Louganis, history’s greatest diver, turns 50
By CHERYL WITTENAUER
Associated Press Writer
ST. LOUIS — Greg Louganis has always had chutzpah.
When he was a toddler, the boy who would become history’s greatest diver sneaked into his sister’s dance class and outshined the older kids. By 3, he was singing and dancing on stage, and at 8, was doing gymnastic stunts off the diving board at home. By 9, he was diving competitively.
“I’ve been performing all my life,” Louganis said. “I always need a creative outlet, no matter what.”
Louganis is in the midst of some tough times, 22 years after becoming the only man to sweep springboard and platform diving gold medals in consecutive Olympics. Now 50, the speaking engagements on diversity, HIV education, depression and domestic violence have dried up in the recession.
“Everybody’s hurting across the board,” he said.
He took a financial hit when the apparel company Speedo stopped sponsoring him in 2007. He is at risk of losing his home in Malibu, Calif., which he shares with his partner of almost three years, Daniel McSwiney, a one-time computer programmer who now manages Louganis’ schedule.
He’s getting more serious about acting, but regional theater, like the Indian Wells in Palm Desert, Calif., where he’ll perform in “The Little Dog Laughed” in April “is not a living,” he said.
“It doesn’t pay the mortgage. You do it for the love of it, to get up there and play.”
It’s been 15 years since Louganis revealed his homosexuality and HIV status in his 1995 best-selling autobiography, “Breaking the Surface.” He had held the secret since learning himself in the months leading up to the 1988 Seoul Games.
Louganis, who said he never expected to see 30, turned 50 on Jan. 29, and is proud of the achievement.
Today, he is fit and tan, and physically challenges himself with daily hikes, mountain biking, spinning classes, gym workouts or yoga. He has dipped in and out of dangerously low levels of white blood cell counts that are a barometer of the immune system, but refuses to play the AIDS numbers game.
He said he mentally files away his periodic blood test results to a place that won’t paralyze him.
“I take my medicines in the morning and evening, and go about the business of living,” he said during a recent stop in suburban St. Louis, where the avid dog lover participated in the national finals of the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge.
Louganis speaks warmly of his late adoptive parents, and was especially close to his mother, his confidante, who dismissed his nervous, youthful disclosure of his homosexuality as no big deal. He said his father could be abusive when he drank, but Louganis made peace with him, and cared for his father in his last months of life.
Louganis said a Samoan man who claims to have been his biological father introduced himself after a speaking engagement a few years ago in Hawaii. Louganis’ birth parents were only 15 years old when they placed him for adoption, leading to feelings of rejection and trouble with alcohol, drugs and the law at an early age.
Juvenile authorities released Louganis to his adoptive parents on the condition that he would go straight home from school and help his mother with chores.
“I’d tell her dirty jokes and she’d come back and shock me,” he said. “I knew I could tell her anything. We were so tight. There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t miss her.”
A drama major in college, Louganis has had film, theater, and television acting roles over the last 20 years, including Off-Broadway’s “Jeffrey,” and “The Only Thing Worse You Could Have Told Me,” and a performance as a coach in the independent film, “Watercolors.”
Louganis’ love of animals, and his own struggles with HIV, led him last year to co-found a fund that helps those infected with HIV meet their pets’ basic needs. He’s done dog training and agility meets the last 12 years, most recently in the Purina Incredible Dog Finals in Gray Summit, Mo., with Dobby, his Jack Russell Terrier.
Frank Mariglia of New York, who met Louganis in 1993, described his friend as a private man who is “creative, enlightened, playful, contemplative, and focused.
“Greg lives in the present and values every opportunity presented to him to better his experiences in life,” he said.
Louganis has been trying to get on “Dancing with the Stars” since the popular show’s second season, but was told he had too much dance experience and not enough star power. Asked if it hurts that his star may have faded, he said, “I don’t think about it. I don’t focus on those things.
“That’s somebody’s opinion. I focus on the dogs, the day to day, the people who are current,” he said. “I don’t read my press, nor is it relevant. It’s not who I am.”