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

Greg Louganis
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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

IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

Thomas Bach
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GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

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How did U.S. women’s basketball replace its legends? It starts with Alyssa Thomas.

Alyssa Thomas
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If this FIBA World Cup marks the beginning of a new era of U.S. women’s basketball, it is notable, if not remarkable, that no player has been more visible than Alyssa Thomas.

Thomas is making her global championship debut in Sydney. She is the only woman on the team in her 30s. Rarely, if ever, has a player who waited this long to put on a U.S. uniform made such an impact out of the gate. Certainly not since the last major tournament in Australia, when 30-year-old Yolanda Griffith starred at the 2000 Olympics.

Over the last week, Thomas leads the U.S. in minutes played and is one of two players to start all seven games along with Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP. She ranks fourth on the team in scoring (10.6 points per game), is tied for second in rebounding (6.7), second in assists (4.6) and first in steals (2.7).

The Americans, with their new breakthrough power forward, face China in Saturday’s final, seeking a fourth consecutive world title and 60th consecutive victory between Olympic and world championship play dating to 2006.

“She takes a lot of pressure off of us,” two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson said after Thomas had 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in a quarterfinal win over Serbia. “I think she’s the glue of this team, the X-factor of this team, because that’s her game and that’s her style.”

Thomas earned the nickname “Baby Bron Bron” at the University of Maryland for her LeBron James-like play. USA Basketball took notice in 2013, when she was one of six collegians named to a 33-player national team training camp.

But that participation was the last of Thomas’ bullet points on her USA Basketball bio for another nine years, until she was named to the FIBA World Cup qualifying team last February.

Thomas had to wait her turn.

The U.S. was loaded in the frontcourt in the 2010s with more established players — Candace ParkerTina CharlesSylvia FowlesBrittney GrinerElena Delle Donne — and then Stewart and Wilson came along, becoming arguably the two most valuable Americans in the last Olympic cycle.

Thomas produced, to that point, the best WNBA season of her career in 2020, but tore an Achilles playing overseas in January 2021, ruling out any chance of making the Tokyo Olympic team. (Thomas was not in the 36-player national team pool at the time of her injury.)

The combination of players’ absences this year — Charles, after three Olympic golds, ceded to younger players, Fowles retired and Griner is being detained in Russia — and Cheryl Reeve becoming head coach created an opportunity.

Thomas seized it, leading the Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals, where she recorded triple-doubles in the last two games of a series loss to the Las Vegas Aces. Then she boarded a plane to Sydney for her first major international experience and has similarly flourished.

Jennifer Rizzotti, part of the USA Basketball selection committee, said the 6-foot-2 Thomas combines the movement of Lindsay Whalen, the passing of Parker and the physicality of Rebekkah Brunson. She plays with labrum tears in each shoulder. There’s no single player like her.

“There’s definitely some post players that have that point forward mentality, but not quite with the guard skills that Alyssa has,” Rizzotti said. “I don’t see anybody, including guards, that can do what she does in the open court. Then you talk about how disruptive she is defensively and her ability to guard one through five. A’ja can guard one through five, Stewie can guard one through five, but nobody’s as disruptive as Alyssa is. On the perimeter and off the ball.”

Thomas also fit what Reeve, who succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, was looking for in retooling the roster following the retirement of Sue Bird and possible end of Diana Taurasi‘s national team career at age 40.

“[Reeve] made it clear that she was hoping with the guard turnover that we would be able to play faster, more athletically, more possessions in the game,” Rizzotti said. “And therefore, she wanted to have post players that could push tempo, that could facilitate and kind of fit in with a ball-handling, passing mentality from the trail spot.”

Still, Thomas did not expect to be putting on a USA jersey this year. “Shocked” is the word USA Basketball chose to describe her reaction to making this team.

“It was kind of a surprise,” she said, according to USA Basketball. “I had just really taken my name out of it.”

Rizzotti said Thomas is an example — a very successful one, it turns out — of an asset in the eyes of the selection committee: patience.

“I think a lot of players feel like if they don’t make the USA national team right away, it’s never going to happen,” she said. “You get the comments like, oh, it’s political, or they keep inviting the same guys back. And it’s not true.”

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