Greg Louganis is an American Hero. The sad thing is that it has taken such a long time for many people to truly acknowledge that. Despite him being a four-time US Olympic diving champion whose many records remain unbroken today, he never always got all the acclaim and rewards that other sportsmen got just because he was gay. In this new documentary that covers focuses mainly on his more recent past filmmaker Cheryl Furjanic paints an affectionate and stirring portrait of a remarkable man who has survived more his fair share of trauma and who has come through it all with a big smile on his face.
The film starts with Louganis trying to keep the Bank off his back as financial troubles have left him somewhat high and dry (we find out at the end of the movie that it all works out very well). It then cuts back and forth covering his early diving days to his first days of retirement from the sport when the drama really seemed to get worse. What is remarkable is that right through all this from his abusive father to the blatant homophobia that dogged his career to the people in his life who just took advantage of him, a sanguine and honest Louganis shows no sign at all of anger. A few regrets maybe. Even dealing with the messy and bitter collapse of his relationship with Jim in the 1980’s who had contracted Aids, there is no hint of even a harsh word. Almost broke and now HIV positive, Louganis still supported Jim until the day he died.
Even though the Diving community shunned their greatest athlete for decades until the 2012 Olympics when he was invited to be a Mentor to the US Team, there were a handful of people like Ron O’Brien who never ever wavered in their support throughout. O’Brien coached Louganis through the years of his Olympic years and was present on the fateful day when Louganis cut his head open on the diving board with blood spilling into the pool. It was an incident that filled the closeted diver with dread especially as the doctors providing emergency care had no idea about Louganis’s condition and did not protect themselves.
It was a very emotional Louganis who told this story to Oprah on national TV years later when his memoir (a NY Times Bestseller for weeks) ‘Breaking The Surface‘ was published in 1995 and his sexuality was made public. Equally moving is when at a recent reunion he presented O’Brien with the Gold Medal that the Coach had helped him win that day.
What we see on screen is a healthy and happy 50 year-old-man. His health had deteriorated rapidly in the late 1980’s until the introduction of life-saving protease inhibitors, and his new found happiness came to him via Match.com who provided with a rather wonderful husband. Plus he has his dogs
Louganis is a disarmingly charming man but most of all he is a hero, and it seems only fitting that ‘Back On Board’ reminds exactly why.