The boycott of the Moscow Olympics by athletes from the United States led to the failure to establish a significant achievement in diving. If Greg Louganis had not been forced to miss the Games in 1980, he could have ended his career as a six-time Olympic champion, because at that time he had no equal on the international stage. No athlete has ever managed to achieve such a number of titles in this sport.
Louganis started his big international sports career in 1976 – he became the second in the 10-meter high jump at the Olympics in Montreal, where we actually met. Now few people remember that 16-year-old Greg performed at those Games and on the springboard, but there he remained sixth — he was too fragile and light to compete with adult men. But then began a unique winning streak of more than a decade.
The American genius won gold at the 1978 world Championships in West Berlin, four years later, he completed a gold double, becoming the first on the tower and on the springboard at the 1982 world Championships in Guayaquil and repeated this achievement in 1986 in Madrid. The world Championships were held once every four years in those days, so the value of those awards is now seen as very special.
It is common to say about athletes of this scale that they kill their generation of competitors, leaving them no chance to win. But in 1976, after losing in Montreal to the legendary Italian Klaus Dibiasi, Luganis seriously considered killing himself.
His coach-two-time Olympic champion in diving from the tower Sammy Lee-prepared the guy then exclusively for victory and proudly liked to emphasize that at a 10-meter height, his ward has no weak points. Greg really easily won the preliminary series against Dibiasi, but in the final, where the scoring started from zero, he couldn’t cope with his nerves — he failed the final jump.
The Italian, by the way, also failed his attempt, but, unlike the debutant, he had a certain airbag: first, he was a legend on the tower, and secondly, he had already announced his upcoming retirement, and in such cases, the judges are often a little more favorable to titled veterans.
“Sammy was swearing so much, yelling at me so much… This is probably the first time I’ve seen a coach like this. I myself was completely crushed by what had happened. I felt that I let everyone down at once: the coach, the country, my family, friends, people who believed in me… He seemed to himself absolutely meaningless, useless, not worthy of attention and condescension. Feeling all this at the age of 16 was so unbearable that I constantly thought about suicide and at one time was very close to realizing this idea. Well, three and a half years later, when it became known that the decision was made to boycott the Moscow Games, I just lost my mind for a while. I was ready for anything. Up to the change of citizenship,” Luganis later recalled.
The idea to play at the Games for another country seemed very real to Luganis at first: his adoptive father was Greek by nationality and seriously discussed with his son the option of playing in Moscow for the Greek national team. The problem was that my father didn’t have a valid Greek passport. And it would take too much time to process it.
Luganis went to the 1982 world Cup in Guayaquil fantastically motivated. By that time, at the insistence of Sammy Lee, the athlete had changed his coach (Ron O’brien became his new mentor) and was obsessed with paying off Alexander Portnov, the Soviet athlete who, in Luganis ‘ absence, became the Olympic champion in Moscow on the three — meter springboard.
In this discipline, Greg did not perform too often, preferring a 10-meter high springboard, but the 121 points he won against Portnov in Guayaquil spoke for itself. Then, in fact, there was increased talk that the winners of the Moscow Games were incredibly lucky that Luganis did not come to Moscow: they got a chance to win something.