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How Olympic Diver Greg Louganis Continues to Pay It Forward After Retiring From Competing

Recognized as the best diver in history, the four-time gold medalist is now an LGBTQ activist and a mentor to those who share his same unbridled passion for the sport he loves. 

By Andrew Woodin
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Greg Louganis knows a thing or two about shattering records.

Though he was already widely considered to be a pillar in the Olympic diving community, by the time the 1988 Olympic Games came around in Seoul, Korea, he elevated his legendary status to near mythical proportions with a truly transcendent performance in the three-meter springboard event. During a preliminary round, Louganis’ trajectory didn’t launch him far enough from the platform, and his head clipped the edge of the board. Thankfully, he immediately surfaced from the pool before receiving several stitches in his head from Team USA’s top-notch medical staff.

Still, after being cleared to resume in the competition despite obtaining a concussion from the injury, there was more work to be done. In one of the purest displays of courage and athletic prowess, Louganis channeled his focus for his next dive and jettisoned himself off the board into a breathtaking pirouette of a dive that propelled him into the final round. With momentum building, he executed a flawless back dive pike, followed next by a stunning reverse three-and-half somersault tuck — the “Dive of Death” and by far the most difficult in his repertoire — to claim the gold medal.

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It was an awe-inspiring comeback, one that required unparalleled skill and mental fortitude, and one that helped power him to become the first male diver to ever sweep the diving events as he also won the 10-meter platform event in those Games. While “Mr. Perfect’s” diving career is long behind him, just as he began cultivating his competitive diving acumen at a young age, Louganis is still paying it forward by helping youngsters forge their drive to dive.  

When did Greg Louganis start his diving career?

Born January 29, 1960, in El Cajon, California, Greg Louganis was adopted by Frances and Peter Louganis. While he would later find his place in the pool, according to The Guardian, Louganis was immediately enthralled by watching his sister’s tap dance rehearsals, and he soon embarked on a regimen of dance, acrobatics, and gymnastics when he was just an 18-month-old, asthmatic toddler.

He officially began competing in diving when he was 10 years old. While his adoptive father didn’t speak much to him, and he was a target for bullies, he used his new-found inspiration and burgeoning natural talent to prove to people both at home and school that he was a worthy of a place in the world.

“I didn’t speak much as a kid, because everybody laughed at me,” Louganis revealed, according to The Guardian. “It was so frustrating. … I decided to direct all my time and energy into something I could be proficient in. I wanted to show people I could do something. I liked to dance, tumble, do gymnastics and dive, so I totally homed in on my physical attributes.”

While Louganis had already completed his goal of showing people that he had the skill and tenacity to excel during the Junior Olympics when he was just 11, the heroism he displayed throughout his adult Olympic career was nothing short of spectacular.  

Greg Louganis dives into a pool at the springboard diving preliminary round in 1984

How many Olympic Games did Greg Louganis compete in?

Greg Louganis competed in three different Olympic Games; however, had President Jimmy Carter not instructed the Americans to boycott the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, Louganis would have undoubtedly led Team USA’s diving team to another triumphant outing in the former Soviet Union. At just 16 years old, the California kid earned his first taste of Olympic success by winning a silver medal in the 10-meter platform event during the 1976 Games in Montreal, Canada.

Despite not being able to attend the Moscow Games, Louganis made up for the lost time during the 1980 boycott by going the distance not once but twice during the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, California. The hometown hero made a splash in front of friends and family with his unforgettable double, earning gold medals in the three-meter springboard event and the 10-meter platform category. His historic achievement was the first of its kind in 56 years.

When did Greg Louganis retire from competing?

After keeping his HIV diagnosis secret just before the 1988 Olympics, Greg Louganis officially retired from competitive diving shortly after the Games in Seoul, Korea, ending his storied career with an impressive 47 national and 13 world championships, according to Britannica.

Though he no longer competes, he coaches athletes of all ages and abilities in the SoCal Divers Club in Fullerton, California. Additionally, he was instrumental for the US diving team at the 2012 Olympics in London, England as well as the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

In 2011, Louganis spoke to The San Diego Union-Tribune about his approach to coaching and why it’s needed now more than ever.

“A lot of the coaches are rather insecure about their talent,” Louganis revealed. “They may have a really talented diver and it’s like, `Oh, it’s mine, mine, mine. This is my ticket to the Olympics.’ And that’s not going to get us anywhere.”

A huge part of why Louganis originally got into coaching was because, after he came to terms with his HIV diagnosis ahead of the Seoul Games, he didn’t know how long he’d be alive and wanted to leave an indelible mark on the world. Passing on his unrivaled diving expertise became his mission.

“I’m thankful, well, for one thing, to still be here,” he added. “But also, to see the value of what I have to offer... I don’t want this knowledge and experience to be lost.”

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Greg Louganis' TV and Movie Roles

Greg Louganis on the red carpet for the Project Angel Food's 2023 Angel Awards

Like Mary Lou Retton, Simone Biles, Shawn Johnson and other stellar American athletes, Louganis made several television appearances and enjoyed numerous endorsement deals. Though he believes that his HIV diagnosis and sexual identity were why he never made it as an athlete onto the cover of a Wheaties box, he did garner major sponsorships from companies like Speedo, a partnership lasted until 2007.

Louganis maximized what he learned while pursuing his collegiate theater major at the University of Miami and the University of California Irvine, according to the International Movie Database (IMDB), appearing in several films such as D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994), Touch Me (1997), and Watercolors (2008). Equally impressive is his litany of television credits for programs like Hollywood Squares, Entourage and Portlandia as well as multiple off-Broadway theater productions. His 1996 autobiography Breaking the Surface landed him in the top spot on The New York Times Best Seller list for five weeks before the published work was turned into a USA Network film, starring Mario Lopez from Saved by the Bell and narration from Louganis himself. Upon retiring from competitive diving, Louganis embraced his love for canines and competed in several dog agility competitions, leading him to also co-write the book For the Life of Your Dog: A Complete Guide to Having a Dog From Adoption and Birth Through Sickness and Health.

Though the opportunity to grace the cover of a Wheaties box never came to fruition while he was actively competing, a fan-inspired petition to get him on the iconic cereal box finally made his dream come true. Louganis graced the cover in 2020 as part of the Wheaties Legends series campaign.

“It took over 30 years, but it finally happened – better late than never!” Louganis stated to PEOPLE. “It is so iconic and the honor actually means more today than it would have back then. I feel like I am embraced as a whole person, and not just for my athletics.”

Charitable Work

While his six World Championship titles and his spectacular Olympic performances are what catapulted him into the limelight, what he’s done and continues to do outside of the pool for society truly matters the most. Louganis regularly and openly discusses mental health in his motivational speaking engagements, explaining the challenges that mental health issues present for both youth and adults.

Still, after revealing he is gay and HIV-positive in a 1995 interview with Barbara Walters, it’s Louganis' continued dedication to being a gay rights activist and advocate for HIV awareness that is of paramount importance. Through his ongoing service with the Human Rights Campaign, Louganis frequently works to fervently defend those in the LGBTQ community who have been diagnosed with HIV and AIDS. In 2023, it was revealed that the prolific athlete was planning to auction off three of his five Olympic medals in order to help fund Indiana’s largest and most established AIDS medical services center, the Damien Center, SwimSwam reported. The current bid for his silver medal is $350,000, and the two pair of golds are up to $750,000.

"The medals, they're in the history books," Louganis stated in Outsports. "Instead of holding on to them, I'm aiming to share my piece of Olympic history with collectors. Together, we can help the Damien Center and its community to grow and thrive."

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