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Nearly a quarter-century after producing one of the most dramatic and inspiring – not to mention painful – Olympic moments, diving icon Greg Louganis' life has taken an unexpected twist.
With the status of gold medalist, author, public speaker, diving mentor and coach already on his resume, the 52-year-old can now boast of a successful new sideline as a pedigree dog trainer.
Louganis' horrendous accident at the 1988 Seoul Olympics – he struck his head on the diving board mid-somersault – made a global audience wince. But his incredible return to the pool to claim the gold medal established him as one of the all-time greats.
In the years following retirement, Louganis has faced even greater challenges, battling HIV while actively campaigning for gay rights after coming out at the end of his career.
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Nowadays though, much of his energies are spent caring for his dogs, two of which have enjoyed national success in dog trial competitions.
"Of course it is very different from diving," said Louganis in a telephone interview with Yahoo! Sports. "But the excitement of performance and competition is still there and it has been very exciting for me and the dogs."
The same sense of humor that endeared Louganis to Olympic fans over the four Games he competed in is still as sharp as ever, as evidenced by the way he talks about his dogs.
"I am a huge Harry Potter fan, so I have got a lot of Harry Potter stuff going on," he said. "One of my dogs is called Dobby, after the house elf in the books, and is just like the character. Then I have Hedwig [named after Harry Potter's owl], who is a Hungarian Pumi and is very vocal with strangers."
Louganis' most successful dog is his oldest, a now-retired 15-year-old Jack Russell Terrier named Nipper. Originally trained by Louganis on behalf of a friend, then adopted by the former diver, Nipper made the finals at the national championships, was ranked No.1 in dog agility and progressed from a Novice to Advanced classification in a record eight months.
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With Dobby now also headed toward retirement following a successful run at Nationals, Louganis expects to soon welcome a fresh wave of competitive dogs into his home.
"I always got on better with dogs than with people," he said. "I just have a very natural connection with them and you can build these incredible and beautiful relationships. I will definitely be competing with dogs again, it won't be too long."
Louganis will be in London for this summer's Games in a mentoring capacity to members of the United States team and admits that going back to the Olympics will be an emotional experience.
Attitudes toward gay athletes and HIV sufferers have evolved greatly – if it had been known Louganis was HIV positive in 1988 he would have been forbidden from competing.
"I hope I can help some of the young athletes by sharing what I went through," Louganis said. "I tell them to see the atmosphere in the arena not as pressure, but as energy that is spurring them on to achieve great things.
"If you take that kind of positive mentality, anything is possible and it is one that I use in every aspect of my life. The right attitude is everything, whether you are battling HIV, wanting to improve your life, or even out working with dogs."
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