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

Lin Dan, badminton legend, retires: ‘It is very difficult to say goodbye’

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Lin Dan, arguably the greatest badminton player in history, announced retirement Saturday, citing “pain and injuries” in bowing out a year before the postponed Tokyo Olympics.

“I have been with the national team from 2000 to 2020, and it is very difficult to say goodbye,” 36-year-old Lin wrote to his four million Weibo fans, according to Badminton World Federation (BWF) translation. “Pain and injuries no longer allow me to fight with my teammates. I have gratitude, a heavy heart and unwillingness.”

Lin, nicknamed “Super Dan,” won Olympic singles titles in 2008 and 2012, plus five individual world titles. It’s the greatest resume for any badminton player from China, which owns twice as many medals as any other nation in the sport that debuted at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

He competed at the last four Olympics, won the sport’s Super Grand Slam (nine major titles) and had his own wax figure at Madame Tussauds in Shanghai.

Lin’s outbursts on and off the court led to some calling him the John McEnroe of badminton, but he is revered. In 2015, he was the second athlete on Forbes China‘s most popular celebrities list behind tennis player Li Na.

Lin’s pursuit of a fifth Olympics in Tokyo was looking out of reach. He dropped to No. 26 in the Olympic qualifying rankings, trailing four countrymen, including No. 5 Chen Long (Rio Olympic champion) and No. 11 Shi Yuqi (2018 World silver medalist). A nation can qualify a maximum of two individual players per gender for the Games.

“From where came his mastery? In short, his prowess was essentially due to the completeness of his game – in skill, physical ability and mental strength,” the BWF wrote in a press release. “Such was his craft that even well into his 30s, normally considered an advanced age for men’s singles, he could outplay younger and fitter opponents.”

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

MORE: Who is China’s greatest Olympian?

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MyKayla Skinner’s motivation for Tokyo: her Rio Olympic experience

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MyKayla Skinner remembers the little room at the SAP Center in San Jose. She remembers the wait, somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes.

After the 2016 U.S. Olympic Women’s Gymnastics Trials, the competitors (14 total performed) assembled while a selection committee convened in another space.

The committee finalized the five-woman Olympic team (plus three alternates), marched into the athletes’ room and delivered the verdict.

“They say the first four names, and then there’s that one spot left,” Skinner recalled. “I’m like, is it going to be me? You’re so tense just waiting there. All of us holding each other’s hands in the room. We’re all sitting there. It’s just, like, frozen dead silent. Then they say that fifth spot.”

Skinner doesn’t remember who was the fifth name. Just that it wasn’t her.

“I just broke down crying,” she said in a recent interview. “All that hard work I put in still wasn’t good enough. Even though it was. It’s just who they needed for the team.”

Skinner placed fourth in the all-around at those Olympic Trials, the highest finisher who was not named to the Olympic team. She was one of three alternates. If the Olympic team was chosen by all-around standings, a selection committee would not be necessary. Instead, gymnasts are puzzle pieces, chosen as who best fits the Olympic format: three gymnasts per apparatus in the team final and up to two per nation per individual final.

Skinner’s mind raced while she waited for the committee’s decision. She eventually settled on a gut feeling, that she would not make the team.

“I thought that it should be enough, but at the same I didn’t think that it would be,” said Lisa Spini, Skinner’s coach at Desert Lights Gymnastics in Chandler, Arizona. “I thought the team was already decided before the Olympic Trials.”

Spini said it was her toughest night as a gymnastics coach.

“Being an alternate is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in gymnastics,” said Skinner, who traveled to Brazil and, with fellow alternates Ashton Locklear and Ragan Smith, trained separately from the Olympic team. “The whole time I was in Rio, I probably cried every single night

“The Olympics should be something so special, but I feel like it was definitely miserable at times. It was really hard to enjoy being an alternate. With this comeback, that has pushed me so hard just because I was so close.”

You may have read about Skinner back in the spring, after the Tokyo Olympics were postponed to 2021.

It’s a devastating delay for a female gymnast, whose peak often lasts for one Olympic cycle (sometimes even shorter). Skinner is an exception, excelling for the better part of a decade on different levels.

She made her first world championships team in 2014. After Rio, she matriculated at the University of Utah, where she was twice an NCAA all-around runner-up and hit an NCAA record 161 straight routines without a fall. In 2019, she decided to come back to international competition — for an Olympic run — with one year left of NCAA gymnastics.

She is 23, the oldest of the 16-woman U.S. national team. She is trying to become the oldest woman to make a U.S. Olympic gymnastics team since 2004. And the first with NCAA experience to do so since Alicia Sacramone in 2008.

“The reason why a lot of college gymnasts couldn’t come back and do it is they’ve been so injured over the years,” Spini said. “Their body wouldn’t hold up. She’s been really lucky that way.”

Skinner could have easily followed the path of so many other stars who signaled the end of an elite career by going to college, where training and routines are less demanding.

She questioned herself often after the Tokyo postponement whether it was worth it to return to elite training. The Olympic team event roster size has been cut from five to four. Simone Biles is an overwhelming favorite to earn one spot. In the face of those odds, Skinner can’t shake a memory from Rio.

“I just go back to the moment of when I was sitting in the stands,” watching the Final Five earn gold, Skinner said. “I was so close to making the team. This has been my dream ever since I went to Desert Lights when I was 12.”

Skinner’s comeback is already a success. Last year, on three months of elite training, she placed eighth at the U.S. Championships. She was convinced to accept an invitation to the world championships selection camp, where six women would make the traveling team (one later named an alternate).

Like in 2016, Skinner placed fourth in the all-around competition before the roster was chosen.

Again, the gymnasts gathered for the announcement. This time, Skinner made the cut as the sixth woman named. Biles, the other 20-something at the camp and a friend, jumped in excitement.

The team traveled to Germany in late September. After training, one woman had to be designated the alternate. High performance team coordinator Tom Forster took Skinner aside one day on the way to lunch. She knew what was coming and broke down in tears, flashing back to 2016.

“Simone was like, hey, let’s go to the bathroom. She helped talk me through it and helped me calm down and definitely made me a feel a lot better,” said Skinner, who supported Biles and the U.S. team that competed in Stuttgart. She then wed Jonas Harmer in November and decided what must be done to make the Olympic team.

“We’re going to try to add in some big skills, which will put her difficulty level, probably, second only to Simone,” Spini said.

Skinner is documenting her last year-plus in elite gymnastics on a YouTube channel with 29,000 subscribers. She has been fortunate during the coronavirus pandemic to train at her gym if no more than 10 people were present. Many other gymnasts — and athletes across Olympic sports — spent weeks or months out of their facilities.

“I definitely don’t think I would have been able to have that much time off,” she said. “That’s really hard with gymnastics because you feel like, you take two days off, and it’s like you had a year off.”

One day this spring, Skinner’s mom called, in tears, fearing for her life with an illness that turned out to be the coronavirus. Both of her parents, in their 60s, had it and briefly lost their senses of taste. Her mom had breathing problems, but they recovered.

One night last month, Skinner had a dream about next year’s Olympic Trials. The Final Five all came back to compete, and Skinner was again named an alternate. She woke up. Skinner doesn’t know how she would handle that kind of disappointment in real life, again.

“So it’s kind of scary,” she said. Then Skinner thinks back to Rio, and that burning she felt while watching the Final Five win gold medals.

“This is what I’m supposed to do. This is what I’m meant to do is elite gymnastics,” said Skinner, who was born via life-threatening, early-labor C-section, needing to be revived by doctors. “I think it’s cool that I can have this opportunity to go and push myself one last time so I can reach that end goal.”

MORE: Gymnast Grace McCallum won a coin flip to become world champion

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