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On This Date in Sports September 19, 1988: Louganis' Near Disaster

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

American Diver Greg Louganis, who won two gold medals at the Los Angeles games, looks for a repeat in Seoul as he begins competing in the Olympic 3M Springboard. In the preliminary round, Louganis’ quest is thrown into peril when he hits his head on the ninth dive. Despite a concussion and several stitches, Louganis recovered to qualify for the final, where he won the Gold Medal again.

Greg Louganis was born in El Cajon, California, on January 29, 1960. Louganis took an interest in acrobatics and gymnastics at a young age and began taking driving lessons in his family pool at nine. Showing early talent, he came under the tutelage of Sammy Lee, a two-time Olympic Champion who won Platform Gold at the 1948 Olympics in London and the 1952 games in Helsinki. In 1976 at 16, Greg Louganis qualified for the games in Montreal and won a Silver Medal in the 10M Platform. Two years later, Louganis won his first World Championship and was expected to be a Gold Medal favorite in the 1980 games in Moscow, but he did not compete due to the U.S.-led boycott.

Four years later, Greg Louganis finally got his chance to shine at the Olympics in Los Angeles. First winning, the 3M Springboard Dive by nearly 92 points over Tan Liangde with a score of 752.37, while fellow American Ronald Merriott captured the Bronze Medal. Louganis followed that up with an equally impressive performance in the 10M Platform Dive, as he finished with 688.05 points, 86 points better than American Bruce Kimball, while Li Kongzheng of China took the Bronze.

Remaining one of the top divers in world competition over the next four years, Greg Louganis’ life away from the pool was troubled. He was in an abusive relationship with manager Jim Babbitt, who took nearly all his earnings. Shortly before he was set to repeat his double Gold Medal performance, Greg Louganis got devastating news when he tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. At the time, drugs used to slow the progression of the disease were in their first trial stages, with long-term survival prospects not looking good.

As Greg Louganis stepped on the 3M Springboard at the Olympics in Seoul, his HIV diagnosis was a closely guarded secret. Each Olympic diving event takes place over two days, with 11 dives in both the preliminary and final rounds. The preliminary round would advance the 12 divers to the final round. Louganis was near the top of the leaderboard and a safe bet to advance to the medal round. However, on his ninth dive attempting a reverse two-and-a-half pike, Greg Louganis struck the back of his head against the diving board. Grabbing the back of his head after landing, Greg Louganis quickly got out of the pool to seek medical attention, fearing that he could spread the virus. Fortunately, the chlorine and water in the pool would quickly dilute the virus, which meant no danger to the other competitors.

The following day, Greg Louganis was flawless and won the Gold Medal with a score of 730.80, finishing 25 points better than Tan Liangde of China, while Li Deliang got the Bronze Medal. After receiving a few stitches, Greg Louganis was ready to compete again and nailed the best dive of the competition on the next attempt to easily be one of the 12 divers to advance to the next round. Fully recovered, Louganis concluded his Olympic career by taking the Gold Medal in the 10M Platform, with 617.67 points to narrowly edge out Xiong Ni of China, while Mexico’s Jesus Mena took home the Bronze Medal.

Greg Louganis is regarded as the greatest diver of all time, with four Olympic Gold Medals and five overall medals. Seven years after his career ended, Louganis revealed the whole story behind his Olympic scare when he revealed his HIV status in his autobiography, “Breaking the Surface.” Since his book came out, Louganis has become an active LGBT advocate and diving instructor.