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Monday, April 2, 2001
Louganis overcame odds to earn Olympic gold

By Ron Flatter
Special to

Signature Games
Sept. 19, 1988 - Greg Louganis did the unthinkable in attempting to defend his three-meter springboard Olympic title in Seoul, South Korea. In the preliminary round, he hit his head on the board while performing his ninth of 11 dives, a reverse 2 somersault pike. He received temporary sutures to close the gash in his scalp.

"I didn't realize I was that close to the board," Louganis said. "When I hit it, it was kind of a shock. But I think my pride was hurt more than anything else."

Thirty-five minutes after the mishap, Louganis was back on the diving board, and he finished qualifying for the final. He went to a hospital, where the sutures were replaced by five mattress stitches.

The next day, he won easily, scoring 730.80 points -- Tan Liangde of China finished second with 704.88 points -- to become the first male diver to win the three-meter springboard in consecutive Olympics.

Odds 'n' Ends

  • The adolescent Louganis succumbed to self-doubt and self-loathing so completely that he suffered from depression. He says he attempted suicide three times: when he was about 12, in his senior year in high school and as a freshman at the University of Miami.

  • His acrobatics, dance and gymnastics lessons were originally intended to help his asthmatic condition.

  • The deal Louganis made with Dr. Sammy Lee was coaching in exchange for cleaning Lee's pool.

  • Louganis' trademark was carrying his teddy bear with him at competitions.

  • Louganis had several abusive relationships. One partner, Jim Babbitt, became his business manager and stole a considerable amount of money from him.

  • The relationship with Babbitt, which lasted from 1982-89, involved fits of jealousy on Babbitt's part. After one episode, Babbitt raped Louganis at knifepoint.

  • The 3 somersault Louganis used to clinch the platform Olympic gold medals in 1988 is known as the "Dive of Death." In 1983, a Soviet athlete had cracked his head on the concrete platform, one of two divers to die while attempting this difficult maneuver.

  • Louganis won the 1988 Olympic Spirit Award.

  • USA Today selected Louganis' gold medals in springboard and platform diving after hitting his head as No. 8 in its list of 16 summer moments that best signify the Olympic spirit.

  • Speedo, the bathing suit manufacturer, renewed Louganis' contract as an advertising spokesperson even after he announced his was gay and was suffering from HIV.

  • The U.S. Olympic Committee also announced its support after Louganis' revelation.

  • Breaking the Surface, Louganis' autobiographical first book, was No. 1 on The New York Times' bestseller list for five straight weeks.

  • Mario Lopez, who was a regular on NBC's Saved By the Bell, starred in USA Network's television adaptation of Breaking the Surface in 1997.

  • Before the Centennial Olympic Games in 1996, a group of international sportswriters honored an outstanding Olympian from each of the Games. Louganis was their pick for 1988.

  • When Louganis accepted the Robert Kane Award (named for the founder of the U.S. Olympic Festival), he sharply criticized a decision to hold the 1996 U.S. Olympic volleyball preliminaries in Cobb County, Ga., which had passed an anti-gay resolution.

  • In 1996, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) gave Barbara Walters its first Excellence in Media award at least partly because of her interview with Louganis.

  • In 1999, Louganis, an ardent dog lover, published a second book, For the Life of Your Dog: A Complete Guide to Having a Dog in Your Life, From Adoption and Birth Through Sickness and Health.

  • Louganis had roles in the stage plays of Nunsense (1999) and Just Say No (1999) and performed in the movies Touch Me (1997) and It's My Party (1995).

  • He also played Coach Hill on Nickelodeon (1997), hosted Where Are They Now? on NBC (1997), and was a television color commentator at diving meets.