Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Greg Louganis

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Greg Louganis

Article excerpt

The acclaimed author of Breaking the Surface remembers the first time he met the diving champ

I had planned to greet him in the grand lobby of my turn-of-the-century building, fearing that if he saw the tiny studio apartment that was both my home and office, he would think I wasn't successful enough to write his autobiography. It never occurred to me that he'd be early. As I was putting on my jacket, the doorman rang up to let me know that "Greg" was at the front desk. "Tell him to wait," I said in a panic. "I'll be right down."

By the time the ancient elevator reached the ground floor, I could hardly breathe. The doors opened, and for a couple of seconds I just stood there, looking out into the high-ceilinged room at Greg Louganis. Living legend. American hero. Four-time Olympic gold medalist. Gay--although closeted--icon. How strange to see him on my territory, standing all by himself, fully clothed. Of course he was fully clothed--it was the dead of winter in New York City--but in my mind's eye Greg Louganis was always clad in a Speedo bathing suit, perched on the edge of a diving board, moments away from fearlessly and flawlessly launching himself into space.

I have only vague memories of watching Greg Louganis win the silver medal at the 1976 Olympics; it was at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles that he really registered on my radar. He was a compelling and astonishingly graceful athlete who was also very beautiful, sweetly shy, and, I assumed, gay. It was an assumption confirmed for me by a 1984 profile in GQ magazine, which included a picture of Greg at home with his live-in "manager." I didn't have to read very closely between the lines to figure out that Greg's manager was his lover. I was embarrassed for Greg that he felt the need to hide and did it so imperfectly, but hiding was what virtually all gay and lesbian elite athletes did in 1984--and still do, with rare exception.

Despite Greg's public charade, I rooted for him as one of my own. Part of why I cheered for him had to do with my own complicated relationship with athletics. While I could always do more chin-ups than most of my classmates and was pretty fast on my feet, I was a bust when it came to competitive sports like softball and basketball. So here was Greg, a gay man who could stand up to the straight boys and leave them in his wake. How could I not cheer him on or feel good about his accomplishments?

By the 1988 Olympics I was already well on the way to seeing Greg as something other than human, projecting my idealized fantasies onto a person I didn't know at all. In Seoul, Greg's terrifying encounter with a diving board and his extraordinary comeback to win two gold medals elevated him in my eyes to hero status. Greg's humility in his breathtaking return to the diving board and the bandaged teddy bear he carried with him throughout the competition only enhanced my positive feelings toward him. He was a hero with a heart. And when he stood on the podium with tears streaming down his face, I cried too, not knowing my tears had nothing to do with his.

After the Olympics I didn't think much about Greg Louganis. If I thought about him at all, it was with a passing wish that he'd finally come out and become the kind of role model I believed young gay people needed as well as take a more active role in AIDS education. Given who he was, I knew he could make a world of difference. I also wanted Greg to come out so I could add him to the pantheon of famous gay and lesbian people who made me feel better about myself. …

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