In today’s Olympic blog I’m turning to two great Olympians who have won six Olympic Golds, one Silver and one Bronze between them, as well as numerous world titles, but whose most significant work may be away from their respective ‘fields of play’.
MONTREAL 1976, LOS ANGELES 1984, SEOUL 1988 – AND BEYOND: GREG LOUGANIS AND EDWIN MOSES
Greg Louganis is the greatest diver of all time. Ever.
In 1976, as a 16-year-old, he won a Silver Medal at the Montreal Olympics. Unable to compete in the 1980 Moscow Olympics due to the US boycott, eight years later Louganis won the ‘double gold’ for the springboard and platform at the Los Angeles games in 1984. He repeated the feat at the Seoul Olympics in 1988.
His 1988 double was made more remarkable because he did so after striking his head on the springboard in the preliminary rounds. To pull it off, he had to perform an incredibly difficult dive on his last dive from the platform to win the gold.
Unlike many outstanding athletes, Greg Louganis wasn’t wildly lauded.
He is gay. Such were the prevailing attitudes of the day, that he was forced to share a room with his coach as other competitors wouldn’t do so.
But there was more than a bleeding head and being gay that Louganis dealt with in 1988.
It wasn’t until seven years after the Seoul Olympics that Louganis revealed he had known he was HIV positive for six months prior to the games. He attracted criticism about failing to disclose this at the time but he chose not to do so because of the homophobia he had already experienced.
The fact that he could shut out the homophobia and continue to perform at a level worthy of two gold medals and ‘perfect 10’ scores is a testament to the man, his strength, his grace, his focus – and the lessons learned in his childhood. One of the reasons he took up diving was because he was ridiculed by school mates for having a stutter; he learned to shut out the ridicule by focusing on what he could achieve physically.
I’m delighted to say that Louganis is alive and well. He is a passionate and articulate activist for HIV awareness and LGBTI rights amongst sportsmen and women as well as US military personnel. I recently had the pleasure of joining him on a panel discussion at the Crossing the Line summit in Dublin.
And, slowly but surely, he’s getting the recognition he is long overdue from the broader, ‘mainstream’ American community. When an openly gay athlete has made it onto the front of the Wheaties pack, you know times are a’changing.
(So delighted were we, that SKINS supported Wheaties in its launch event. Note the #RainbowLaces!)
Edwin Moses is a man who cleared hurdles on the track and also in sporting life.
He won the Gold for the 400 metres hurdles in Montreal in 1976 and in Los Angeles in 1984 and Bronze in Seoul in 1988. So committed was Moses to the 1980 Olympic Games – that the US boycotted – he took leave from his full-time paid job the year before to prepare for the games. By the time 1980 rolled around, he was at the peak of his powers. He remained undefeated for 122 races over 9 years, 9 months and 9 days including setting the world record on two occasions and earning world titles.
It’s almost unheard of today amongst the top athletes from the major and popular sports, but 36 years ago many athletes were still ‘amateur’ in every sense of the word.
Moses saw that there was a need to change eligibility rules for athletes so they could earn a living without compromising their Olympic status. While still training and competing, he advocated for the establishment of a program that allowed athletes to earn from commercial endorsements, direct payments or other grants, and then presented it to the IOC. Moses’ plan remains the basis for the eligibility test for Olympic athletes today.
After he ran his final competitive race for Bronze at Seoul – at a personal best time – Moses forged a career in sport off-the-field, but not before one more outing in a competitive sporting arena. Would you believe he was part of a two-man bobsled crew at the 1990 world championships, where he and his partner earned a Bronze!
In 2000, Moses became the inaugural Chairman of the Laureus World Sports Academy, an association of sporting legends that uses the positive power of sport for social change, a position he held until recently.
A physicist with an MBA, Moses pioneered the development of anti-doping policies while chairing a substance abuse committee of the US Olympic Committee, and led the introduction of a system of in-competition drug testing. He is also Chairman of WADA’s education committee and Chairman of its US equivalent, USADA.
His oped in the Sunday Times last October canvassed the absolute necessity of having a truly independent anti-doping agency. He also reminded the IAAF Chairman, and fellow elite athlete Seb Coe, that their primary responsibility is to protect the “athletes who choose integrity over deception, hard work over fraudulence, and courage over cowardice.”
Edwin Moses is a phenomenal person. Not just a great athlete, but a great man who I am privileged to know through our shared passion and activism for better sports governance.