Before the Chinese dominance in diving, there was Gregory Greg Efthimios Louganis, considered by sportswriters and fans as the greatest diver of all time. Back in the 1980s when almost everything was into neon and ridiculous clothes and hair styles, Louganis ruled the platform and the springboard. No other divers could perform acrobatics while falling or jumping into water like he did. He possessed the flexibility, strength, air awareness, and kinaesthetic judgment that made him an Olympic legend.
The young Louganis
Louganis was born on January 29, 1960 in El Cajon, California to two 15-year-olds, one Swedish and one Samoan. Louganis was abandoned soon after his birth and was later adopted and raised in California by a Greek-American couple. The future Olympian grew up feeling and looking different from most of his classmates. His dyslexia compounded his struggle as he was always taunted by many other schoolchildren. This further undermined his self-esteem.
Louganis turned to dancing to offset all the taunting and isolation. He proved a natural, winning many dance competitions. His teacher insisted that he visualize his dance routines. This visualization technique would help him master to near perfection very technical routines in the sport that would make him one of the greatest Olympians: diving. His parents then signed the boy up for diving lessons where he exhibited a rare talent. And the rest is history.
1976 Montreal Olympics
At the age of 11, Louganis joined the 1971 AAU Junior Olympics where he was discovered and later coached by Olympian Sammy Lee. Under Lee’s training, his goal was to be at the 1976 Olympics. The boy qualified for both the platform and springboard events in Montreal. He felt his teammates were less supportive of him and Lee had difficult time gaining entry to train him at pool-side. He was distracted and nervous in the springboard, finishing only sixth. But he regained focus and confidence in his next event and surprised everyone when he came in second in the platform.
1984 Los Angeles Olympics
Louganis was a clear favorite to win both the platform and springboard events at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. But the United States boycotted the Olympics. Despite this, he continued to train hard for the LA Olympics, where he would win the gold in both the platform and springboard events, This made him the first male diver to do so since 1928 and also the first to shatter the 700-point barrier, with a score of 710.91 in the platform event.
Louganis bumps head, spectators go ooooh…
In a sports where age is a crucial factor, Louganis at 28 still managed qualified for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. His victory in the springboard was full of drama, making it one of the most unforgettable days in Olympic diving history. In the preliminaries, he walloped his head on the board on a reverse dive with a 2.5 somersault. It shocked the crowd and was a traumatic experience for him. Earlier in this year, he found out he was HIV-positive. He was worried that the blood could infect other divers as well as the doctor who treated him.
Amazingly, Louganis managed to win the springboard and platform competitions, becoming the first and only diver to win two gold medals in two consecutive Olympics. He was also considered as the most inspiring Olympian in Seoul and received Olympic Spirit Award. He then retired after bagging four golds and a silver in the Olympics and having won an unprecedented 13 world and 47 national championships.
In 1994 Louganis publicly announced he was gay. The following year, he disclosed he had AIDS. After the revelation of his health status, he was dropped by almost all his corporate sponsors, except Speedo. His tell-all autobiography, Breaking the Surface, was published in 1995. Two years later, a made-for-television movie based on the book was shown. His second book, For the Life of Your Dog, was published in 1999.