Greg Louganis: Champion, survivor, activist, mentor

Janet Evans | Rulon Gardner | Shawn Johnson | Edwin Moses | Summer Sanders

Greg Louganis inspired the world first as a champion diver, and then as an activist for LGBT rights and HIV awareness.

Louganis’ journey started when he learned to dive at age 9. Just six years later, the teenager earned a silver medal in his first Olympic Games in Montreal in 1976.

His quest for gold had to be put on pause due to the United States’ boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, but Louganis didn’t miss a beat when he returned to the Games in Los Angeles four years later. There, in front of his home crowd, the Southern California native swept the 3-meter springboard and 10-meter platform competitions.

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Louganis was well on track to carry his string of dominance into the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, but six months before the games, he received life-altering news. He was HIV positive.

Inspired by the perseverance of Ryan White, a teenager who became the poster-child for HIV and AIDS awareness after he contracted HIV through a contaminated blood transfusion, Louganis didn’t let his diagnosis deter him. He won the springboard and platform competitions in Seoul, even after suffering a concussion from hitting his head on the backboard during the preliminary rounds.

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Louganis went public with his diagnosis and came out as gay in a 1995 interview with Oprah Winfrey. In 1996, Louganis published an autobiography about his life, including his struggles with depression and substance abuse, that stood atop the New York Times best-sellers list for five weeks.

Today, Louganis uses his platform to advocate for LGBT rights and HIV awareness. He was also invited to work as a mentor to the U.S. diving team, and helped David Boudia to a gold medal in the 10-meter platform at the 2012 London Olympics. An HBO documentary detailing Louganis’ struggles and his journey back to diving was released earlier this year.