Greg Louganis: Golden Boy with a Secret
By Juliette Weiland
Greg Louganis may be the world’s greatest diver ever. Included in his long list of accomplishments are bragging rights to the first-ever scores of perfect 10s from all judges at the World Championships, and the first to take home double golds in two consecutive Olympics. And who can forget his transcendent performance at the 1988 Seoul Games when, after smacking his head on the board, he repeated the dive in a later round to capture the gold medal.
But while his achievements in the diving well are legendary, his performance in the classroom was, well, not so stellar. It turns out Louganis has dyslexia—a problem he didn’t identify until college. “I was given ‘dyslexia’ as a vocabulary word in my freshman English class,” he says. “Once I knew what dyslexia was, I recognized it.”
As a youngster, Louganis was placed in remedial reading. Because he stuttered, he also went to speech therapy along with other special education classes.
“When I was growing up I was called all kinds of names, like ‘moron.’ I thought that I was retarded.”
Embarrassed by his reading difficulties, Louganis went to great lengths to compensate. “In grade school, I always hated reading in front of other people because I made so many mistakes. So I would take the book home and memorize a few paragraphs. Then I would volunteer to read those particular paragraphs because they were memorized.”
“I can read,” he says. “It’s just very laborious.”
Diver in Training
An area in which he excelled early on was dance and acrobatics. After somersaulting and landing on his feet beginning at age three, it was hardly a leap when at age nine he began somersaulting and landing head first in a pool of water. After just two years of diving lessons, he scored a perfect 10 at the Junior Olympics. From there he soared into the diving limelight when he won his first Olympic medal—a silver at the 1976 Montreal Games. He was 16 years old.
Diving was his ticket to college. Recruited heavily, he ended up with a scholarship to the University of Miami, a perennial diving powerhouse. There Louganis majored in drama. Later, when doing a one-man show in New York, he would read his script into a recorder then listen to the recorder and imagine the story that he would be telling. “Actors are just storytellers,” he says. “And that is how I would memorize my script.” He adds, “I don’t feel as if I am disabled. I just learn differently.”
Life After Diving
Internationally, fans still marvel at Louganis’ diving prowess. In fact, on their way to diving dominance, the Chinese team studied his Olympic performances aiming to emulate the elegance, fluidity and consistency for which Louganis is famous.
Since hanging up his Speedo, Louganis has made a name for himself in other areas as well. His autobiography, Breaking the Surface became a national bestseller and was followed a few years later by For the Life of Your Dog, a guide for pet owners. In addition, Louganis has pursued an acting career with roles in theater, film, and TV, and is an outspoken advocate for issues near and dear to him including learning disabilities, gay rights, depression, HIV/AIDS and other health-related topics.
With a few breathtaking twists and turns—literally and figuratively—the child who was teased for his differences has become an adult dedicated to making a difference.