In this episode of Leading Through Our History, Todd Sears speaks with one of the greatest divers in history, Greg Louganis. Greg discusses his upbringing, his professional diving career, his experience being gay in the Olympics and what it means to be an active ally during the Black Lives Matter movement.
Greg was born in El Cajon, California and was placed up for adoption at eight months old with his older sister. After only a couple years in the foster program they were adopted by Peter and Frances Louganis. He grew up in California where he took dance, acrobatics, and gymnastic lessons after following his older sisters’ lead at a young age. Due to being a very active child, he developed the common knee condition; Osgood-Schlatter disease. This led him to focus solely on diving and at only 11-years-old, he qualified for the Junior Olympics and by the age of 13, he was the world champion in his age group.
Only three years later, he placed silver at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Due to the 1980 Olympic boycott, it wasn’t until the 1984 L.A. Olympics where he won two gold medals. At this point he planned to retire, but decided against it in hopes to solidify trustfund deals with USA Diving for himself and for the divers that came after him. This disagreement led him to stay in the sport and compete in the 1988 Olympics where he earned two gold medals despite a head injury that occurred during the preliminary dives.
Throughout the episode, Greg opens up about his relationship with his foster parents as well as his biological parents and his experience growing up gay in the 60’s and 70’s. His biological mother had him when she was 16 and his biological father was only a little older.
Greg had a close relationship with his adopted mother, Frances, who was supportive and accepting of Greg’s sexual identity, whereas his adopted father, Peter, was not as supportive. Fortunately, in the last six weeks of Peter’s life, Greg became close with Peter and expressed that during this time there was much healing and “coming full circle” between the two of them.
Greg from a young age knew he was different, may that be his speech therapy, his dyslexia he discovered later on, or simply who he was attracted to. These differences led him to rebel to the point of being in and out of juvenile detention centers at a very young age. He explains that diving was an activity where he was able to forget about all the issues he was dealing with in the outside world.
During his Olympic years, Greg was pretty much completely open about his sexuality to the people around him and to USA diving. He only held back that part of himself when he spoke to the media. During the Olympics he suspected that many people knew he was gay but believes that his sexuality did not affect the judges scores on his diving, if anything, it limited his access to sponsorships and promotions. Only six months before the 1988 Olympic games, Greg was diagnosed with HIV and had to start taking ATV pills. It wasn’t until a few years later that he opened up about his HIV status.
Greg and Todd finish up talking about activism and what we can do to be active allies during the Black Lives Matter movement. Greg expresses that it was never his intent to be an activist, he just stays true to himself and became an activist through being authentic. Greg explains that he used to feel embarrassed and vulnerable for sharing his weaknesses, but after publishing his book, Breaking the Surface, and opening up about his drug and alcohol abuse, his HIV status and past abusive relationships, he now realizes that sharing your weaknesses is a major form of strength. In the end, Greg shares some words of wisdom on how to be an ally and an activist. He says everyone should vote, ask questions and most importantly, “don’t be silent”.