Sunday, July 08, 2012

"widely regarded as the greatest diver in the history of the sport"

Greg Louganis, widely regarded as the greatest diver in the history of the sport, possessed huge natural ability that was given a steely competitive edge by adversity. This adversity remained a constant factor in his life, right up until the last of his three Olympic appearances, in 1988, when he triumphed despite suffering a bad head injury.

Long before then, though, Louganis had experienced hardship. From Samoan and Swedish stock, his 15-year-old parents soon gave him up for adoption. His dyslexia and dark skin made him a target for bullying at school in California and aged 12 he started smoking marijuana. After a violent incident at home his adoptive parents handed him over to the police.

He found redemption through sport, particularly diving at which he was so good that he was only 16 when he qualified for the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.
After winning silver in the platform event in Montreal, Louganis was favorite for two golds four years later Moscow, but the American boycott of those Games stopped him taking part.

He emphasised just how good a diver he had become when at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics he won both the springboard and platform gold medals by record scores and record margins over his outclassed opponents.

His prowess was undiminished in 1988 in Seoul where he completed the first repeat double of the men’s two individual diving titles. There was plenty of drama, though, in the detail. While performing a reverse two and half somersault in the pike position in the springboard preliminaries he struck his head on the board. He was briefly concussed and needed four sutures to close the wound. Remarkably, he was back on the board less than an hour later. He performed another reverse somersault for which his mark of 87.12 points was the highest of the preliminaries.

When Louganis broke down at the end of the Games it was generally assumed he was undergoing an emotional release after what he had been through and what he had achieved in Seoul.

In fact Louganis, a homosexual, did not go public with the full story behind his tears until 1995. Less than a year before the Games he tested HIV-positive; he was told he might already have AIDS. In Seoul he was taking the drug AZT every four hours.

After he announced this, he faced criticism for not disclosing his medical record at the time of his head injury. The concern was that the blood from his wound might have exposed rivals and officials to HIV. Those who did take AIDS tests proved negative.

(Article by Jon Henderson)

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