the Montreal games of 1976 at the age of 16. From there he went on to win multiple world and Olympic championships. In fact, his diving skills were so respected that the Chinese diving team filmed his performances and carefully studied his mechanics and approach to diving. In doing so, the Chinese have risen to international prominence as some of the best divers in the world today. Many diving experts say that their rise is due in part to emulating Greg Louganis. With all his success as a diver, some of Louganis's greatest moments came, ironically, after one of his worst dives.

The Dive That Changed Everything

Seeking another gold medal in the Seoul Olympics of 1988, Louganis attempted a very difficult reverse 2 1/2 pike dive in the preliminary round. During the dive, he struck his head on the board, suffering a concussion and causing a large laceration on his head. Amazingly, despite his concussion, he finished the preliminary round and repeated the dive in the finals, getting record-setting scores en route to another gold medal. The performance earned him ABC Sports' Athelete of the Year in 1988. That dive, however, would have an impact years later when Louganis decided it was time to tell the world his secret.

Out of the Closet, in to the Controversy

It was 1994 when Louganis announce to the world that he was gay. He took part in the 1994 Gay games as a diving announcer as well as putting on a diving exhibition for capacity crowds. In 1995, Louganis cowrote his autobiography, Breaking the Surface, with the assistance of author Eric Marcus. In that book, Louganis detailed a relationship of domestic abuse and rape. It was in that book that he also disclosed to the world that he was HIV positive, having been diagnosed a few months before the Seoul Games. As expected at that time, most of his corporate sponsors dropped him as a client when they heard the news of his HIV status. The exception was swimsuit manufacturer Speedo, who retained him as an endorser of their products until 2007.

After his announcement, people in and out of the international diving community began to question Louganis's decision not to disclose his HIV status at the time of his head injury during the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Their concern was that because of the bloody nature of his injury, Louganis placed all of his diving competitors at risk of being exposed to HIV. While the United States Olympic Committee expressed great concern about the possibility of HIV exposure, AIDS expert Anthony Fauci, MD, assured the Olympic Committee and the world that Greg Louganis did not place anyone at risk due to his decision not to disclose his HIV diagnosis.

Where is He Today?

Today Louganis travels the world with athletes, such as Peggy Fleming, Bruce Jenner and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, to discuss their lives as world class athletes while living with a chronic disease. As Louganis puts it, "It's just telling my story really. 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."

Sources:

  1. Mandell, Nina (2008-08-02). "Catching up with Greg Louganis", Sports Illustrated. Retrieved on 2008-08-08.

  2. Sandomir, Richard (1995-02-06). "Agonizing Over Disclosure of AIDS", New York Times. Retrieved on 2007-10-28.
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