Olympic gold medalist speaks of winning philosophies with diving club families

Readers note: This story was amended on Thursday, Jan. 30, to reflect the correct name of Lucy Roberts, a member of the Tualatin Hills Dive Club.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis speaks to junior divers from the Tualatin Hills Dive Club about how he dealt with fear when competing.Bravery. Skill. Poise. Dedication.

Those who remember Greg Louganis’ stunning performances in the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games are likely to associate the diver with those and similar words.

When the four-time gold medalist spoke to a group of junior divers and parents with the Tualatin Hills Dive Club on Monday afternoon, however, Louganis focused more on his experiences with fear and embarrassment, along with the cure-all of laughter.

Addressing a crowd of about 200 in the bleachers of the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District’s Aquatic Center at 15706 S.W. Walker Road, a robust-looking Louganis — donning a casual navy blue blazer and jeans and sporting a head of sculpted, steely-gray hair — shared the humiliation he felt after hitting his head on a springboard during a preliminary competition in TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis thanks the junior divers from the Tualatin Hills Dive Club for singing happy birthday to him at the Tualatin Hills Aquatic Center.

“That was a rough day at the office,” he recalled on Monday, two days before his 54th birthday. “I was thinking, ‘Oh, my God, how am I supposed to get out of the pool without anybody seeing me,’ because I was so embarrassed. I was supposed to be a pretty good diver at the Olympic Games. Pretty good divers don’t do things like that, right?”

With trainers tending to his head injury, coach Ron O’Brien left the decision to Louganis whether to continue the competition or call it a day.

“I turned to him and said, ‘I’ve worked too long and hard to get here,’ “ he said. “I didn’t want to give up without a fight.”

Back up on the board, Louganis recalled the crowd’s reaction when the specific dives, a series of reverse pikes and twists from one-and-a-half to three-and-a-half turns, came over the loudspeakers.

“I could hear an audible gasp from the audience,” he said. “They were scared and so was I. My heart was pounding outside my chest, so I pounded on my chest and took a deep breath.”

The bit of spontaneous, self-deprecating showmanship broke the tension in the air — for all involved, it seemed.

“Everybody chuckled in the audience because they saw that,” Louganis recalled. “Then I started laughing. The thing that really took a lot of the power out of that feeling was laughter.”

Louganis spoke to the dive club as part of his visit during the Washington County Visitors Association-sponsored annual Sports Summit. As part of the event, he had addressed local sports and tourism industry officials earlier on Monday at the Nike World Headquarters on Southwest Jenkins Road.

Widely considered to be the greatest diver off all time, Louganis earned 47 national titles. He first hit the big leagues at age 16, when he placed second in the tower event, behind Klaus Dibiasi from Italy, at the 1976 Summer Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada. He went on to become the only male competitor to sweep both the 3-meter and 10-meter diving events in consecutive Olympic Games in 1984 and 1988, pulling in five Olympic TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Cydney Fellows,12, of Beaverton has her picture taken with Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis by her dad, John, at the Tualatin Hills Aquatic Center.

In 1984, Louganis received the Amateur Athletic Union’s James E. Sullivan Award for outstanding achievements, and was inducted the following year into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame. “Breaking the Surface,” Louganis’ 1995 autobiography, spent five weeks atop the New York Times’ best-seller lists.

Taking questions from the dive club audience, Louganis shared his love of dance and gymnastics and his equal-opportunity devotion to practicing all diving styles during his prime years. He admitted that spinning and yoga sessions have come to replace any regular diving routine and confessed that a desire for parental acceptance fueled his athletic passions.

“I dived for my dad’s approval,” Louganis said. “My motivation came from a very desperate place. I thought if I didn’t dive well, I wasn’t deserving of love.”

With time, Louganis came to love the sport on its own merits. He also came to realize he didn’t need gold medals to be a winner at home.

“My mom is the person who taught me what unconditional love is. If I felt afraid, I realized that no matter what happened, my mother still loves me,” he said.

Rather than role models per se, Louganis, who coaches diving near his residence in Fullerton, Calif., said he saw his mother, his coaches and teammates as deep sources of inspiration he drew upon as he trained and competed throughout his career.

“We had an incredible team,” he said. “All I had to do was look at what the team was doing (when we were) having an incredible workout. It really motivated me to try to stay focused.”

Rather than perfection, Louganis said he strove for satisfaction on his own terms.

“I looked at it like, ‘Was I as successful as I could be,’ and not focus on perfection. I was always trying to be as successful as I could be at that moment in time.”

As the question-and-answer session concluded, Jim McElhinny, director of park and recreation services, led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to Louganis, who turned 54 on Wednesday. Following a standing ovation, Louganis moved to the conference room across from the pool area to sign autographs.

Tualatin Hills Dive Club member Lucy Roberts, 16, was a bit overwhelmed as Louganis signed her backpack and an enlarged picture of the champion she brought from home.

“I was a little starstruck,” she said, noting she’d watched

Louganis’ gold-medal dives on YouTube.

Was she impressed? “Yes, very,” she said.

Roberts, who practices with the club six days a week at the Aquatics Center, said laughing in the face of fear was the part of Louganis’ speech she most enjoyed.

“I think that’s a really good way to look at fear,” she said. “And I need a new way.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis poses for pictures with junior divers from the Tualatin Hills Dive Club.

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