The name Greg Louganis is instantly associated with a dive gone horribly wrong. For most people, Louganis’s life is defined by the spine-chilling scene of the gay, HIV-infected American’s head crashing into the board while attempting a tough dive in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, leaving him bleeding profusely.
One cannot be blamed for remembering Louganis solely for the incident and the endless debates on his preferred silence about his condition while doctors attempted to stitch up his open wound, with the pool being cleaned of blood. But Louganis represents more than just a bloody scene. His is a life of successfully overcoming epic struggles.
Louganis faced endless strife in his life well before being detected with HIV. He was given up for adoption as an infant, suffered from acute asthma from the age of one, was diagnosed with a potentially career-threatening knee deformation and remained an unwilling partner in abusive relationships, before finally heading to full-blown depression.
Louganis controlled what was in his power. He enrolled in dance and gymnastics to overcome asthma. He practised even harder in an attempt to ignore the ill-effects of his ‘damaged’ knee, but found to his surprise that the ‘defective’ knee actually helped in his dive, as it allowed him to get a view of the pool during his landing — a crucial advantage not available to other divers.
He admitted later that substance and sexual abuse caused the HIV.
Now 52, it is to his credit that he is not judged in poor light for past indiscretions, but revered for contributing gainfully to HIV awareness, inspiring many with his motivational books and living a clean and healthy life.
Leading up to Seoul, Louganis was the favourite. Two titles at the 1982 world championships, two gold medals at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, and another double in the 1986 worlds proved he was no flash in the pan.
At the 1988 Olympics itself, Louganis heroically emerged from the nasty collision with the diving board to win gold by a big margin. It is time to remember him for his achievements against heavy odds, leaving the rest behind.