Greg Efthimios Louganis life and biography

Greg Efthimios Louganis picture, image, poster

Greg Efthimios Louganis biography

Date of birth : 1960-01-29
Date of death : -
Birthplace : El Cajon, California
Nationality : American
Category : Arts and Entertainment
Last modified : 2010-06-25
Credited as : Olympic diver and author, ,

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Gregory "Greg" Efthimios Louganis (born January 29, 1960) is an American Olympic diver and author. He is best known for winning back-to-back Olympic titles in both the 3m and 10m diving events.


"Sidelights"

Greg Louganis is considered to be the greatest diver in sports history. In just over a decade he won the highest honors in his events of springboard and platform diving, including gold medals in the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games. He was the first diver in history to score a perfect ten for a single dive from all seven judges. This even occurred during the world swimming championships in Guayaquil, Ecuador, in 1982. Louganis is also the most famous athlete to acknowledge that he acquired AIDS through gay sex. He wrote his biography Breaking the Surface with Eric Marcus, author of The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights, 1945-1990.

Diana Nyad wrote in the Los Angeles Times Book Review that Louganis "is the greatest poet ever to soar off a diving board.... He was one of the special atheletes who transform sport into art. He gave the illusion of floating slowly and gently, while all the others plummeted and crashed through the surface.... Greg Louganis emerged and matured into a genius of fluid acrobatics and silent plunges." Nyad called Breaking the Surface "much less the diary of an Olympic career than it is the gut-wrenching expose of an innocent, sensitive boy who has wound up... at the age of thirty-five, tragically unsure that he will reach his next birthday."

Louganis was born in San Diego of fifteen-year-old parents, a Samoan father and Caucasian mother who gave him up for adoption. After spending nine months in a foster home, he was adopted by Peter and Frances Louganis of El Cajon, California. The family lived in a middle-class neighborhood where Louganis was teased because of his stutter and difficulty reading, which was later attributed to dyslexia. Because of his dark coloring, he was the recipient of racial slurs from other children. Louganis and his adopted sister, Despina, took dance lessons, and learning the gymnastic routines proved to be helpful in executing the technical dives at which he excelled in competition. As Louganis relates in Breaking the Surface, his father called him a "sissy" because he preferred gymnastics to other sports. When he was nine, the family installed a pool in the backyard, and Louganis began taking diving lessons. His father became obsessive about Louganis's performance and once beat him with a belt. When Louganis was twelve he learned that because of his bad knees he would have to give up gymnastics, his first love. He attempted suicide twice, once with aspirin and laxatives, and then by cutting his wrists. He ultimately found solace in diving, and his career began early in his teen years.

Former Olympic diving champion Dr. Sammy Lee first saw Louganis when he was at the 1971 AAU Junior Olympics in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He immediately recognized the talent of the ten-year-old diver, coached him, and took him to the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, where he won a silver medal in platform diving and finished sixth in springboard. Louganis did not hide his sexual orientation, and most of his teammates chose not to room with him. While in Montreal, Louganis felt his first homosexual attraction, to a Soviet diver. After returning to California he began a relationship with a man in his late thirties, but he couldn't shake the feeling of shame that plagued him during their six-month affair. The United States boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, left athletes without a competition. During these years, while Louganis was still in high school, he turned to drugs and alcohol and again attempted suicide. He left Lee for coach Ron O'Brien. After graduating from high school in 1978, he attended the University of Miami on an athletic scholarship. In the same year he won the platform championship at the World Aquatic Championship and the U.S. Diving indoor one-meter and ten-meter titles. In 1979 he won gold in both the springboard and platform events at the Pan American Games. Louganis transferred to the University of California at Irvine in 1980 to train under O'Brien at the Mission Viejo Nadadores Diving Club.

In 1982, Louganis entered a six-year relationship with a man he calls Tom in his autobiography. Unknown to Louganis, Tom was a homosexual prostitute. Tom was abusive and once raped Louganis at knifepoint. Louganis wrote in his book that "the next day I called Tom and told him that I was sorry. I thought that nobody else would have me after what he had done, so I needed him to love me or I would be alone. We saw each other that day, and he didn't say anything about the rape; no apology, nothing. It was as if it had never happened."

Louganis won gold in the springboard and platform events in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, the first time since 1928 that a male diver had done so. In scoring 710.91 points, he was the first to break 700 in championship competition. Between 1984 and the 1988 games in Seoul, South Korea, Louganis had an impressive record of victories and gold medals for both springboard and platform events. To win in platform in Seoul, he had to complete a reverse three-and-a-half somersault in the tuck position, the "dive of death." A Russian diver had died attempting the dive at the World University Games in Edmonton, Canada, after striking his head on the platform. Louganis completed the dive and won the gold, but it was a qualifying dive that left him frozen with fear.

In 1987, a former partner told Louganis that he had AIDS. That summer Tom became ill with shingles, and his health rapidly deteriorated. In March 1988, Louganis tested positive for HIV, and his T-cell count level was nearly that of full-blown AIDS. He began taking AZT every four hours, day and night, along with heavy doses of vitamins and gamma globulin infusions. He kept his condition secret and paid for his treatments privately, rather than have his condition become public. Only his coach knew of his HIV status, and O'Brien and Louganis's doctor urged him not to disclose his condition, although Louganis felt the U.S. Olympic Committee should know. The ninth of his eleven qualifying springboard dives in Seoul was a two-and-a-half pike. In executing the dive he hit his head. He said that he "heard this big hollow thud, and then I found myself in the water. I just held my head.... I didn't know if I was cut or not. But I wanted to hold the blood in, or just not [let] anybody touch it."

Louganis kept his secret, fearful that revealing his HIV status would jeopardize the games. Dr. James Puffer stitched Louganis's scalp without wearing latex gloves. He later tested negative. As to the risk to divers using the pool after the accident Puffer later said the chances of transmission were "infinitesimally small... in a non-contact sport like diving." Because of this Puffer accepted Louganis's decision not to tell. In a Newsweek article, the writer said "not every Olympic official agreed. The chairman of the Seoul Olympic organizing committee, Park Seh Jik, said Louganis should not have competed in the final round of the Olympics.... But the International Olympic Committee said Louganis wasn't obligated to disclose his condition. Several gay athletes predicted chaos if Louganis had spoken out. 'This is not like disclosing that you've got a cold,' said Jim Ballard, a onetime nationally ranked gay swimmer. 'The Tonya Harding story would have paled by comparison.' He seems right about that. The world of sports is hardly a nurturing environment for those with alternative lifestyles."

Louganis wrote that going into the 1988 Olympic trials, he felt that he deserved AIDS. "I was a faggot.... So it just followed that God was punishing me for acting on my feelings." Murray Kempton wrote in New York Review of Books that "the godless had already drummed that self-hating gospel so deep in Greg Louganis that, when he had stood alone and done a deed that would make proud the bravest of the brave, he was left still convinced he was worthless."

When Louganis left competitive diving he was thirty-two. He took dancing, acting, and singing lessons. He acted in regional theater, as the prince in Cinderella and as Tony in The Boyfriend. The year before Tom died in 1990, Louganis ended the relationship. Tom had acted as Louganis's manager and mismanaged his finances, leaving Louganis with little to show for his years of competition. In 1992 Louganis acted in the Off Broadway production of Jeffrey, playing the role of Darius, a young man dying of AIDS. In 1993, he began work on Breaking the Surface with Marcus. Although it was known within diving circles that he was gay, Louganis didn't "come out" until the 1994 Gay Games in New York City. Following the publication of Breaking the Surface, he was interviewed by Barbara Walters on ABC-TV's 20/ 20, at which time he disclosed that he had AIDS. He said, "I wanted my story to motivate those people who are HIV-positive to be responsible and also to understand that life isn't over yet, that HIV and AIDS is not a death sentence."

Although he retained his endorsement deal with swimmwear manufacturer Speedo, NBC-TV decided not to hire him as a diving commentator for the Atlanta games. He sought professional help to work through his depression and helps others by speaking about AIDS. In reviewing Breaking the Surface in the New York Times Book Review, George Vecsey said that "through it all, Mr. Louganis had support from some admirable people: a female lawyer, a female doctor, the Olympic diver Megan Neyer (everybody should have a best friend like her), and his coach, Ron O'Brien, a family man comfortable enough to hug Mr. Louganis in his lowest moments.... This earnest book may help people accept others as they are--including Olympic champions. That would be a gold-medal legacy." Michael A. Lutes wrote in Gay and Lesbian Biography that "Louganis has set the mark in athletic competition which few other athletes have achieved. He has overcome adversity in his personal life with the same skill and finesse that was the trademark of his diving career. And he has lead the way for a greater understanding of the personal side of AIDS."

Louganis described his book to Leeson Lessons of the New Yorkeras "an extension of the time I've spent in therapy, trying not to live in a bubble. That's the new rule: no more secrets. I've wanted to do this book for such a long time, but I was so scared.... I'm glad for the opportunity to be honest with myself and other people now. Thank God I'm still around to try and do that."

Louganis lives in Malibu with his great danes. He has done volunteer work for PAWS/LA, a group that helps AIDS patients care for their pets. He told a People Weekly interviewer: "One thing that really scared me was that nobody would be here to take care of the dogs if something were to happen to me.... The more work I did, the more I realized that... somebody will be there for me too." Louganis wrote, with Betsy Sikora Siino, For the Life of Your Dog: A Complete Guide to Having a Dog in Your Life, from Adoption and Birth through Sickness and Health, which was published in 1999.


PERSONAL INFORMATION
Born January 29, 1960, in San Diego, CA; adopted son of Peter (a bookkeeper)
and Frances (Scott) Louganis. Education: Attended the University of Miami, 1978-80; University of California, Irvine, B.A. (drama), 1983. Memberships: Actors Equity, Screen Actors Guild, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

AWARDS

Silver medal in platform diving, Olympic Games (Montreal), 1976; first place, platform diving, World Aquatic Championship, 1978; ten gold medals, Pan American Games, 1979, 1983, 1987; gold medals in platform and springboard, World Championships, 1982, 1986; first place, World University Games, 1983; first place, U.S.A. International, 1983. SportsMan/SportsWoman of the Year, U.S. Olympic Committee, 1982; gold medals in springboard and platform diving, Olympic Games (Los Angeles), 1984, (Seoul) 1988; James E. Sullivan Award, Olympic Games, 1984; inducted into Olympic Hall of Fame, 1985; World Diving Champion, platform and springboard, 1986; Jesse Owens International Trophy, 1986; USCO Sportsman of the Year award, 1987; Olympic Spirit Award, U.S. Olympic Committee, 1988; winner of forty-eight national diving titles.

CAREER

Olympic athlete, diver, and actor. Performed in many television, film, and theatre productions, including Touch Me, film, 1997; It's My Party, film, 1995; Hollywood Squares, television, 1986-87, 2000; Cinderella; The Boyfriend; Jeffrey, Off Broadway, 1992; and The Only Thing Worse You Could Have Told Me (one-man play), Off Broadway, 1995.

WRITINGS

* (With Eric Marcus) Breaking the Surface, Random House (New York City), 1995, with a new epilogue by Louganis, Plume (New York City), 1996.
* (With Betsy Sikora Siino) For the Life of Your Dog: A Complete Guide to Having a Dog in Your Life, from Adoption and Birth through Sickness and Health, Pocket Books (New York City), 1999.

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