Greg Louganis is baring all—literally. The four-time Olympic gold medalist recently posed naked for ESPN magazine’s annual Body issue. The stunning shot shows Louganis leaping high on a high dive nearly 30 years after his secret HIV diagnosis shook up his Olympic dreams.
Greg Louganis was diagnosed with HIV at age 28, just six months before competing in the 1988 Olympics. Now 56, Louganis looks back on that tumultuous time in his life when he was keeping his dire health news a secret while basking in Olympic glory.
“At the time I was diagnosed, we thought of HIV as a death sentence,” Louganis told ESPN The Magazine. “I was like, ‘Well, I’m going to pack my bags and go home and lock myself in my house and wait to die.’ ”
But instead of accepting a death sentence, Louganis decided to focus on his sport—and that meant a trip to the Olympics in Korea. Greg told the magazine that while he did suffer from serious bouts of depression after he was given his health diagnosis, as long as he had something on the calendar he would show up.
“Had they known about my HIV status at the ’88 Olympics in Seoul, I would have never been allowed into the country,” Louganis said.
In the ESPN interview, Louganis also touched on the famous faux pas that occurred when smashed his head into the diving board while attempting a reverse two and a half somersault during the 1988 games. Greg admitted that in addition to being embarrassed (“It’s the Olympic Games and I’m supposed to be a pretty good diver and good divers don’t do that,” he said), he was also “paralyzed with fear” over the prospect of bleeding into the water.
“I didn’t know what my responsibility was, and I didn’t have a whole lot of time to prepare for my next dive, if I was going to continue,” Greg said of not disclosing his HIV status at the time.
While the subsequent Olympic glory should have been a happy time for Greg Louganis, the now openly gay athlete revealed to ESPN that he felt very isolated and burdened by his secret.
“I was out to friends and family, and everybody in the diving world knew about my sexual identity, but very few people knew about my HIV status,” Louganis recalled. “I felt like I was living on an island.”
Thirty years later, Greg Louganis acknowledges things are much different for people living with HIV. He also credits staying in tip-top shape—as can be seen from his nude photo—and staying physically active as being as important as taking his medication.
“HIV taught me that I’m a lot stronger than I ever believed I was,” Greg said. “Also, not to take anything for granted. I didn’t think I would see 30, and here I am at 56.”
2016 has been a big year for Greg Louganis. In addition to his status as the oldest athlete in this year’s ESPN Body issue, the champion diver was recently awarded iconic status on a Wheaties box. Earlier this year, Louganis joined the exclusive Orange Box Club alongside former Olympic hurdler Edwin Moses and swimmer Janet Evans.
While it seems like the honor is about three decades overdue, Louganis, who won gold medals in 1984 and 1988 in the 3-meter springboard and 10-meter platform, told the New York Times the Wheaties honor means much more to him now than it would have 30 years ago.
“This means so much more than it would have back then,” Louganis said. “Getting it now means people will see me as a whole person — a flawed person who is gay, HIV-positive, with all the other things I’ve been through.”
For now, Greg Louganis is headed to Rio as an official athlete mentor for the USA Diving Team. Greg Louganis can be seen in ESPN The Magazine‘s annual Body Issue, which will be on newsstands July 8.
Take a look at the video below to see Greg Louganis on ESPN’s 30 for 30.
[Photo by Tony Duffy/Getty Images]