Greg Louganis

Greg Louganis recalls Olympic diving, HIV, coming out in ‘Back on Board’ film

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Greg Louganis‘ life story, from becoming the most decorated individual diver in Olympic history to hitting his head on the springboard at Seoul 1988 while secretly competing HIV positive to coming out as a gay man and financial struggles are chronicled in an 87-minute documentary airing on HBO on Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET.

“The thing that I learned about going through the whole [filmmaking] process was I’m a lot more resilient than I give myself credit for,” Louganis, 55, said in a phone interview last week.

“Back on Board” featured footage and interviews from Louganis’ Olympic competition from 1976, 1984 and 1988. The Californian won five individual Olympic medals, including four golds, sweeping the springboard and platform at Los Angeles 1984 and Seoul 1988.

It also included Louganis’ struggles with foreclosure on his Malibu home of nearly three decades. He sold an Olympic swimsuit, competition medals and other belongings to make ends meet in recent years.

As early as Louganis’ first Olympics at age 16 at Montreal 1976, he said he was verbally abused by teammates’ anti-gay derogatory terms. Louganis said he probably would have retired after the Moscow 1980 Olympics had he won gold, but of course he missed those Games due to the U.S. boycott.

“Whenever I sign my autograph, I put the Olympic years and medals down — ’76 silver, ’80 boycott, ’84 two golds, ’88 two golds,” Louganis said. “I don’t want that Olympic team to be forgotten.”

Louganis’ interviews in the 1980s and ’90s with Barbara Walters, Larry King, Oprah Winfrey and Johnny Carson were scattered in the documentary.

But he said he wasn’t as celebrated as other 1980s Olympic champions such as Mary Lou Retton.

“Never got a Wheaties box,” Louganis said in the film. “Their response was that I didn’t fit their wholesome demographics or whatever. Basically, being gay, or being rumored that I was gay.”

Louganis said he learned before the Seoul 1988 Olympics that his boyfriend at the time had AIDS, so he got tested. Louganis came back HIV positive and blurted it out to his coach two weeks later.

A small group was in on the secret going into the Olympics, a time in which Louganis said he was taking medication every four hours and not getting a full night’s sleep.

“I didn’t think I would live,” Louganis said in the film.

Louganis’ coach smuggled his medication into Seoul, he said, because he wouldn’t have been allowed in if it was known he was HIV positive.

Then, in the 1988 Olympic springboard preliminaries, Louganis smacked his head on the board on his third dive. His blood spilled into the pool.

“I just wanted to hold the blood in,” Louganis said in the film. “Just not anybody touch it.”

He was stitched up by somebody not wearing gloves, made it back for his next dive and won the competition after the final the next day.

Louganis retired after the Seoul Games and didn’t publicly come out as gay and HIV positive until the mid 1990s.

”I had every expectation that if I went public with the fact that I’m gay, no one would want to hire me and I’d lose my house,” Louganis said in a 1995 press conference.

He spent about 15 years fading from the spotlight but returned to the Olympics in 2012 for the first time since 1996 as an athlete mentor with USA Diving.

Near the end of the film, Louganis is shown at the London Games staring at a laptop, looking at Facebook and YouTube posts and wiping away tears. He is seeing the news that gay 2000 Australian Olympic gymnast Ji Wallace came out as HIV positive, citing Louganis as an inspiration.

On the final Saturday of the Games, Louganis watched David Boudia win the platform title, becoming the first U.S. male diver since Louganis to earn Olympic gold in the event.

“It was so funny because it, for me personally, it came full circle because like when I won in 1988, the men’s platform, my last Olympic Games, and everybody was so emotional because it was such a tight contest,” Louganis said, recalling his 1.14-point win over China’s Xiong Ni. “I didn’t understand it [in 1988] because I was just doing my job. Then experiencing that with David, it comes down to the last dive. I was like all teary-eyed, emotional. I’m like oh my gosh, I get it, I understand.”

Louganis plans to return to the Olympics in Rio next year, working for Brazilian TV. He said that even though he came out with a book and a film in the 1990s, he had a message he wanted to convey with “Back on Board.”

“It was important to show that, hey, even if you’re an Olympic gold medalist, we’re all going through this,” Louganis said. “When you feel that you’re not alone, then it’s really empowering.”

David Boudia earns another World Championships medal

Pole vaulter, 84, sets her sights on more records

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BURLINGTON, Vt. — An 84-year-old pole vaulter isn’t putting her pole down anytime soon.

Flo Filion Meiler left Thursday for the World Masters Athletics Championship Indoor in Poland, where she’ll compete in events including the long jump, 60-meter hurdles, 800-meter run, pentathlon and pole vault, for which she’s the shoo-in.

The petite, energetic woman from Shelburne, Vermont, said she feels more like 70 than nearly 85.

“But you know, I do train five days a week. And when I found out I was going to compete at the worlds, I’ve been training six days a week because I knew I would really get my body in shape,” she said last week, after track and field training at the University of Vermont.

But she literally won’t have any competition in the pole vault in the championships, which runs March 24-31 in Torun, Poland. She is the only one registered in her age group, 80-84, for the sport, for which she set a world record at age 80. In the men’s pole vault, nine men are listed as competing in that age group.

Meiler said she the events she likes the best are the hurdles and the pole vault – one of the more daring track and field events, in which competitors run while carrying a fiberglass or composite pole, brace it against the ground to launch themselves over a high bar, and land on a mat.

“You really have to work at that,” she said. “You have to have the upper core and you have to have timing, and I just love it because it’s challenging.”

Meiler is used to hard work. She grew up on a dairy farm, where she helped her father with the chores, feeding the cattle and raking hay. In school, she did well at basketball, took tap and ballroom dancing, and, living near Lake Champlain, she water skied.

Meiler, who worked for 30 years as a sales representative for Herbalife nutritional supplements, and her husband, Eugene, who was a military pilot and then became a financial analyst, together competed in water skiing.

“Many times when I did water ski competition I was the only gal in my age group,” she said.

She’s a relative newcomer to pole vaulting and track and field, overall. At age 60, she was competing in doubles tennis with her husband in a qualifying year at the Vermont Senior Games when a friend encouraged her to try the long jump because competitors were needed.

“That was the beginning of my track career,” she said, standing in a room of her home, surrounded by hundreds of hanging medals. She took up pole vaulting at 65.

Athletics has helped her though some hard times, she said. She and her husband adopted three children after losing two premature biological babies and a 3-year-old. Two years ago, their son died at age 51.

And she desperately misses her training partner, a woman who started having health problems about five years ago and can no longer train. It’s tough to train alone, she said, and she hopes to find a new partner.

“She’s incredibly serious about what she does,” said Meiler’s coach, Emmaline Berg. “She comes in early to make sure she’s warmed up enough. She goes home and stretches a lot. So she pretty much structures her entire life around being a fantastic athlete, which is remarkable at any age, let alone hers.”

And it has paid off, said Berg, an assistant track coach at Vermont.

Berg herself first started following Meiler 10 years ago while she was a student at New Hampshire’s Dartmouth College, watching her at the annual Dartmouth Relays.

“She was like a local celebrity,” she said.

Setting a record at age 80 with a 6-foot (1.8-meter) pole vault at the USA Track and Field Adirondack Championships in Albany, New York, while her husband watched, Meiler said, was one of her happiest days.

“I was screaming, I was so happy,” she said.

The overall world record for women’s pole vaulting is 16.6 feet (5.6 meters), according to the International Association of Athletics Federations.

Meiler turns 85 in June, when she’ll head to the National Senior Games in New Mexico.

That will put her in a new age group, in which she hopes to set even more records.

Meiler’s athletic achievements are remarkable and something to be celebrated, said Dr. Michael LaMantia, director of the University of Vermont Center on Aging.

Pole vaulting clearly isn’t for everyone of her age, but in general, activity should be, LaMantia said.

“She can serve as a role model for other seniors,” he said.

Amateur boxing president steps aside during IOC inquiry

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland — With Olympic boxing under investigation by the IOC, the president of the sport’s governing body said on Friday he was stepping aside to let an interim leader take charge.

Gafur Rakhimov sai d he was not resigning as AIBA president, however, and did not call for new elections.

Rakhimov’s status on a U.S. Treasury Department sanctions list as an alleged heroin trafficker is part of an inquiry by an International Olympic Committee-appointed panel.

The panel will update the IOC executive board next week in Lausanne, Switzerland. AIBA could be derecognized by IOC members in June.

The IOC halted planning for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic boxing tournaments and blocked AIBA officials from contacting organizers in Japan.

“The allegations against me were fabricated and based on politically motivated lies,” Rakhimov said. “I trust that the truth will prevail. Nevertheless, I have always said that I would never put myself above boxing, and as president, I have a duty to do everything in my power to serve our sport and our athletes.”

Under AIBA statutes, an interim president is picked from among the five vice-presidents, who include several Rakhimov supporters. The executive committee is due to meet by telephone this weekend. The interim leader can serve only a maximum 365 days before fresh elections, however, meaning that arrangement can’t last through to the Tokyo Olympics.

When Rakhimov was elected last year, his supporters pushed for a plan to allow the president to step aside while still retaining key influence and being able to return at any time, but that was defeated.

It’s not clear if Rakhimov’s departure would be enough to calm the IOC, which has also criticized AIBA over how fights are judged, anti-doping measures, and its debts.

The IOC could try to host an Olympic boxing tournament without AIBA, and some national boxing officials have tried to form a group which could help the IOC stage the event.