Olympic diver Greg Louganis
by Jim Provenzano
The last time Greg Louganis dove in public was at New York City's Gay Games IV in 1994, where he performed a few exhibition dives at the aquatics events. "It was all in fun, and it was where I came out," he told the Bay Area Reporter in a recent phone interview. Already out to friends, family, and others, Louganis knew it was time to do more. The media had already been practically outing him. Of that, Louganis said, "I got a lot of criticism for not coming out sooner."
In diving, one main goal is to make the smallest ripple upon impact. Conversely, Louganis's coming out made quite a splash. His autobiography Breaking the Surface (written with Eric Markus) became a bestseller. In it, his numerous struggles outside of diving, from his addictions to the revelation of his being HIV-positive, struck a chord for many readers.
An Olympic silver medalist at age 16 at the 1976 Olympics, Louganis won several world championships, and is the only diver to win consecutive double medals (in 1984 and 1988).
Once again a supporter of the Gay Games as an ambassador, Louganis will co-host "A Night of 100 Champions," a gala fundraiser to be held next weekend (April 22-23) at Chicago's Soldier Field Cadillac Club. Renowned LGBT athletes and early organizers of the LGBT sports movement will be honored. Receptions with athletes and other celebrities will raise funds and awareness for Chicago 2006 Gay Games, to be held July 15-22.
A year after his Gay Games IV splash, Louganis dove in a more private setting at the University of Southern California as part of the Make a Wish Foundation, when a sick child (who has since recovered) asked to see Louganis dive one more time.
Louganis's book still touches people around the world, years after he retired from diving. His fan mail comes from all over the world (Breaking the Surface has been translated into several languages). Louganis's story was also made into a TV movie starring Mario Lopez.
Louganis said many athletes thanked him at book signings. But as for coming out while competing, Louganis said, it's still going to be difficult for gay athletes. "You need the support of your team. It would be hard without that. In individual sports it's easier, since you're relying on yourself to perform. You don't need to have somebody watching your back."
Even the celebrated coming out last year of basketball star Sheryl Swoopes has its limits in countering homophobia, because, Louganis said, "For male athletes, there is a difference. Straight men are so intimidated by gay men."
In the sport of swimming, at least, sponsors are gay-friendly, having continued support of fellow diver David Pichler after he came out. "Well, who's Speedo's market?" Louganis asked. "It's not straight men, and thank God for that!"
After his Olympic glory, Louganis returned to his earlier theatre training, performing with Dance Kaliedescope in Indianapolis, and in New York in the off-Broadway gay comedy, Jeffrey. He also toured in Dan Butler's one-man show, The Worst Thing You Could Have Told Me, about coming out and being gay.
Louganis called this experience "very empowering," and compared his nightly jitters to "the longest 10-meter dive ever. You hit the stage and don't know where to land. I couldn't believe the feeling."
In returning to acting, Louganis conquered yet another obstacle. Because he is dyslexic, working with an entire script proved daunting. "It's still hard for me to pick up words from a page and put the letters in the right order," he said. Using a tape recorder allowed his imagination to go through the stories as he recorded the script several times.
The visualization process goes back to his earliest childhood days as a tap dancer. For diving, Louganis said he used the memory of his mistakes â€“ like hitting his head on the diving platform at the 1988 Olympics â€“ to focus on preventing them. He credits his coach Ron O'Brien for having what he called "a meticulous skill to see the dives," and help steer a diver toward the perfection the sport demands.
The competition Louganis focuses on these days is at dog shows, like the AKC Nationals. The finals took place in Tampa, Florida this January. Louganis's Jack Russell terrier Nipper placed seventh in the event.
Louganis's love of dogs led to his co-writing For the Life of Your Dog. Louganis now owns two Jack Russell terriers and a border collie.
He also helps dog trainers use the visualization techniques he learned from dance and diving. During his athletic training, "Sports psychologists would come to us and say, 'Have you tried mental imagery?' I'd been doing that for years."
His technique didn't include "imagining perfection," which is what some coaches called for. But Louganis achieved it anyway, just differently. "I visualize what could go wrong, and how to make it right," a technique that's helped him on and off the diving board.
Read more sports columns at www.sportscomplex.org .
Gay Games registration deadline
Regular registration for Gay Games VII ends April 15. Registrations after this Saturday will include a late fee. Some of the sports quickly approaching capacity include badminton, ice hockey, racquetball, soccer/football, and squash. Sailing and golf are now officially closed. Hotel, dormitory, and airfare deals are still available online.
Organizers of the 2006 Gay Games announced last week that GlaxoSmithKline's Lexiva (fosamprenavir calcium) drug has become a premium global sponsor, the event's highest sponsorship category. This sponsorship is part of the company's outreach to the LGBT community.
Other global sponsors of Gay Games VII include PlanetOut/Gay.com, Q Television Network, Walgreens, Centaur Entertainment, the New York Times; and more than 120 business sponsors. For the full list, and for registration and travel information, visit www.gaygameschicago.org.
Team SF jackets
If you're participating in Gay Games VII, not only do you get free tickets to opening and closing ceremonies (held Saturday, July 15 at Soldier Field, and Saturday, July 22 at Wrigley Field, respectively), but you'll be part of the ceremonies. For others, tickets to these grand festivities are on sale now. Prices range from $50 to $150.
To be part of Team San Francisco, the traditional first group marching out among the parade of athletes, you need to have an official Team San Francisco jacket. Although the deadline for ordering jackets with sport insignia has passed, my insiders tell me that extra jackets have been ordered. Contact Team San Francisco to see about getting your jacket. www.teamsf.org.
Softball's late start
The relentless rain has bumped softball schedules for over a month. The San Francisco Gay Softball League board has decided to scrap the old schedule and create a new one that will be reduced from a 14-game season to a 12-game season that started last week and continues through June 18. For more info, visit www.sfgsl.org .
Among those softball teams is the SF Hustlers, whose members are raising funds for their trip to Chicago to compete at Chicago's Gay Games VII. They will continue their monthly fundraisers at the Powerhouse bar. The next event is Friday, April 14, 9 p.m. to midnight. $5 gets you in to all the fun, including dancers, a dildo toss, raffles, and an opportunity to carouse with Hustlers. 1347 Folsom Street. (415) 552-8689 or www.powerhouse-sf.com.
In the March 30 Sports Complex, "Sportstory 3.5," it should have said former B.A.R. sports writer Mark Brown was the editor and publisher of the magazine Gay Sports, which was published from 1982-1984.