Tony Guadagnino is a marketing consultant. Located in New Jersey, his clients are based across the country, focusing on social media to build their presence on the internet. He studied creative writing in college and is currently working his first novel on the subject of bullying. He lives with his partner Mark.
This year, the Summer Olympics will be taking place in Tokyo, beginning July 24th and ending August 9th. Over the years, there have been a lot of gay athletes who have participated in the Summer Olympics. From now until the Olympics, I plan to highlight those who stole our hearts, whom we cheered on, who took home medals of being the Best of the Best, and who are a part of the LGBT Community.
If I were to say the words ‘Gay Olympian,’ the first to come to mind is 1984 and 1988 Gold Medalist Greg Louganis. Greg became an innovator of the LGBT community upon his “coming out” in 1994 (though many of us in the community already suspected). His brave step to coming out, and announcing his HIV status, empowered many people to come out to family and friends. He deserves to receive the first dedication in this series.
Greg Louganis first began his first steps into athleticism as a dancer and gymnast at just 18 months. At the age of nine, he was able to use his gymnastics moves to switch over and enter the world of diving. At a junior competition, he caught the eye of former Olympian diver, Dr. Sammy Lee. Having won the Gold Medal in 1948 and 1952, Dr. Lee saw real potential in young Greg and immediately took him under his wing. At the age of 16, Greg was a participant in the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics, receiving the Silver Medal for 10m Platform diving. He was labeled the “one to watch” in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow; however, the American boycott of the Olympics benched him and all other athletes from participating. He’d have to wait another four years to become an American icon.
At the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, Greg was the favorite to win the Gold Medal, and he ended up walking away with two of them in 3m Springboard and 10m Platform. Suddenly, Greg Louganis became a household name, and endorsements deals were starting to come his way, in particular, Speedo. He was the face of the company of swimwear from 1984 through 2017.
At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Greg was again the favorite, expected to take home more gold medals and continue to represent the United States in the swimming pool. However, during the preliminary rounds, disaster struck for Greg when he banged his head on the springboard. Having given himself a concussion, the teams’ doctor wanted him to heal; however, determined to show the world how strong and courageous he was, Greg completed the preliminary rounds and ended up earning the highest score in the qualifying rounds. The Summer Olympics concluded with Greg winning another two Gold Medals, and being named “Athlete of the Year for 1988” by the now-defunct ABC’s Wide World of Sports.
The head injury may not have been severe, but it put Greg in a panic. What everyone did not know at the time was that six months beforehand, Greg had been diagnosed with HIV. At the time, when the world was just learning of the disease, his doctor treated his head without gloves, and droplets of his blood had floated in the pool water. Internally, Greg was “paralyzed with fear” (as he said), fearing that someone could get infected. Nobody caught the disease, as the blood had been fully diluted by the pool water, and chlorine is powerful enough to kill HIV.
Since the 1990s, Greg Louganis has been an advocate for the LGBT Community; he has spoken publicly about his HIV status. He has become a pioneer of “Out and Proud Athletes” and accepted many awards over the years for his advocacy. The 1990s was also a transformational decade for Greg, as he changed careers from athlete to actor, and co-starred in several TV shows and movies (and Broadway).
Greg Louganis was not the first Gay Olympian; however, he was the first in today’s pop culture to come out with grace and dignity. Greg continues to inspire and teach children that it’s ok to be gay and dream of being an athlete. He continues to inspire, and he will continue to do so for generations to come.
Greg Louganis, thank you for all you have done.