Tag Archives: Greg Louganis

The Extraordinary Gift of “Back on Board”

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Photo: louganisdoc.com

In August of this year, HBO aired a new documentary film on legendary Olympic diver Greg Louganis.  I don’t keep an active subscription to HBO; but when I read about the film, I knew that I, of all people, needed to watch it.  So I contacted my cable provider and subscribed to the premium channel; and on a weekend evening, my husband and I sat down to watch “Back on Board.”

It was Louganis’ return to diving a few years ago which caught the attention of producer Will Sweeney, who read a news article about Louganis’ new role as mentor to the 2012 US Olympic Diving Team.  In an interview with the film’s director, Cheryl Furjanic told me about the series of events which led to the making of the film:  “[Will] wondered why the best diver ever was away from his sport.  He thought that there must be a story there.  Where has he been, why was he away, and why is he back?”

It’s a question that more of us should have asked, but didn’t.  There is no name more synonymous with diving and Olympic diving than Greg Louganis.  That he virtually disappeared from his sport after retiring in 1988 should, perhaps, have been questioned sooner than it was.  When they began working on the film, Sweeney and Furjanic came across numerous people born after 1988 who had never even heard of Louganis!  “We were stunned,” Furjanic commented.  “This was surprising to us but it also made some sense–Greg really hadn’t been talked about much in their lifetimes.”

I for one hadn’t questioned his disappearance.  Instead, I assumed he’d moved on to a new chapter in his life, choosing to leave behind diving for new adventures and achievements.  After all, it’s not uncommon for Olympians to seek something different in life following years of incessant training and competition.  It is, however, less common for athletes of Louganis’ talent and accomplishments to be no longer connected to their sport.  What most of us don’t know is that aside from the numerous medals and awards, Louganis’ life has been complicated, riddled with emotional turmoil: bullying, rejection, struggle with sexual identity, financial woes, and a diagnosis of HIV.  Feeling unworthy and at times unloved, the young Louganis found solace in the somewhat isolating sport of diving, and his natural talent was quickly recognized by elite coaches who took his raw talent and molded him into the greatest diver the world has ever seen.  Yet the sport in which he excelled would also be a source of heartache.  He was discriminated against and rebuffed by those within the diving community due to jealousy, homophobia, and other irrational agendas, both during and after his years as a competitive diver.

Early in the film, Louganis repeats the question asked to him by an interviewer.  “Who is Greg Louganis?” he asks.  With a somewhat strained smile, Louganis replies, “I don’t know.”

There is no easy answer to the question.  Using no narration other than those being interviewed (including Louganis), we see for the first time other parts of his personality, particularly his extreme vulnerability and sensitivity.   Many of his personal struggles unfold in front of the camera, allowing the viewers to be a part of his journey of self-discovery—or as Furjanic says, “finding his way—and his footing—again after being a bit adrift.”

There are various themes in the film:  the longing for a home, for security, for love; the pain of rejection; and the struggle to navigate one’s way through life….I could go on and on.  The title “Back on Board” applies to many aspects of Louganis’ life, to name a few.  The title, “Back on Board” not only suggests Louganis’ return to diving; it also shows the man’s incredible resiliency.  As Furjanic says, “We…were confident that Greg’s story of resilience was so moving that our film could convey his life story while inspiring audiences at the same time.”

“Back on Board” is an invaluable record of Louganis’ competitive years.  It’s not that I totally forgot about Louganis after he retired from diving; but as time wore on, the appreciation for his talent and skill began to fade from memory.  Watching “Back on Board” brought him back to mind.  Furjanic and her team, using footage of his diving (much of it in slow motion), accompanied by music from composer Tom Rutishauser and Aaron Copeland’s “Appalachian Spring,” remind us of Louganis’ unparalleled talent and skill.  For me, it was a stark reminder of  how ethereal and otherworldly Greg Louganis was.  I’ll admit that I found myself tearing up a bit, the hair on my arms bristling, and I said to my husband, “There will never be another like him.”

As a young girl watching Greg Louganis in the Olympics, I was entertained and enthralled by his skill and accomplishments.  Now as an adult, watching these dives again evoked different feelings:  awe and reverence of that kind of natural talent, that kind of skill,, and I realized how lucky I was to have grown up watching him dive.

During the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, we’ll watch the diving and other athletes compete in their respective sports.  And there will, no doubt, be inspiring stories of athletes who have triumphed over injury and other obstacles.  “Back on Board” offers us a similar yet different story of triumph—one that occurred after the Olympian left athletic competition and worked tirelessly to pull himself up, collect the fragments of his life, and start anew.

If you will pardon the pun, there are more themes I’d love to dive into, but to do so would detract the reader from the experience of watching this beautiful documentary and coming to one’s own conclusions as to who Greg Louganis is.  “Back on Board” is a gift—a gift of extraordinary cinematography and sport history.  The manner in which Furjanic tells Louganis’ story is both heart-wrenching and inspiring.  I recommend it with enthusiasm.

(“Back on Board” first aired August 4 on HBO.  It is still available for viewing using HBO On-Demand or HBO GO and will be available for purchase in September.)

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Olympians and Reality TV a Great Match

Awhile back I wrote about those Olympians whom I’d like to see on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.”  Perhaps someone was reading my blog, because one of them ended up on the current season.  Sadly though, Dorothy Hamill was down shortly after she sprung from the starting gate, withdrawing after only one week due to a back injury.  And I’ve got to tip my hat to Ms. Hamill, because the last thing I wanted to see was another dancer’s health woes dramatized each week on the show, like those of Melissa Gilbert and Jennifer Grey.  I hope, hope,  she can heal and that producers will allow her to return to the show for a future season.

Aly and partner Mark Ballas might have danced well, but McKayla is not amused.

They might have gotten good scores, but McKayla is not amused.

After the success of Shawn Johnson (not once– but twice) on  ‘Dancing,’ it was a no-brainer to lure a member of the 2012 US Women’s Gymnastics Team to join the cast.  I’m grateful Gabby Douglas wasn’t selected, as we all suffered from her overexposure in 2012.  Aly Raisman was the obvious choice.   Although I wonder how amused McKayla Maroney was over not being selected?

Also on ABC is a new series called “Splash.”  I’ve only watched bits of it.  While ‘Dancing’ might be more entertaining for the quality of some of the dancing, “Splash” fails to match.  It’s just one giant train wreck as celebrities attempt to pull off dives.  What I do love is getting to see Greg Louganis again.  With silver streaks in his hair and a body over 50 years in age, he’s still got charm and grace–both as diver and in personality.   He even won bonus points from me for how he handled Kendra Wilkinson.

While show judge David Boudia shows incredible ease and naturalness in front of the camera, it’s still Louganis whom I’m drawn to, and probably for sentimental reasons.  If only Fox’s “Skating With Celebrities” and ABC’s “Skating With the Stars” could have produced better results.

What will be next?  Gymnastics With the Stars?  I can  just see it:  Bart Conner and Nadia Comaneci as coaches, with Mary Lou Retton and Mitch Gaylord as hosts or judges.  And we’d have to include Bela Karolyi as a judge.  He’d give Bruno Tonioli some competition as most animated and heavily accented reality TV judge.  Hey, and who wouldn’t want to see Chuy Bravo perform a bar routine?

Faster,  Higher, Stronger.

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Remembering Mark Lenzi

ImageI shouldn’t be reading the obituaries of my Olympic heroes.  I’m getting older, but not old enough yet to read of their passing.  This morning I was greeted with the news of Mark Lenzi’s death.  The two-time Olympic diver who won gold in 1992 and bronze in 1996, died yesterday in Greenville, North Carolina where he’d served as diving coach for Eastern Carolina University.  He was only 43.

Mark Lenzi didn’t follow a traditional path in becoming a two-time Olympic medalist.  He hadn’t grown up in a diving family.  He hadn’t started in gymnastics and then switched to diving.  Lenzi was a wrestler, his short build well suited to the sport.  But after watching Greg Louganis win gold in 1984, Linzi was inspired to switch sports.  Just eight years later, Lenzi was inspiring others who watched him clinch Olympic gold in 1992 on the 3-meter springboard, and again in 1996 when he came out of retirement to win a bronze at the 1996 Games in Atlanta.

In 1992 Lenzi was part of a men’s Olympic team that no longer had its anchor Greg Louganis and was struggling somewhat to find its identity.  Louganis had retired, opening the door for others to emerge, such as Kent Ferguson and Scott Donie.  Yet it was Lenzi who stole the spotlight, earning 9’s from the judges to become the 1992 Olympic Champion in men’s 3-meter springboard diving. No American male diver has won gold since.

It was Lenzi’s bronze medal in 1996, though, that perhaps is more memorable to fans.  Following his 1992 win, Lenzi retired; and like so many other athletes, he struggled with depression.  Struggled with life in a post-Olympics world once the reporters and endorsement deals disappeared.  Lenzi was very candid in discussing how he hit Imagerock bottom after the 1992 Games, and he played an active role in lobbying the USOC to set up a counseling program for ex-Olympians.  So in 1995 when he decided to return to diving, he came back for different reasons.  He wasn’t aiming for a medal, but rather for personal fulfillment.  In many ways, Lenzi’s bronze medal, his third place finish, was much sweeter than Olympic Gold four years earlier.

The world didn’t just lose an Olympic medalist with Mark Lenzi’s passing.  We lost an Olympian who truly embodied the Olympic spirit.  His determination to pull himself out of the throes of depression was inspiring to many, both athletes and fans, and it served as a reminder to me that the medal isn’t always the most important goal.  Lenzi also decided to give back to his sport, raising awareness about mental illness among Olympians and coaching divers on the collegiate level.  Lenzi may have retired from competitive diving, but he continued to give back to the sport and the international movement which helped mold him into the person he became.

Swifter, Higher, Stronger.

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Olympians I’d Like to See on “Dancing With the Stars”

Olympic Gold Medalist Apolo Ohno (right) on "Dancing With the Stars," 2007.

Let me say up front that I’m not a fan of  the American show, “Dancing With the Stars.”  I suppose I tend to be a purist and prefer Fox’s show “So You Think You Can Dance.”  Although I’m a figure skating fanatic, I wasn’t able to enjoy ABC’s “Skating with the Stars” or Fox’s “Skating With Celebrities.”  Again, let me say that I’m a purist.

Most of my friends and family watch “Dancing With the Stars,” but I just can’t get into it.  Perhaps it’s also because each season’s cast of “celebrities” never reels me in to watch.

So what would it take for me to start watching the show?  A better cast!  I tuned in a couple of times to watch Shawn Johnson and Kristi Yamaguchi.  Apparently Apollo Ohno was good, but I’ve never been a fan of his.  Olympic athletes are often make a good contestant on the show.  So I decided to come up with a dream list of American Olympians I’d like to see on the show:

1.  Bruce Jenner.  You’ve already had two Kardashians on the show.  Why not add another?

2.  Greg Louganis.  He’s handsome and was always a graceful, elegant diver.  He’s openly gay, and his selection would help diversity in casting.

3.  Mary Lou Retton.  She was a darling in 1984 and has some dance experience with her gymnastics background.  And who can resist her still-contagious smile?

4.  Dorothy Hamill.  She’s America’s Sweetheart!  And because every one will want her haircut all over again.

5.  Karch Kiraly.  What hero for the US in both indoor and outdoor beach volleyball!  It’s a no-brainer!

6. Jackie Joyner Kersee.  She can compete in six different events to make up the heptathlon, but ballroom dancing isn’t one of them.  How would she fair?

7.  Mitch Gaylord.  He’s been in the movies and “Hollywood Squares.”  He’s got his SAG card.  Let’s see if he’s still got that star quality!

8.  Carl Lewis.  He was once an aspiring dancer and singer.  And if that residency issue regarding his bid to run for NJ Senate falls through, this would be a great time filler.

9.  Mark Johnson.  There has to be a member of the 1980 Hockey Team in the cast.  It’s a requirement.

10.  Janet Evans.  Although she just emerged from retirement, this American darling of swimming will give Mary Lou Retton tough competition in the smile department.

11.  Bonnie Blair.  This is most likely a disaster waiting to happen, but she’d give it all she’s got.

12.  Tenley Albright.  There’s always an older contestant or two.  And she’s younger than Buzz Aldrin.

13.  Evelyn Ashford.  A gifted athlete who was probably a bit overshadowed by Joyner-Kersee and the late Flo Jo.

14.  Eric Heiden.  Another no-brainer.  An American hero from the 1980 Games!

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From The Olympic Fanatic Vault: Bruce Kimball and Second Chances

Article first published as Bruce Kimball and Second Chances on Blogcritics.

If you have made mistakes, even serious ones, there is always another chance for you. What we call failure is not the falling down but the staying down. – Mary Pickford, Motion Picture Actress

It was the summer of 1988.  The Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea would begin in September and the US Olympic Diving Trials were just a couple of weeks away.  The US had the potential to do quite well in Seoul.  1984 Gold Medalist Greg Louganis would be competing, as would the 1984 Platform Silver Medalist Bruce Kimball.  Diving was in Kimball’s blood:  His father, Dick Kimball, was a legendary diving coach.  The excitement among diving fans was undoubtedly palpable.

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Tarzan and the Olympic Connection

Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan.

“The public forgives my acting because they know I was an athlete. ” –Johnny Weissmuller

In today’s world, an athlete who wins Olympic medals will hear the beckoning of advertisers, talk shows, and countless others.  In the US, Americans who win Olympic medal appear on the Wheaties Cereal box, sign endorsement deals with companies such as Subway or McDonald’s, and will sit down to talk with Jay Leno or David Letterman.    They can also land guest-starring roles on television (Vancouver’s star Lindsey Vonn had a less than memorable one.).  And, many of them have tried to use their Olympic success for launching an acting career.  Carl Lewis, Greg Louganis, and Tara Lipinski have had less than successful results;  but if an Olympian can win the roll of “Tarzan,” their chances at Hollywood fame seem better!

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Greatest American Summer Olympians

Much like Memorial Day,  Independence Day  has become associated more with parades, barbecues, and picnics than its actual significance.  We often fail to stop and remember the courage which was exhibited by the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the impact of their actions.

Feeling patriotic today, I thought it would be a great time to make my list of favorite American Summer Olympians.  They are the ones whom I deem to be  Olympic Heroes.  There was no set of criteria use to make this selection, but  I did take into account the number of medals won, the adversity they might have faced, and how they carried themselves when representing the USA during the Summer Olympics.

So, to Shannon Miller, Greg Louganis, Bob Beamon, Al Oerter, Jesse Owens, John Jesus Flanagan, Patricia McCormick, Glenn Ashby Davis, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Carl Lewis, Jim Thorpe, Ray Ewry, Michael Phelps, George Eyser, Tracy Caulkins, Janet Evans, Karch Kiraly, Wilma Rudolph, Mark Spitz, and Flo Hyman, I salute you!

Swifter, Higher, Stronger.

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