Friday, June 5, 2015

Back on Board

The Cinetopia Film Festival is back. Some 70 films will be shown in 11 theaters in Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Bloomfield Township starting tonight through next weekend. I may get to about a half-dozen of them.

The one tonight was Back on Board: Greg Louganis, a documentary about the Olympic diving star of the 1980s. I knew Greg is gay (a big reason for seeing the film), but I didn't know (or had forgotten) he has been HIV positive since 1987. That was a huge concern in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. If he told anyone beyond his coach it was likely he would have been sent home. That was the games where he whacked his head on the board during a dive. He was quite concerned that he was leaving HIV infected blood in the pool. He couldn't tell the doctor who stitched him up, "Hey I'm poz, you'll want to wear gloves." And while being stitched his coach's alarm went off saying it was time for his meds.

After the Seoul games he ran into difficulties with his lover who was also his manager. Everything was in the manager's name. He led a sheltered life while training ("Here's your schedule for today.") and didn't understand how the world worked. Because of the rumors he was gay he didn't get the endorsement millions other gold medalists got.

He had a fine Malibu home. A building contractor told him the place was filled with black mold, not someone who had a compromised immune system should be around. So the place was mortgaged for the remainder of its equity. The builder demolished everything on the lower level down to the studs, then took off with the money. That left Greg with a messy house and struggling to pay the loan while being only sporadically employed.

Coming up to the 2012 games the USA Olympic diving team finally contacted him again. He was offered the job of athlete mentor. He could say this is how I got through it. He could also discuss with the athletes everything except actual coaching – Are there issues in your life? What are you going to do when you retire? Here are ways to deal with the fame (or lack of it). The movie included some of his activism and ended with scenes of his wedding to his partner.

After the movie we had a bit of Q&A with the director. She told about getting the idea for the movie and spending 3 years filming it. Then the tech team used Skype to contact Greg, who was on vacation in Hawaii, and the audience asked him a few questions.

You can read about the first half of his life in his 1994 memoir Breaking the Surface.

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