Visualizing Success: Olympic Diver Greg Louganis
Jim Provenzano | April 10, 2006
The last time Greg Louganis dove in public was at New York City's Gay Games IV in 1994, where he performed a few exhibition dives at the aquatics events. "It was all in fun, and [it was] where I came out," he says. Already out to friends, family, and others, Louganis knew it was time to do more. The media had already been practically outing him. Of that, Louganis says, "I got a lot of criticism for not coming out sooner."
Olympic diving legend Greg Louganis will co-host "A Night of 100 Champions" in Chicago April 22
In diving, one main goal is to make the smallest ripple upon impact. Conversely, Louganis' coming-out made quite a splash. His autobiography, Breaking the Surface (written with Eric Marcus), became a bestseller. In it, his numerous struggles outside of diving, from his addictions to the revelation of being HIV-positive, struck a chord for many readers.
An Olympic silver medalist at age 16 at the 1976 Olympics, Louganis won world championships, and is the only diver to win consecutive double medals (in 1984 and 1988).
Now once again a supporter of the Gay Games as an ambassador, Louganis will co-host "A Night of 100 Champions," a gala fundraiser to be held at Chicago's Soldier Field Cadillac Club on April 22. Renowned LGBT athletes and early organizers of the LGBT sports movement will be honored. Receptions with athletes and other celebrities will raise funds and awareness for Chicago 2006 Gay Games, to be held July 15-22.
A year after his Gay Games IV splash, Louganis dove in front of a more private audience at the University of Southern California for the Make a Wish Foundation, when a sick child (who has since recovered) asked to see Greg dive one more time.
Louganis' book still touches people around the world, years after he retired from diving. His fan mail comes from all over the world. (Breaking the Surface has been translated into several languages.) Louganis' story was also made into a TV movie starring Mario Lopez.
Louganis says many athletes thanked him at book signings. But as for coming out while competing, Louganis says it's still going to be difficult for gay athletes. "You need the support of your team. It would be hard without that. In individual sports it's easier, since you're relying on yourself to perform. You don't need to have somebody watching your back."
Even the celebrated coming-out of basketball star Sheryl Swoopes has its limits in countering homophobia, Louganis says, because "for male athletes, there is a difference. Straight men are so intimidated by gay men."
In the sport of swimming, at least, sponsors are gay-friendly, having continued support of fellow diver David Pichler after he came out. "Well, who's Speedo's market?� Louganis asks. "It's not straight men, and thank God for that!"
After his Olympic glory, Louganis returned to his earlier dance and theater training, performing with Dance Kaleidoscope in Indianapolis, and in New York in the off-Broadway gay comedy Jeffrey. He also toured in Dan Butler's one-man show, The Worst Thing You Could Have Told Me, about coming out and being gay.
Louganis calls this experience "very empowering," and compared his nightly jitters to "the longest 10-meter dive ever. You hit the stage and don't know where to land. I couldn't believe the feeling."
In returning to acting, Louganis conquered yet another obstacle. Because he is dyslexic, working with an entire script proved daunting. "It's still hard for me to pick up words from a page and put the letters in the right order," he says. Using a tape recorder allowed his imagination to go through the stories as he recorded the script several times.
The visualization process Louganis uses goes back to his earliest childhood days as a tap dancer. For diving, Louganis says he used the memory of his mistakes – like hitting his head on the diving platform at the 1988 Olympics – to focus on preventing them. He credits his coach Ron O'Brien for having what he calls "a meticulous skill to see the dives," and help steer a diver toward the perfection the sport demands.
The competition Louganis focuses on these days is at dog shows, like the AKC Nationals. The finals took place in Tampa, Fla., this past January. Louganis' Jack Russell terrier Nipper placed 7th in the finals.
Louganis' love of dogs led to his co-writing For the Life of Your Dog. He now owns two Jack Russell terriers and a border collie.
He also helps dog trainers use the visualization techniques he learned from dance and diving. During his athletic training, "Sports psychologists would come to us and say, 'Have you tried mental imagery?' I'd been doing that for years."
His technique didn't include "imagining perfection," which is what some coaches called for. But Louganis achieved perfection anyway, just differently. "I visualized what could go wrong, and how to make it right," a technique that's helped him on and off the diving board.
Jim Provenzano is the author of the novels PINS and Monkey Suits. Read more sports articles at www.sportscomplex.org
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