He walked tepidly to the end of the diving board, then stopped. He contemplated in stillness, waiting. Then he sprang into action, leapt, turned, flipped, spun, pirouetted, before straightening his body and slicing into the water with the stillness of a Zen master. He kept the splash and ripples to a minimum, as if he hadn’t touched the water at all.
On any given weekday morning, during the summer of 1984, I arose in a mad dash to shut off my abrasive alarm clock which sat at the other end of the room. Its loud buzz could indeed wake the dead, and I hated it, so I tended to seize the device before it could sound its cry. I kept it across the room partly because it was so damned loud, and partly because I was forced to get up to turn it off, thus getting me out of bed. No chance for the snooze button — not that I would, who’d want to hear that racket more than once? Once standing, I had no choice but to shower, eat, and get ready for work.
During interviews, he was shy but affable. His smile conveyed warmth and earnestness. He suffered the motions of celebrity well, at least from the public’s perception. All seriousness he reserved for the diving board, where in event after event he displayed his prowess, an opportunity denied by the US’s silly boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games. In the end, he earned gold medals that summer in Los Angeles.
We loved the Olympics in our house. My mom was a big fan of track and field. I loved the pageantry of all the different countries marching in with their teams during the opening ceremonies. We did not attend any of the events, but saw all on TV, back when ABC covered the games (aka, the good old days). It was thrilling to know that the festivities occurred just up the street at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
I can’t remember how exactly I first heard of Greg Louganis. It may have been in the newspapers. I remember, though, that we had a photo book celebrating the games, which contained a page-sized portrait of him, mid-dive. The family discussed his gracefulness. When others weren’t looking, though, I took the book and stared at Greg’s photo for long stretches, until nerves forced me to change the page, fearing someone would notice the attention I gave him. I had no poker face and was bad at constructing lies on the spot. And I could not discuss the truth, not even with myself.
Greg’s poise on the springboard and grace during interviews hid the turmoil that existed in his life. I don’t think the rumors really got going until the 1988 Seoul Games, but concealing the truth of his life had became even in 1984 a full time job for him. And as he would reveal himself many years later, his closet contained brutality in the form of an abusive partner. That he won gold under those circumstances is a tribute to his talent and dedication.
My closet had no such stresses, nothing beyond the usual self-doubts and insecurities that plague the young and gay. In 1984, that meant keeping my ogling eyes to myself when the hard bodies paraded across the TV screen. But on the ride to work each morning, in the safe anonymity of the bus, I did try to catch glimpses of his body, as he stood on the springboard, preparing for another great exhibition. I wanted to see him in his tight Speedos for myself. I worked at Kaiser Hospital in Hollywood and took Line 204 to get there from South Central. It went right passed the Olympic Swim Stadium at USC, off of Vermont Avenue. As the bus rolled by, I stared, but to no avail. They built a very high wall to prevent look-sees from non-paying folks. Damn. I tried different seats on the bus, to see if the driver’s side gave a better viewing angle than the curbside, but neither yielded results.
I enjoyed the LA Games, even without going to any of the events. I met interesting tourists on the bus, mainly from Australia, who apparently liked our less-than-stellar transit system. I would have enjoyed the summer more if I hadn’t been so damned closeted. That had to wait until the 1988 Games. By that point, I was out and freely discussing my crush on Mr. Louganis. Imagine how I felt when I learned he had a teddy bear named Gar. Ah! How I swooned.
© 2012, gar. All rights reserved.