Greg Louganis is Still Sexy AF at 57

Greg Louganis

At 57, Greg Louganis is an activist in love, diving into career number three (or four!), and showing kids around the globe that you can be LGBTQ (or HIV-positive) and still have the best life ever.

I’m not a sports person. It’s not that I didn’t want to be athletic. In high school, I swam, ran track, and played volleyball for a hot minute, but I wasn’t really good at any of it. So I became a mat maid, ball girl, and statistician for the boy’s wrestling, tennis, and baseball teams, respectively. It turns out I’m a much better fluffer than I am an athlete. 

But I spent the summer of 1984 sitting on a sofa with my friend Deawn glued to the summer Olympics. Largely that was because McDonald’s had this promotion going called “When the U.S. Wins, You Win,” and when you bought food you got a scratcher ticket with the name of an Olympic event on it. If America won, you won free food. The whole thing went down in history as one of the biggest marketing blunders ever. Russia boycotted the Olympics that summer, and Americans won a lot of Olympic medals. I ate a Big Mac at least once a day, usually twice, every day for a few fat-happy weeks.

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Louganis dives off the 10-meter platform in Mission Viejo in 1978 


That summer, champion diver Greg Louganis — who had won a silver medal as a 16-year-old at the 1976 Montreal Olympic games — was 24. But on my TV screen, he still looked baby-faced and shyly beautiful, a tanned California boy who was both rock hard and lithe, his Samoan-Swedish features almost masculine but without a visible pore on his lovely, youthful face.

Rolling Stone’s Tracy O’Neill perhaps best described what he looked like flying through the air back then. “His best dives represent controlled chaos — his arms floating up so that his body forms a cross, a brief flutter, and then, with Balanchine’s abrupt veering between slow and quick motion, a sudden leap through the elements: the earth of the board, a sky-pricking pinnacle and one, two, three-and-a-half tumbles, all before his outstretched body penetrated the water like a javelin,” she wrote.

In 1984, Louganis won gold medals in both the springboard and the platform — something no Olympic diver had done since 1928 — with record scores that towered above his competitors. It was clear to everyone that the teen prodigy had matured into one of the greatest athletes in diving history. He was even honored with the Sullivan Award, granted to America’s best amateur athlete.

My friend Jim, a lifeguard and swimmer a few years older than me, saw something more than an amazing athlete when he looked at Louganis. He saw a young closeted gay man like himself. It would take a few years to put a name on it, and another decade before Louganis would admit it to the world. 

By then, Jim had died of AIDS complications, and Louganis was HIV-positive. Many of our friends, both Louganis’s and mine, passed away around us over the next decade.

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Husband Johnny Chaillot, left, and Louganis hug and ham it up at on the ESPY Awards’ red carpet. 


Today, younger athletes like Michael Phelps may dominate Olympic coverage (and get more sports trivia callouts). But consider this: Louganis took home five medals (four of them gold) from three Olympic Games. If he had been allowed to compete in Russia in 1980 (the year America boycotted the Moscow games), it’s likely he’d need an even bigger mantle.

With more than a dozen additional awards (including world championships) under his belt, Louganis remains the most decorated diver in U.S. history. He was the first diver in an international competition to receive perfect 10 scores from all seven judges. He was the first to receive 700 points in both diving events in the same Olympics.

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Greg, as grand marshal, and Chaillot,  wave to the crowd at the 128th Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif.


Today, Louganis is more than an Olympian. His coming out memoir, Breaking The Surface, was a New York Times bestseller that became a film of the same name. He’s a philanthropist, speaker, and activist. He’s become a beacon of hope for LGBTQ youth. Does he ever think, wow, I’ve had an amazing life, I can just coast now?

“No, there is always something to challenge yourself,” he says. “That is why it is important to make trips to places like Russia, and other places that are in desperate need of education.”

Last year, when Cheryl Furjanic’s documentary about Louganis’s life, Back on Board, was shown at an LGBT film festival in Russia, Louganis did an hour-long Q&A session at a local bar. The athlete-turned-activist wanted to be there, to offer guidance to young people in Russia who, he says, still believe that their country, too, will evolve on LGBT rights and same-sex marriage. He told The Advocate’s Lucas Grindley late last year that Russia’s anti-LGBT atmosphere “kind of trickles down into other kinds of social issues,” including the skyrocketing HIV rates. Official reports suggest Russia represents two-thirds of all the HIV cases in Europe. Louganis thinks the rates are even higher. “I think a lot of the numbers that they have are just guesstimates.”

Back in the U.S., Louganis has never been one for sitting around. Even after he moved away from diving, he took to writing, and then dog competitions, and eventually back to diving as a trainer and coach. He’s helped the next generation of divers win at numerous championships, including the recent Olympics. And when he’s offered a chance to dive for charity with younger guys, he generally has gone speedo-to-speedo with them and continued to shine.

When Louganis and the U.K.’s diving Olympian, Tom Daley, headlined an event called Last Dive — in which they did a synchronized platform dive off the iconic tower from which Louganis once trained with legendary coaches Ron O’Brien and Sammy Lee in Mission Viejo, California — just before the tower was torn down — the duo had perfect and stunningly beautiful form.

Louganis got to really show his stuff last year, as well, posing nude for the ESPN body issue; naked and flying through the air and water like he was born there. When the issue hit stands, it was clear he out shined athletes 20 years younger than himself, in part because his body is as amazing as it was 40 years ago.

“At first it was very nerve-racking,” Louganis says about getting naked to dive in front of a camera. “But the crew were so professional it felt safe and was rather exhilarating.” (He’s the kind of guy that still blushes when you tell him his body remains very much on fleek.)

Like many of his fellow long-term survivors, Louganis — who has been HIV-positive nearly 30 years now — has had his ups and downs with treatment.

“I think having been diagnosed in 1988, I have been on every treatment possible,” he says. That includes taking part in a number of research studies and clinical trials.

“The double-blind test studies grew too emotionally uncertain to me that it was not a good thing for me,” he admits.

And, like many, he struggled with side effects and switching meds, too.

“I did go off my meds for quite a while once the protease inhibitors came along. The side effects and dosages were very difficult to adhere to. I dropped to 11 T cells and a viral load in the millions. I felt fine, but I knew I had to do something.”

Eventually finding the right provider, someone who was also HIV-positive, made all the difference in his treatment, he says.

“I found a wonderful doctor who was about the same age and diagnosed around the same time. We could speak candidly about every aspect — resistances as well as livability of the treatments.”

And, if the ESPN shots weren’t proof, Louganis adds that his health is very good now. “For quite a while now, I have been viral load undetectable and my T cells have never been higher. There are still meds I am resistant to, but my regimen has been tolerable and relatively easy to manage.”

That health has afforded Louganis a chance to see a career resurgence of sorts, a second (or third of fourth) act.

“I have had so many varied experiences after my retirement from my sport,” Louganis admits, including acting (primarily in theater), training dogs, and competing in dog obedience and agility competitions. Each offered him “a certain amount of success. I never really stayed idle. I just got very much involved with a lower profile sport with my dogs — the reason my second book was a canine care book, For the Life of Your Dog, with Betsy Siino. If my calendar isn’t filled, I fill it.”

Last year, after Back on Board came out, Louganis admits he had a “resurgence of recognition,” for which he thanks the film’s producers Cheryl Furjanic and Will Sweeney. 

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Louganis finally gets his Wheaties box.

 

That recognition included a long overdue honor. After fans launched a social media campaign, General Mills put Greg Louganis on the Wheaties box. It was the type of sponsorship straight Olympians (like Mary Lou Retton) got all the time, and something that fans thought should have been offered Louganis back in 1984. It never was, in large part because he was gay. Numerous athletes, from Retton to Mia Hamm to Michael Jordan (who’s appeared on the Wheaties box 18 times), graced the cereal box in the decades Louganis waited for his turn. 

“I know many people’s reaction was ‘it was about time,’ he says. “But in my view, I felt it meant more now than it would have then. I feel I am being embraced and celebrated as a whole person and not just an athlete.”

Louganis was also celebrated as one of three grand marshals for the 128th Tournament of Roses Parade in California, alongside swimmer Janet Evans and sprinter Allyson Felix, two other Olympic medalists. The 2017 parade was themed “Echoes of Success,” which the Rose Parade committee said, “tells the story of how our character has developed through the selfless contributions of others and celebrates their inspirational gifts. It is a celebration for those people, institutions and organizations that help in the success of others.”

Detailing their vision of what success means, the parade organizers added, “Our successes are unique to each of us. Success is not gauged by the final score, not by how much wealth we accumulate and should not be weighed against the accomplishments of others. Success is measured by our own personal satisfaction in knowing that we achieved our utmost by doing our best when facing challenges. But success cannot be achieved alone. We need the support and influences of others. Family, teachers, friends, and coaches contribute to our success. The cheering section at the finish line. The hospital volunteers. The teacher who stays after school to help a struggling student. The parents who drive to all of the soccer games. The little sister who says, ‘You can do it.’ These influences in our lives, these people of selfless commitment, these ‘Echoes of Success’ make us who
we are.”

 Back when Louganis was first diagnosed (and not expected to live past his 30s) it would have been hard for him to imagine that someday — if he just took his antiretrovirals and kept his immune system in check — he’d live to become the first out gay (and out HIV-positive) grand marshal in the storied parade.

“Being a diver, who is out and open about my sexual identity, married — celebrated three years this past October to my husband — I think it is amazing to be a part of the 2017 Rose Parade’s ‘Echo’s of Success,’” he acknowledges.

Leading a parade that is an American institution less than a decade after same-sex marriage was legalized and mere decades after gay sex was decriminalized, isn’t lost on him.

“I guess [what this means] to me — for every LGBTQ youth and contemporary, that you can do and be a part of anything, giving hope to those who may be struggling,” he says. “Now is the time that we all come together — Indigenous people, Muslim, women, Jews, loving Christians, as well as people of color, and LGBTQ people — to come together and support each other and to protect our environment for the generations to come.”

Louganis and his husband turned out to be unexpected stars on TV and social media the day of the Rose Bowl. It’s one of many great days the athlete is having in 2017. 

He’s also launching an active wear line, beginning with swimwear for young, body-conscious athletes.

“The design is a rather niche market for the bathing suit,” he admits, “but I have bigger plans as I get older. I want to stay active, so we have many plans and designs coming down the pipeline to this new venture. I want to focus on health, wellness, staying active, and of course stylish.”

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Louganis, Chaillot, and their Jack Russell Terrier, Nipper, with Back on Board producer/director Cheryl Furjanic at DOC NYC.


At 57, Louganis is finally, officially, a brand. And that means speaking engagements and writing (next up: an autobiographical musical titled Hero), as well as traveling, fundraising, and the occasional awards gala. Last fall, he was given the Changemaker Award from AIDS Service Center NYC. The organization (which just changed its name to The Alliance for Positive Change) helps New Yorkers living with HIV stay housed, healthy, and self-sufficient. (Last year’s 25th anniversary gala also honored New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and attorney Joseph Saltarelli.)

As a kid, Louganis says his mom told him he should strive to leave every place he went better for his having been there. That’s a lofty goal, even for a man used to soaring 33 feet in the air. But it’s one Louganis says he is doing his best to reach. 

For one thing, this long-term survivor has always been accessible to fans, youth, LGBT, and HIV-positive folks. It’s more than just important to him. It’s a mission.

He’s been particularly open to people with HIV, and young queer and trans people. It weighs a bit on him, the responsibility he has as a
role model. 

Louganis says, he can only speak to his own truth. But the truth is, he does more. He shows up. Louganis told NewNextNow that “the hardest for me is I have a lot of guys who just seroconverted and they’re scared. I get a lot of that. I’ve gone to a number of their doctors’ appointments when they’re talking treatment options, because I’ve been on just about everything. It’s been 25 years. I just share my experience. I don’t know anything else. I’m not a doctor or anything else, but I can be there for support. It’s tough enough to get the news, but then when your doctor is trying to discuss treatment options it just like you don’t have a clear mind. You’re not even listening, probably.”

Louganis is surprisingly still a bit youthful and innocent despite those periods he went through being closeted, scared to tell anyone he was gay or HIV-positive; years he struggled with alcohol, abusive boyfriends, and low self-esteem. He wants to make sure his influence — speaking his truth and being open to the world — means eventually other young people won’t go through what he did.

“Secrets can be very isolating,” Louganis admits. “And I have learned, by being as authentic as I can be and sharing my journey, it not only has been freeing, but it has had a positive impact for [other] people who can just be themselves — to live a life that’s open to possibilities.”  

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