Skip to main content


At the Seoul Games, Greg Louganis seemed not quite the
invincible diver he had been four years earlier in Los Angeles.
In 1984 he had won the springboard event by an astonishing 92.10
points over his nearest rival--the largest victory margin in
Olympic diving history--and had then defeated his platform
competition by 67.41 points. Overall it was a performance, said
two-time Olympic diving champion Sammy Lee, "that I doubt will
ever be equaled. Not in my lifetime or [to a youthful reporter]

But at 28 Louganis was having problems in Seoul, and there was
some question whether he should still be regarded, as he had
been for a decade, as the greatest diver of all time. On his
ninth dive in the springboard preliminaries, a reverse 2 1/2
somersault in the pike position, he leaped nearly straight
upward, instead of propelling himself outward, and hit his head
on the board coming down. He flailed clumsily into the water,
blood pouring freely from a gash on the back of his head. Even
though he recovered to win the event, the mishap had clearly
shaken him both physically and emotionally. And as he approached
the platform competition seven days later he still wore a
protective patch over the wound.

The platform dives would be the most critical of his career, for
if he won he would become the first male diver to win gold
medals in both diving events in consecutive Olympics. (The men's
platform final will be held tonight at the Georgia Tech Aquatic
Center.) His principal platform competition would come from a
Chinese diver, Xiong Ni, who was half Louganis's age. Xiong, in
fact, was leading by three points after his final dive.

Louganis chose for his closing effort the most difficult of all
platform dives: a reverse 3 1/2 somersault in the tuck
position--known as the Dive of Death because five years earlier
Sergei Chalibashvili of the Soviet Union was killed attempting
it (his head struck the concrete platform). Louganis had
competed in that meet and had been among the horrified observers
as Chalibashvili plunged to his death. "I had a premonition," he
recalled. "I closed my eyes and plugged my ears. I knew
something terrible had happened when I felt the tower shake. I
heard screaming. I ran to the edge of the platform and saw a lot
of blood in the pool. I wanted to jump in after him, but people
were yelling, 'Don't touch him! Don't touch him!' I couldn't
watch anymore."

With the memory of that horrible moment fresh in his mind and
with his head still throbbing from his own accident, Louganis
ascended the 10-meter platform to attempt the Dive of Death. Its
degree of difficulty--3.4, compared with the 3.2 of Xiong's
final dive--would figure in his favor in the scoring. It would,
that is, with a nearly perfect dive.

The crowd at the Chamshil Indoor Swimming Pool was eerily quiet
as Louganis, approaching the final dive of his Olympic career,
prepared for the supreme effort. Ever the showman, he first
patted himself on the hips and then brushed a hand nervously
across his lips. Then he soared with all of the old power and
artistry, his taut 168-pound body knifing through the water with
scarcely a following ripple. The judges awarded him a score of
86.70. He had beaten Xiong by only 1.14 points.

Weeping in relief, Louganis collapsed in the arms of his coach,
Ron O'Brien, who had consoled him after the springboard accident
and urged him to continue. "You couldn't have written a better
script," said O'Brien. "That was the biggest dive of his career."

It was also Louganis's crowning achievement in the Olympic
Games. He had once again made history. He had also proved that
his courage in the face of uncommon stress was the equal of his
extraordinary athletic prowess, a quality that reappeared in
1994, when Louganis revealed in his autobiography, Breaking the
Surface, that he was HIV positive. As for the Seoul Games,
Louganis left as he had entered--as the greatest diver of them

COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON With his final platform dive, Louganis claimed his rightful place in history. [Greg Louganis]