Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Greg Louganis seems to be a terribly nice man. He's gentle and courtly and smiles often, but not in that phony way that famous people flash automatic smiles at everyone they have to deal with.

Famous? Well, if you're under the age of 30, you might not even know who Louganis is.

More important, you might not know how important and illustrative his story is. In the 1980s, Louganis was one of the most famous athletes in he world.

Story continues below advertisement

A four-time Olympic gold medalist in diving, he competed for the United States in 1976, 1984 and 1988, winning a total of five medals.

There would have been more, but the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Games in Moscow.

He should have been on cereal boxes and become a well-paid endorser of things, in the American way.

"Well, I really wasn't in it for the money, you know, so to speak," he said here the other day. "But it was an interesting journey. It became that."

He is gay, but hardly anyone knew it. There were rumours and the rumours almost ruined him, as happened back then.

Back on Board: Greg Louganis (HBO Canada, 10 p.m.) is a plainly told but powerful documentary about his life. Mainly it's about a twisted path in which circumstances were forced upon him and the poor decisions he made. Decisions that were rooted in fear – fear of the scorn he had felt.

As the doc makes clear, in other circumstances Louganis, this handsome, well-known young man, gloriously good and beautiful to watch in diving, would have had a clear path to fame and commercial reward. He seemed made for a classic American sports story. Adopted at eight months by a middle-class family in California, he had asthma and allergy problems. Gymnastics and swimming helped him deal with that.

Story continues below advertisement

At 16, he was competing at the Olympics. It was strange for him because at school he had been told he was lazy and eventually told that he had a learning disability. At last, it was diagnosed as dyslexia. By 1984, he was the best in the world at his sport – the footage of his dives, seen in the doc, are breathtaking – but the fame and money didn't come.

"There were so many stories at the '84 Olympic Games," he says now, being generous. "Incredible stories like Edwin Moses, all kinds of other stories, mine included, but the advertisers just rallied around Mary Lou Retton."

As we see in the documentary, in the context of the time, nobody was going to hire Greg Louganis for public relations or anything else. For years, some of his fellow athletes called him "fag" and pointedly declined to socialize with him. It was a kind of high-school bullying; the scorn of kids who hated the kid who was a bit different.

Today, in a society that seems to have fast-tracked gay rights, the situation of Louganis seems outlandish. Was he ever asked to do commentary, as many former athletes do, for an Olympics broadcaster?

Louganis smiles again. "No, they haven't asked. I did some pre-Olympic events coverage for NBC [which has owned the U.S. Olympics rights for years] around '92, and there's a story there I'd rather not get into."

In the silence that follows that, he says, hesitantly and quietly, "It was because I was HIV-positive, and somebody slipped out my HIV status, so …" He pauses again, hesitates and smiles again, before continuing, "I think it was more about fear of my health status when that was slipped to NBC. So, yeah, because in '92 people were still dying."

Story continues below advertisement

In the documentary, the discovery of his HIV status is a key moment. His was diagnosed just before the Seoul Olympics in 1988. Only a handful of people among his friends and trainers knew. His HIV medications were smuggled into South Korea. He would have been barred from the country, never mind the Olympics, if his HIV status was known.

In Seoul, as the whole world watched, Louganis somersaulted during a dive and hit his head on the end of the diving board. He bled. The cut was hastily stitched.

Today, he is still tortured by the moment. See, back then, the idea of anyone being in contact with the blood of a HIV-positive person was terrifying. The chlorinated water in the pool would have neutralized the potential infection, made everyone safe, but Louganis finds it hard, now, to explain it all.

"I was diagnosed with HIV six months prior to the Olympics in 1988. And so honestly I believed those were my last competitive dives because we still viewed HIV/AIDS as a death sentence, and I never thought I'd see 30."

There's much more about the ravages of a secret gay existence in the HBO doc. He trusted only people who knew he was gay and was left almost penniless. He almost lost his house. He sold his belongings.

It's a stunning story, deeply sad, and a reminder that, not long ago, in our lifetime, when Greg Louganis was a gloriously good athlete, he felt scorn and was very afraid.

Story continues below advertisement

These days, at the age of 55, he mentors divers and swimmers, does a bit of stage acting and will be doing TV commentary during the Rio Olympics next year. But for Globo TV in Brazil, not NBC. He smiles when he says that, without a hint of bitterness.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies