Interview with Greg Louganis: "Phelps is the best because he is blessed"
One of the greatest Olympians of all time, Greg Louganis, spoke with Sportskeeda about his own success in Olympic Games, the Rio Olympics 2016 and the phenomenon of water sports, Michael Phelps.
The legendary diver won lots of gold medals during the decades of 70's and 80's in 3m Springboard and 10m Platform: four in 1988 Seoul and 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games (two in each tournament), five in World Championships and six in Pan American Games are among them.
NBC Sports features him in the 24th place on the list of the top 100 Olympic Athletes, while Fox Sports includes him in the Top 15. He was inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame in 1985 and the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1993.
Currently, Louganis is a mentor for the US Olympic diving team and guided them at the London 2012 Olympics (1 gold medal, 1 silver, 2 bronze) and the Rio 2016 Olympics (2 silver medals, 1 bronze).
Here’s an excerpt from the interview.
You have won tens of gold medals, including four in three different Olympic Games, two golds in Seoul 1988, two golds in Los Angeles 1984 and one silver in Montreal 1976. Which medal was the sweetest for you?
Each one was different and had different meanings in the various stages of my life.
Which of the three Olympic tournaments, in which you participated, did you enjoy the most?
All four experiences of making the Olympic Teams were enjoyable for different reasons. The first was when I was in High School, a teenager, 16, so I hung out with the Soviet Team as they were closer to my age. We had water balloon fights around the Village, and pulled pranks on other coaches and athletes; I was doing what kids do.
In 1980, I think we were all devastated knowing we would not have the opportunity to go to the Olympics even though we qualified for the US Team. 1984, was amazing, being in my own backyard and competing in the Olympics with friends and family in the stand.
Even though the Eastern Block countries weren't there, my competition was there, China, so I felt gratified doing as well as I did in that Games. In 1988, there were a whole lot of other factors leading into that Olympic Games, as I was diagnosed HIV POZ six months prior.
The Chinese had caught up to me by that point and it was an emotional challenge to hang on to my titles.
Olympic Games are considered something of a sanctuary. What kind of spirit have you spotted in an Olympic Games competition that no other tournament, World Championship or Pan American Games, had?
I think resilience comes to mind, as having to adjust very quickly for success in various situations and environments, because the Olympics is such a media circus, filled with expectation and many distractions.
You are the only man to sweep the springboard and platform event at consecutive Olympics. What was your secret?
My coach Ron O’Brien and I made an incredible team to have challenging goals and our preparation to be in the best place possible for success.
You had a shocking accident in Seoul Olympics 1988, but that didn't prevent you from going through and winning the gold medal. Was your passion for your sport the main reason for overcoming this obstacle?
It was what I knew and what I was trained for, “The show must go on,” in sickness or injury. It was pretty much how I was programed.
What has impressed you the most in Rio Olympics 2016 in your sport, diving, water sports and generally?
I love the stories that come out about various athletes, having an out and open couple divers competing in the Olympics, a barrage proposal of two of the divers from China, and the challenges and triumphs of the process of the Olympic Games. Then, of course, the difficulty of dives is impressive.
Diving is not a very popular sport but it is known to many people thanks to you. Why do you think it is hard stars to be born in diving?
The focus on diving seems to have gone back to just being covered once every four years. While I was diving, the networks were eager to cover the sport, as it was good TV with the Soviet Divers and me and then the Chinese divers later, to see who would prevail in completion which made for good broadcasting.
Diving is different from swimming but water is the common element between the two sports. Why in your opinion swimming is more popular? Is it because most people swim rather than dive?
Yes, it is easier to have the numbers in a sport like swimming, whereas diving is a more specialize skill set, like gymnastics. Both have the technical aspects to be really good, but in diving, you just don’t have the numbers training in most cultures than you do in swimming.
How could you explain the phenomenon of Michael Phelps?
Michael is of course very dedicated athlete and works hard, but also is a physical anomaly that allows him to be as fast as he is in the water. To be blessed with that physical ability and mental persistence is so rare to see in a sport, which I feel makes him amazing!
Do you think that the fact that Phelps has won the most medals than any other athlete in Olympic Games is enough to consider him as the greatest Olympian of all time?
I think Michael’s records speak for themselves, but it isn’t really fair to compare his sport to others, like Gymnastics, Diving, Shooting, Athletics, Rowing, Wrestling or Weightlifting; they all have different demands of focus and physicality.
Is Phelps a product of the advanced technology and the progress in humanity generally? Was it impossible that kind of athlete to exist in your era?
I think Michael is the very best of all that we have to offer in this day in age; the technical support as well as having been blessed with his God-given structure and drive to succeed in the sport of swimming helped him distinguish.
When you came out, many shifted focus from your incredible talent to your sexual orientation or health problem. What led you to eventually come out, and what do you think of the positive impact of this?
That was my own personal journey of acceptance of myself. I think overall it helped other younger athletes and nonathletes to accept themselves for who they are. I have been approached by many would have shared their courage, strength and hope stories with me, which makes me stronger; as it shows it has given others hope.
You have also starred in many movies. Which historical role in cinema would you be most keen to play?
I would love to play an Action Hero, as it would allow me a real physical challenge and utilize my skill set as a diver, gymnast and dancer.