Diving back in with purpose

Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis returns to the water for Swim for Equality event.

By Michael Aushenker / Special to The Malibu Times

In the 1980s, Malibu resident Greg Louganis won back-to-back Olympic Games titles in the 3-meter and 10-meter diving events. On Saturday, Sept. 25, the four-time Olympic gold medalist returns to the water after two decades to swim 1.7 miles along the Malibu coast. Louganis will dive into the ocean with a purpose-to raise money at the inaugural Swim for Equality, in support of Equality California, the nonprofit devoted to protecting and advocating gay rights. The nonprofit supports marriage equality, the rescinding of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and basic human rights.

“This is the first year I’ve found myself around a pool,” Louganis, 50, who is gay and a gay rights activist, told The Malibu Times from Dallas last week, while attending the Aquatics Convention, a symposium that covers swimming, diving, synchronized swimming and water polo. He has taken to swimming pools to train for this event.

Considered one of the greatest divers of all time, Louganis (who has won four Olympic gold medals and one silver medal) will swim alongside four-time gold medalist Lenny Krayzelburg, nine-time Olympic medalist Gary Hall Jr. and 2002 World Cup gold medalist Diana MacManus. The champion swimmers will set out to raise $2,000 each.

“Swim for Equality challenges 50 swimmers to raise a collective $100,000,” event organizer Michael Holtz said. “The money raised will support Equality California’s work of sponsoring 15 pieces of legislation this year to advance legal protections and quality of life for LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] Californians.”

Louganis said he looks forward to tackling the 1.7-mile distance for a good cause.

“Keep in mind, I’m a diver, I’m not a swimmer,” he said. “This is not a huge pool, it’s the Pacific Ocean. So this is a little daunting. I guess I like challenges.”

It has been a long swim home for Louganis, who attended Valhalla High School in El Cajon. At 16, he took part in the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. He placed second in the tower event, behind Klaus Dibiasi. Two years later, Louganis won his first world title in the same event. In 1978, he accepted a diving scholarship to the University of Miami, where he studied theater before transferring in 1981 to UC Irvine.

Louganis was the favorite for two gold medals in the 1980 Summer Olympics, but this was upended by an American boycott of the Moscow games. Louganis won two world diving titles in 1982 and he won two more at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, breaking records topping the springboard and tower diving competitions.

Louganis repeated his 1984 feat in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, where he suffered a concussion after hitting his head on the springboard while performing a 2-1/2 reverse pike during the preliminary rounds. Despite his injury, he made a rousing comeback, grabbing the gold medal.

In 1988, Louganis tested positive for the HIV virus. He told the Times that his retirement was not due to his diagnosis or sport burnout, but because of the politics of athletics.

“It was what it was,” Louganis said. “I didn’t really feel welcome. It wasn’t so unique to me. USA Diving’s attitude was ‘Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.’ They were always looking for the next one.”

He believed that the organization’s attitude has had consequences on the sport: “We haven’t won a medal in diving since 2000.”

Since retiring, Louganis has acted in movie and television, and said, “I’ve been going around speaking on diversity and HIV education awareness and depression.”

Louganis also coauthored, with Eric Marcus, “Breaking the Surface,” a memoir that spent five weeks at number one on the New York Times Best Seller list in 1996. His story was adapted as the 1997 Showtime movie “Breaking the Surface: The Greg Louganis Story,” starring Mario Lopez.

For the past three years, Louganis has been in a relationship with his “very supportive” partner, Daniel, a computer programmer. Living with HIV has not been easy for Louganis, but it’s part of his daily routine.

“I get my blood tested regularly and I stay proactive as far as my treatment,” Louganis said. “There’s been tremendous advancement in HIV medication. It’s good news that Magic [Johnson] and I are doing well, but it’s not such good news because kids think that it’s a manageable condition because I wouldn’t wish my drug regiment on anyone. There is a consequence to reckless behavior. Young people need to take precautions and play safe.”

When Holtz tapped Charley Cullen Walters to recruit swimmers for the Equality California event, Walters turned to Louganis. He remembered as a child watching him compete in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics.

“Not only was Greg one of my childhood heroes who helped spark a lifelong love for the Olympic Games,” Walters said, “but he became a role model to me in many other ways since. Greg was one of the first people I remember publicly declaring his HIV status.”

Swim for Equality comes at a time when Louganis has been reconnecting with his name-making sport.

“I’m getting back involved in diving, getting a mentoring program underway,” he said. “I’m jumping in with both feet with a different focus. It’s been fun seeing kids in competition.”

The Sept. 25 Swim for Equality event will begin at 9 a.m. at the Westward Beach, Tower 1, starting line and swimmers will finish at Zuma Beach, Tower 4. A finish-line brunch reception will follow. More information can be obtained online at Eqca.org

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

Related Articles



Latest Articles

%d bloggers like this: