Study Guide

Greg Louganis (Breaking the Surface) in Olympics Books

By Various Authors

Greg Louganis (Breaking the Surface)

Skull of Steel

Greg, can we be friends? You probably throw killer dinner parties, have awesome friends, and can teach us how to tango. (He did get his start in dance, after all.)

Also, Greg Louganis seems like a really, honestly, no-kidding, super-nice guy. Based on Breaking the Surface, he's a humble but brave dude who hates confrontation but will stand up for what he thinks is right.

Yeah. Like Mary Poppins, he sounds practically perfect in every way.

Born in 1960 and then adopted as an infant by his parents, Greg was no stranger to adversity in his childhood. Being half-Samoan made him different from all the blond, blue-eyed Californians he went to school with, and his dyslexia and subsequent troubles in school made him an easy target for bullies. Add in the fact that he was naturally drawn to theater and dance, and the poor kid never stood a chance with those closed-minded tormentors.

His father was distant and only interested in his diving abilities, but Greg's saving grace, biggest supporter, and provider of unconditional love was his mom. He credits her for many of his achievements, and throughout the book expresses some serious gratitude towards the woman who was always there for him:

When I asked her what she thought of the play she said, "The only criticism I have is that you aren't onstage enough." That's Mom. […] Later, several of the cast members came up to me and said, "We know why you're so nice. You'd have to be, with a mother who's so supportive and nonjudgmental." (Breaking the Surface)

Besides being a major mama's boy—and there's nothing wrong with that—Greg Louganis is basically the greatest diver of all time. He's the only guy to ever sweep both the 3m and 10m diving events in consecutive Olympic Games ('84 and '88), and he's won five total medals, including a silver when he was sixteen.

When we were sixteen we were just learning how to cure pimples with toothpaste.

In addition to his Olympic accomplishments, he's also won five World Championship titles and forty-seven national titles, more than anyone else in U.S. history. (Source)

Have fun chasing that record, Michael Phelps!


And yet, when you hear of Greg Louganis being referenced these days, it's usually because of his horrible dive in 1988…when he smacked his head on the springboard on the way down.

Images of the moment it struck the board were all over the TV when it happened, and it was hard to avoid the graphic replays that were displayed on just about every news station. Luckily, he wasn't gravely injured (people have died from the same type of accident), and he went on to complete his next dive…and then win the Gold Medal the next day.

We repeat: he went on to win the Gold the day after he smashed his head.

And that head-smack wasn't even the worst thing about that period of Louganis' life. Just before he left for the 1988 Olympic Games, he had been diagnosed with HIV. His longtime partner (an abusive scumbag who had cheated on him regularly) had also been diagnosed as HIV positive. Suddenly, Greg's world was reeling.

In Breaking the Surface, Louganis' struggles with his own sexuality, abusive relationships, and HIV-positive status take precedence over all the tales of his athletic prowess. So when he relates the story of how he hit his head, he was less worried about losing (he has a surprisingly healthy sense of sportsmanship) and more concerned that he could've somehow inadvertently infected his fellow competitors by bleeding in the pool.

By the end of the book, Greg has regained a life in which he has control over his own situation—romantically, with his health and his career—and he seems pretty happy. Which, if you ask us, is only fair. He really seems like such a nice guy.