Athlete Louganis Announces He Is HIV-Positive

Diver and Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis came out as gay to the public in his autobiography Breaking the Surface, announcing that he was HIV-positive as well. Louganis was the first out gay athlete to come out as HIV-positive.

Summary of Event

In his youth, Greg Louganis was ridiculed for both his ethnicity (Samoan and Swedish) and his dyslexia. His interest in dance and gymnastics fueled his classmates’ taunts, so at age nine his adoptive father enrolled him in diving classes. Louganis found great success there, and at age eleven he amazed crowds at the 1971 Junior Olympics when he scored a perfect 10 in competition. [kw]Athlete Louganis Announces He Is HIV-Positive (1995)
[kw]Louganis Announces He Is HIV-Positive, Athlete (1995)
[kw]HIV-Positive, Athlete Louganis Announces He Is (1995)
Athletes;Greg Louganis[Louganis]
Olympic Games;GLBT athletes
HIV-AIDS[HIV AIDS];and Greg Louganis[Louganis]
Sports;gay athletes
Health and medicine;AIDS virus
[c]Sports;1995: Athlete Louganis Announces He Is HIV-Positive[2420]
[c]HIV-AIDS;1995: Athlete Louganis Announces He Is HIV-Positive[2420]
[c]Publications;1995: Athlete Louganis Announces He Is HIV-Positive[2420]
Louganis, Greg

Greg Louganis.

(LAOOC, Department of Special Collections, University Research Library, UCLA)

Four years later, Louganis moved into the home of his coach, Sammy Lee, an Olympic diving gold medalist. Louganis began a disciplined training regime that helped him win an Olympic silver medal in 1976 for platform diving and a sixth-place finish in springboard.

In 1978, Louganis won the world platform title and accepted a diving scholarship from the University of Miami. A year later at the Pan-American Games, Louganis won both the springboard and platform and was the favorite to win the gold medal the following year at the Moscow Olympics. However, a U.S. boycott of the Games prevented him from competing.

In 1981, Louganis, who was majoring in theater, transferred to the University of California, Irvine, to train with coach Ron O’Brien. There he met Kevin, a fellow theater student, with whom he began a passionate relationship. However, the difficulty of keeping their relationship closeted from the public became too stressful, and they eventually ended their relationship.

The following year Louganis began a long winning streak, including milestones such as winning a perfect 10 from all seven judges in an international competition; he was the first man to win both springboard and platform in more than fifty years at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and the first to pass 700 points in both events at the Olympics.

Although his professional life was exceptional, Louganis’s personal life was riddled with extreme highs and lows. He met and fell in love with Tom Barrett, and the two quickly moved in together. Barrett soon took over Louganis’s personal and business affairs, and the relationship eventually turned abusive. Years later, Barrett became ill with AIDS; six months before the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea, Louganis was tested and discovered he was HIV-positive. He decided to keep quiet about his status, and he continued to train and compete.

In 1988 at the Seoul Olympics, leading as he went into the ninth round of the preliminaries, Louganis hit his head on the springboard, breaking the skin and causing his head to bleed. He returned thirty-five minutes later with sutures, finished the competition, then went to the hospital for stitches. He returned the next day, hitting all eleven dives and easily winning the competition.

“I was in a total panic that I might cause someone else harm,” Louganis wrote in his 1995 autobiography Breaking the Surface. Breaking the Surface (Louganis) “I wanted to warn Puffer [who treated his head injury in 1988 without wearing gloves] but I was paralyzed. Everything was all so mixed up at that point: the HIV, the shock and embarrassment of hitting my head and an awful feeling that it was all over.”

Louganis retired from competition in 1989 and turned to acting, in which he had majored in college. He most notably appeared as a chorus boy who dies of AIDS in the 1993 Off-Broadway production of Jeffrey.

Louganis eventually broke off his relationship with Barrett, who threatened to go public with Louganis’s HIV status. Barrett eventually rescinded his threat, but only after Louganis had agreed to pay all his expenses until he died. Barrett died a short time later, and Louganis decided it was time to come out as an HIV-positive and gay athlete.

In 1994, Louganis publicly declared that he was gay during a videotaped message to athletes competing at Gay Games IV in New York. His memoir, Breaking the Surface, was ultimately adapted as a television movie, in which he came out as HIV-positive. The release of his book was met with a media blitz, including an interview on the television show 20/20 in which Louganis confirmed his HIV status publicly to interviewer Barbara Walters.

Louganis has since worked for organizations supporting dyslexia and drug and alcohol awareness. He lives in Southern California.


Greg Louganis was not the first major athlete to come out as HIV-positive; tennis player Arthur Ashe Ashe, Arthur and basketball star Magic Johnson Johnson, Ervin “Magic” had done so before him. However, Louganis was the first out gay athlete to do so. In that respect, he opened a door in professional sports.

Although many were shocked by Louganis’s disclosure, it gave a new and famous face to the AIDS epidemic and renewed lagging vigilance to raise funds for AIDS research. Also, it is important to remember that Louganis achieved many of his career goals after the development of seroconverting; thus, he gave the world a positive view of living with HIV. When he made public his status in 1995, he had already been living with the virus for many years, and people benefited from being able to attach a healthy and successful image to an HIV-positive person.

Upon revealing his status, much was made in the press about his 1988 diving accident and the possibility he infected other divers. Many questioned whether or not Louganis had an obligation to notify Olympic officials of his HIV status. Ultimately, this debate brought AIDS education to the national airwaves as health care professionals discussed the unlikelihood of transmission of HIV in a heavily chlorinated pool.

This scandal only helped Louganis’s autobiography, Breaking the Surface, to the top of The New York Times best-seller list. The further admissions in his book about gay spousal abuse, addictions to drugs and alcohol, a tortured childhood, and his ultimate climb to the top of the diving world helped Americans, who had been consumed with the O. J. Simpson trial, renew their faith in an athlete who overcame great obstacles to become an American hero. Athletes;Greg Louganis[Louganis]
Olympic Games;GLBT athletes
HIV-AIDS[HIV AIDS];and Greg Louganis[Louganis]
Sports;gay athletes
Health and medicine;AIDS virus

Further Reading

  • Anderson, Eric. In the Game: Gay Athletes and the Cult of Masculinity. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005.
  • Bronski, Michael, ed. Outstanding Lives: Profiles of Lesbians and Gay Men. New York: Visible Ink Press, 1997.
  • International Olympic Committee. “Policy on HIV/AIDS.”
  • Louganis, Greg, and Eric Marcus. Breaking the Surface. New York: Plume Books, 1995.
  • Lutes, Michael A. “Greg Louganis.” In Gay and Lesbian Biography, edited by Michael J. Tyrkus. Detroit, Mich.: St. James Press, 1997.
  • Mackay, Duncan. “Gay Greg Dives into New Script.” The Observer Sport, January, 2000, 16.
  • “U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist Has AIDS.” Gay Times, April, 1995, p. 33.

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May 17, 2004: Transsexual Athletes Allowed to Compete in Olympic Games