Since coming out and going public with HIV status, Olympic diver Greg Louganis still inspires
The last time Greg Louganis dove in public was in 1994 at Gay Games IV in New York City, where he performed a few exhibition dives at the aquatics events.
“It was all in fun, and [it was] where I came out,” he says.
Already out to some friends and family, Louganis knew it was time to do more. The media had already been practically outing him.
“I got a lot of criticism for not coming out sooner,” Louganis says.
In diving, one goal is to make the smallest ripple upon impact. Conversely, Louganis’ coming-out was a big a splash. His autobiography, “Breaking the Surface,” became a bestseller. In it, his struggles outside of diving, from his addictions to the revelation of being HIV-positive, struck a chord for many readers.
An Olympic silver medalist at age 16 at the 1976 Olympics, Louganis won world championships, and is the only diver to win consecutive double medals (in 1984 and 1988).
As a Gay Games ambassador, this month Louganis co-hosts “A Night of 100 Champions,” a fundraiser at Chicago’s Soldier Field Cadillac Club on April 22.
Louganis says many athletes have thanked him for coming out. But coming out while competing remains uncharted waters for the most part.
“You need the support of your team. It would be hard without that,” he explains. “In individual sports it’s easier, since you’re relying on yourself to perform. You don’t need to have somebody watching your back.”
Even the celebrated coming-out of basketball star Sheryl Swoopes has its limits.
“For male athletes, there is a difference,” Louganis says “Straight men are so intimidated by gay men.”
In swimming, at least, sponsors are gay-friendly, having continued support of fellow diver David Pichler after he came out.
“Well, who’s Speedo’s market?” Louganis asks. “Not straight men.”
After his Olympic glory, Louganis returned to his earlier dance and theater training, performing with Dance Kaleidoscope in Indianapolis, and in New York in the off-Broadway gay comedy “Jeffrey.”
He also toured in Dan Butler’s one-man show, “The Worst Thing You Could Have Told Me,” about coming out and being gay.
In returning to acting, Louganis conquered yet another obstacle. Because he’s dyslexic, working with an entire script proved daunting.
“It’s still hard for me to pick up words from a page and put the letters in the right order,” he says. Using a tape recorder allowed his imagination to go through the stories as he recorded the script several times.
The visualization process Louganis uses goes back to his earliest childhood days as a tap dancer. For diving, Louganis says he used the memory of his mistakes like hitting his head on the diving platform at the 1988 Olympics to focus on preventing them. He credits coach Ron O’Brien for having what he calls “a meticulous skill to see the dives,” and help steer a diver toward the perfection the sport demands.
The competition Louganis focuses on these days is at dog shows, like the AKC Nationals. The finals took place in Tampa, Fla., in January where Louganis’ Jack Russell terrier Nipper placed seventh. He also helps dog trainers use the visualization techniques he learned from dance and diving.
His technique didn’t include “imagining perfection,” which is what some coaches called for. But Louganis achieved perfection anyway, just differently.
“I visualized what could go wrong, and how to make it right,” he says, a technique that’s helped him on and off the diving board.
Jim Provenzano is the author of the novels “PINS” and “Monkey Suits.”
OUT OF THE POOL
Triple winner at the 1992 Olympics, Canadian swimmer Mark Tewksbury (who learned to swim in Dallas when he spent a summer in Big D as a kid) releases his second book on April 20. “Inside Out: Straight Talk from a Gay Jock” recounts his days in the closet, the courage of coming and becoming a queer spokesperson, who revisited Dallas last year as a grand marshal at the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade.
Daniel A. Kusner
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, April 07, 2006.