Greg Louganis has built his entire life around overcoming seemingly impossible obstacles. He is perhaps most famous for a single dive at the 1988 Olympics preliminaries, a reverse two-and-a-half somersault pike, in which he hit the back of his head on the spring board and had to receive stitches for his injury. Undaunted by the accident, he went on to finish the preliminaries and compete; he won the gold medal that year for the springboard and another one for platform diving.
He won two gold medals in the 1984 Olympic Games in L.A. and took home the silver medal at his first Olympics, in Montreal, when he was only 16. (He was favored to win big in 1980, but the U.S. boycotted the Moscow Games to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.)
While he’s known as one of the most talented divers in the world, Louganis has also become a spokesperson for the LGBT community. After coming out in 1994, he revealed that he was HIV positive. The next year, he released his autobiography, a look at a life marred by abuse and difficulties but enriched with great successes.
Both the highs and lows of his life were the topics of the heartfelt talk he recently gave to local teenagers at the Harlem YMCA on West 135th Street. He answered questions from dozens of kids, happy to recount his finest Olympic moments as well as his struggles with depression.
When he had finished posing for individual photos with the kids and goofing around with them, Louganis spoke to the West Side Spirit about what motivates him today and the divers to watch at this year’s Olympics.
NYPRESS: You’ve accomplished so much in your life and career—what is your proudest accomplishment?
Louganis: The thing that I’m most proud of is my book, Breaking the Surface, because when I was on the book tour, I had so many people come to me and say, “You saved my life.” That’s really making a difference, and I think that as a human being, I think that’s what we’re trying to do is make a difference in the world.
I wouldn’t be who I am without the diving, without the Olympics and all that stuff. So I’ve been very very fortunate and blessed.
When you are given a voice, I think that with it comes a great responsibility. I’m 52 years old and I’m learning what that responsibility is. I’m kind of for all mankind, human rights and that sort of thing. Sometimes it does cross the line of politics, but for the most part I’m all in favor of empowering people.
What advice would you give to young people with Olympic aspirations?
The best thing I can say is that it’s a tremendous undertaking. I’m not going to say it’s a sacrifice, because I don’t look at anything that I did as a sacrifice. It was just what I was trained to do, what I was taught to do, and it was what I knew. It’s a journey—really, enjoy the journey.
What divers on the U.S. Olympic team should we be watching this year?
I can go through the roster because I’m so emotionally attached to these kids now. Putting the realistic cap on, [I’d say] David Boudia, Nick McCrory—they have a shot at the synchronized event, men’s platform. And then both of them—I’m not going to rule Nick out for the individual, too, because I think he’s coming up.
In women’s, Christina Loukas and Kassidy Cook—who knows? I’m not sure about the women’s synchronized, but I would say that those are what I would describe as highlight events, [including] women’s 3-meter. Women’s platform is really wide open. It’s anybody’s ball game, because some of the top countries, like China, if they miss their back three-and-a-half—kind of a key dive—that opens the door. You don’t know, because then Brittany Viola or Katie Bell [could win]. There’s going to be a certain amount of luck with that.
You spend a lot of time now speaking to kids about bullying. What is the most important thing you can tell kids on that subject?
If you’re a bystander and you’re witnessing somebody being bullied, speak up. Speak up and address it. Don’t be afraid to, because you can change the course of somebody’s life. If somebody knows that even just one person is in their corner, it can make a world of difference.
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