Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis is still a draw for diving fans

0
49
WEBGreg_Louganis_3.jpg

Greg Louganis is 27 years removed from his last Olympic diving gold medal and 38 years removed from setting a San Diego Section record on three-meter diving record. But his presence is still felt throughout the region if judged by the large number of fans who turned out for last weekend’s Road to Rio tour stop along the San Diego Embarcadero.

Louganis was available to meet the public Sunday at the B Street Pier as part of the tour along with current U.S. Paralympian Blake Leeper.

Greg Louganis is 27 years removed from his last Olympic diving gold medal and 38 years removed from setting a San Diego Section record on three-meter diving record. But his presence is still felt throughout the region if judged by the large number of fans who turned out for last weekend’s Road to Rio tour stop along the San Diego Embarcadero.

Louganis was available to meet the public Sunday at the B Street Pier as part of the tour along with current U.S. Paralympian Blake Leeper.

Liberty Mutual Insurance sponsors the tour, which features local Olympians. Nine stops are planned on the tour leading up to the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Last weekend’s tour stop took place Saturday and Sunday. Saturday’s guest Olympians included Brenda Villa, a four-time Olympic medalist in women’s water polo, and gymnast Nastia Liukin, a 2008 Olympic champion.

Louganis, 55, talked about growing up taking dance and gymnastics lessons before he would become an Olympic diving legend.

“I started lessons at a year-and-a-half and was performing on stage at 3,” said Louganis, who would attend Valhalla High School as a teenager.

His favorite gymnastics activity was on the trampoline.

When his family had a pool built in the backyard when he was 8, his future path was firmly set.

“My mom didn’t want me to kill myself, so she got me lessons,” Louganis said, smiling.

It wasn’t long before the El Cajon native had successfully transferred his trampoline skills to that of becoming a master competitor on diving board.

Louganis competed in the 1975 U.S. Olympic Trials and made the U.S. Olympic team that competed in the 1976 Summer Games. He won the silver medal on the 10-meter platform — the first of his five Olympic medals.

At the time of his first Olympics, he was a student at Valhalla High School.

Louganis scored 566.76 points to set the San Diego Section record as a junior at VHS in 1977. It took 34 years for another area diver to break that record. Granite Hills’ Kevin Dreesen accomplished that by scoring 587.75 points off a three-meter board in 2011.

Louganis was initially coached by Dr. Sammy Lee, the first Asian American to win a Olympic medal for the United States and the first man to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals in platform diving.

Lee won the 10-meter platform competition at both the 1948 London and 1952 Helsinki Games.

Louganis said Lee had a personal interest in helping the young phenom diver battle the Olympic elite.

“He coached me to prevent him (Dibiasi) from breaking his Olympic record,” Louganis explained. “It was his idea and I wanted to help him, so I made it mine (as well).”

However, Dibiasi won the gold medal at the 1976 Montreal Games to break Lee’s record.

Following Dibiasi’s retirement, it was time for Louganis, now coached by Ron O’Brien, to take over as “Mr. Perfect.” The U.S. diver won the gold medal on the 10-meter platform at the 1978 world championships in West Berlin and repeated as repeated at the 1982 world championships in Ecuador, where he also won the three-meter springboard competition. He swept both the springboard and 10-meter platform titles at the 1986 world championships in 1986, also in Ecuador.

Louganis won six gold medals at the Pan American Games from 1979 to 1987.

But the Olympics would be his biggest stage.

Louganis was a heavy favorite to win the gold medal at the 1980 Moscow Games but the United States boycotted the event. Louganis indicated he had meant to retire from the sport had he won the 1980 Olympic gold medal.

But there was unfinished business to attend to.

“It was during my second world championships in 1982 in Ecuador when I felt I really belonged on the world stage,” he said.

When Louganis ventured to the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, this time he took his own agenda with him.

“When I went into the 1984 Games, I knew my work wasn’t done,” he said. “My goal was to win two (back-to-back Olympics).” 

Louganis did just that. He dominated the field at the Los Angeles Olympics – winning the three-meter springboard competition by more than 90 points and the 10-meter platform by nearly 70 points.

He became the first diver to score 700 points on the platform.

He called winning his first Olympic gold medal “a bit of a relief.”

At 28, he admitted he had to push himself to repeat as a double Olympic gold medalist at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

“The Chinese were catching up to me,” Louganis said.

Louganis edged China’s Xiong Ni by 1.41 points in the 10-meter competition. He entered the three-meter competition ranked third but out-point China’s Tan Liangde by 26 points.

Louganis’ comeback earned him the honor of ABC-TV’s “Wide World of Sports” Athlete of the Year.

Louganis, who is now openly gay and a LGBT activist, said each Olympic experience had its own story to tell, including the infamous incident at the 1988 Summer Games during which he hit his head on the board and opened a wound but elected not to disclose his HIV-positive status at the time.

“Each one was different — 1976 was different from 1984 and 1984 was different from 1988,” he said. “They were all unique experiences.”

Louganis is now a diving coach and helped mentor the U.S. team that competed at the 2012 London Games. His advice to young divers is to persevere through adversity.

“One thing I’ve learned during my experiences in my training is that you have to work out when you don’t want to,” he said. “What if you show up at the Olympics and don’t want to dive? They’re not going to change the date for you. You’ve got to compete even if you don’t feel like it.

“You’ve got to push through those bad times.”

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here