A perfect 10

Diver Greg Louganis wins gold at 1994 Olympics, comes out a year later

By Marc Katz

Greg Louganis climbed up the ladder to the 15-meter platform at the 1987 Pan-American Games in Indianapolis, and I was skeptical.

Because the games were so logistically close, the Dayton Daily News decided to send a force over to cover them, rotating us in and out on two- or three-day shifts.

For years, the DDN also sent columnists to the Olympic Games, and the Pan-Am Games were just a scaled-down version of those.

While I’ve never been a big Olympics fan, especially stuff like rhythmic gymnastics, here was an opportunity to see some of the best athletes in the world.

Of course my interests were more in line with scoreboards rather than some version of what the Russian judge thinks. But when somebody tells you there’s a chance to see the best athlete in a particular sport perform, it’s an honor and privilege to do so.

So there I was watching Louganis, the best diver in the world, climb up to his starting point.

Diving is one of those sports that takes perfect timing and control. The diver does it right and nobody on the side of the pool gets wet. The diver does it wrong and everybody’s hot dog bun turns to mush.

It helps to be an expert at what you’re watching, but when you watch the best—even for the first time—you know.

It’s just that while Louganis was climbing, I didn’t really know what he could do that most of the other divers couldn’t do. As I recall, this was a preliminary heat, and Louganis was the eighth of 10 divers.

At least five of the first seven were really good, causing hardly a ripple in the water when they landed. They were all earning sevens and eights from the judges, and by the time Louganis began his move toward his first dive, I couldn’t possibly imagine how much better he could have been.

OK, I was wrong. Even to the untrained eye, this guy was sensational.

He went on to win the 15-meter platform and 3-meter springboard. Once during these games, my DDN colleague Gary Nuhn remarked just as Louganis took off on a dive, “If he hits the water, it’s a 10.”

He hit the water again and again and again, almost perfectly.

Louganis had already won two gold medals at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and likely would have done the same at Moscow in 1990, except those games were boycotted by the Americans (and 64 other countries) under the excuse the Russians had invaded Afghanistan, setting a low bar for history repeating itself.

Louganis went on to win gold at the 1994 games and many other competitions.

At the time, we all knew Louganis was good—if not the absolute best. What we did not know is he had tested HIV-positive well before the 1984 Seoul Olympic Games.

He kept quiet about his condition then because he knew the furor it would cause, plus we didn’t know enough about HIV-positive individuals. Even Louganis thought he had been delivered a death knell.

Instead, Louganis competed. He won. Nobody died because of him. He announced in 1995 he was gay.

I’m not sure what would have happened had he announced years sooner. I’m guessing he would have been barred from competition.

But the world has changed, if just a little.

In 2015, Wheaties put Louganis on its cereal boxes, explaining it wasn’t because he was gay that he didn’t appear before.

In 2016, he appeared in ESPN the Magazine’s body issue—naked (without private parts showing).

In 2017, he was Grand Marshall of the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California.

Greg Louganis is now 56 years-old, married to a same-sex partner and could still do a belly flop with minimum ripples.

He is an athlete whose life—but not his sport—was affected by his being gay, and while the job is not done—and likely will never be—he no longer has to live entirely in secretive shadows.

It’s still not popular to be a member of the LGBT community, but there are striking examples of success in all walks of life from athletics to entertainers to business.

You can be different and be successful. If you didn’t know a person was a member of that community, in many cases, you really wouldn’t know, and really shouldn’t care.

The only thing I really knew about Louganis in 1987 was he could dive.

Oh my gosh, he hit the water as a 10.

The views and opinions expressed in On Your Marc are the views and/or opinions of the author and do not reflect the views and/or opinions of the Dayton City Paper or Dayton City Media and are published strictly for entertainment purposes.

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Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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