Monday, April 2, 2001
Louganis overcame odds to earn Olympic gold
By Ron Flatter
Special to ESPN.com
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 2½ 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 3½ 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.