Four-time Gold Medalist tells Olympic hopefuls: 'Everybody there wants to see you succeed'
American divers have failed to win any Olympic medals in the last two Summer Games and won just one in 2000.
So who better to motivate them than the man who has won more diving medals in US history: Greg Louganis.
Louganis, winner of two golds as the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, two gold at the 1988 Games in Seoul, and a silver at the 1976 Games in Montreal when he was still in high school, was brought in by US Diving in 2010 as an athlete mentor to the Olympic hopefuls.
He will be at the 2012 Games in London hoping to see some of the younger Americans make it to the winner’s podium.
‘I’m just hoping it’s not too little too late because two years is not much time to prepare because preparation for an Olympic Games, it’s really a lifetime endeavor,’ he admits. ‘You really are committed and it’s an entire process.’
While his presence is welcomed by the athletes, Louganis says he has not felt the same embrace from all of the coaches.
‘It’s been a little challenging with the coaches,’ he says. ‘The divers have been very accepting. The coaches feel threatened in some way. I don’t know why. But I’m not coaching, I’m not a coach. I’m a mentor.’
He also knows more about pressure than any diver in US history.
At the 1988 Games, Louganis hit his head on the springboard during the preliminary rounds and suffered a concussion. He completed the preliminaries despite his injury and went on to repeat the dive during the finals, earning the gold medal by a margin of 25 points.
He was also competing with the secret knowledge that he was HIV-positive, something he did not publicly disclose until years later.
Louganis says the difference between becoming a champion and going home empty-handed has a lot to do with that moment before a dive when you are standing on the springboard or the platform and everything is on the line.
‘You go into an Olympic stadium and you feel an energy and it’s all an interpretation,’ he says. ‘You can feel it as pressure which will probably help you implode or you can view it as inspiration because inspiration is energy as well.’
‘I explain to the athletes that everybody there wants to see you succeed,’ he adds. ‘Even who you perceive as your competition wants you to succeed because they want to beat you at your best and you want to beat them at their best. So everybody is really in your corner, even the judges.’
If Louganis, now 52, wants to see his Olympic medals, he has to visit them at the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida where they are on display.
To make the collection complete, he had to borrow one of the medals from Jeanne White whose late son, Ryan White, became a national poster child for HIV/AIDS in the United States in the late 1980s after being expelled from middle school because of his infection.
‘It’s been so many years, people have forgotten who Ryan White was in our history,’ Louganis laments. ‘He was my buddy.’
Louganis announced that he was HIV-positive in the mid-90s and has long been an outspoken HIV awareness and LGBT equality advocate.
He warns young people about the dangers of unprotected sex and tells them he would not wish the daily drug regiment he must maintain on anyone. He says he must swallow a lot of pills and the side effects can be unpleasant.
But Louganis is happy to see the progress being made on the gay marriage front in the US with President Barack Obama publicly endorsing marriage equality in late April.
"It was about time. It’s great.’ he says. ‘We do look to our leaders for their views.’
‘The thing about gay marriage, it used to illegal for whites to marry blacks. Love is love whether it’s between different races or the same sex,’ he adds. ‘Anyone who is gay is going to tell you they were born that way. This is who I am and it’s just a part of who I am. It’s not a lifestyle, it’s not a choice, it’s just a part of who I am.’