[Content Note: This movie mentions domestic abuse, and although the perpetrator’s dead and gone, there is also mention of them. The book goes into far more graphic detail, but if this is something that you need to take into consideration, I encourage you to skip today’s post. No hard feelings, we can kick it together again some other time. That said, if you decide to move forward, and it brings some upsetting and difficult feelings for you, I encourage you to speak with the people at RAINN. I’ve talked with them before, and I can personally lend them my own seal of approval. As always, if you or someone you know is in immediate danger, I encourage you to call 911 or your area’s equivalent for emergency services.]
Show of hands, who here is familiar with Greg Louganis? I was, only after the fact when I was reading one of Dave Pelzer’s books in high school, and Dave talked about him in it. I vaguely remember hearing about him in the news as a kid, but I was too young to understand why.
Since a computer and the Internet didn’t come to my house until college, books were the way to pass the time for both me and my mom. I found a copy of his book, Breaking the Surface, at a flea market during my sophomore year of high school. I may review that here in a future post. Yay or nay?
Over the years, I’d get to thinking about Greg, and wonder how he was holding up these days. Enter Back on Board, which came out in 2014.
We first see establishing shots of the California coast, with shots of Greg’s house in disrepair, interspersed with footage of him during his years in diving. We soon find out the kind of situation Greg’s up against: foreclosure and a home that wasn’t safe for anyone to live in, no thanks to a sleazebag contractor who managed to convince him his home needed repairs he actually didn’t.
There was the pool in the backyard, just as Greg described in the book, complete with the little tile from the company that installed it just for him back in the 80s.
We then see shots of things in boxes, with some admittedly cool handwriting denoting the contents of them, along with open boxes with old magazines, one being a signed issue of People. We see Greg on the phone with Bank of America’s collections department, and learn that he’s selling things to get by.
Oof. Been down that road myself before, Greg. It’s a really shitty place to be.
In the movie, he briefly touches on his childhood, and how some of his classmates would call him out of his name in horrible ways I won’t even get into lightly. Let’s just say I hope those kids have since learned better values than what was obviously taught to them, that’s for damn sure.
As he made it into the Olympics at 16, coming in second to Klaus Dibiasi, we also learn of what his life was like when he came back home after winning the silver medal. Seriously, the silver medal’s still nothing to sneeze at. Hell, even competing in the Olympics on its’ own is nothing to sneeze at, medal or not.
Greg moves forward in his diving career, missing out on the 1980 Olympics due to a boycott in response to some actions taken by what we then knew as the Soviet Union until its’ dissolution in 1991, thereby ending the Cold War. Greg and his teammates were basically collateral damage in it, which was unfair to them on so many levels.
I should also add that Greg and his teammates did receive Congressional medals in lieu of what they probably would’ve gotten, had they participated in the 1980 Olympics.
He mentions his involvement with someone he called “Tom” in the book. In the movie, he uses his real name. I won’t mention it here, and will continue to use the name from the book. Tom was Greg’s manager, and the book goes into more detail about Tom’s abuse toward him. Greg kept it all to himself, especially an incident that could’ve easily killed him.
By the 1988 Olympics, Greg is diagnosed as HIV Positive (more than likely no thanks to Tom, based on an educated guess) which understandably brings up a whole slew of emotions for him. We have to remember, Greg’s diagnosis came at a time where this was still basically a death sentence. There was a lot of misinformation going around, along with a lot of really awful stereotypes about this disease.
Greg told his coach, Ron O’Brien, who I’m happy to report is also still with us, alive and kickin’. As a lot of us know, Greg hit his head on the diving board during the preliminaries. While we see him get up and get back in the game in the footage, it’s also clear in hindsight that he’s going through some seriously awful shyt.
Greg told Ron about his recent diagnosis, but nobody else. He was understandably afraid of the people who fixed him up getting sick. We now know there was no chance of them getting sick, and no chance of the virus surviving in the water. The chlorine killed it. But together, Greg and Ron duked out the rest of the Olympics, and Greg won two gold medals that year.
After the Olympics, Greg’s life just wasn’t the same. It wasn’t anything like what some of his teammates had, with the deals for the big-name companies. Yes, I’m referring to the Wheaties box. To the company’s credit, they did put Greg on one of their boxes later on. Better late than never, I guess.
Greg ended his relationship with Tom a year after the Olympics, and financially provided for him until he died in 1990, of AIDS. The movie didn’t mention of the state Tom left the house in, but based on what he described in the book, the house was a dumpster fire.
Greg had a health scare in the early 1990s, and it was bad enough he thought that was the end of him. We see the home movie of his 33rd birthday party, complete with the cake that said “Where’d he go?” It wasn’t like how I pictured it in the book, but it was still a cute cake, imo.
Lucky for all of us, Greg pulled through. In the years that followed, he wrote a couple other books, starred in some fairly obscure movies, and got into dog competitions. If you’re familiar with the book, you’ll know he’s loved dogs since he was a kid.
He also got into activism for LGBTQ rights, and also into mentoring budding athletes in diving.
We also see a guy named Johnny come onto the scene. Greg met him online, and after awhile, Greg and Johnny get married in 2013. They looked like they were truly two of a kind, having the time of their lives in California.
After the movie ended, I just had to do a little digging to see what was new in Greg’s world in the years it’s been since this documentary dropped. Lo and behold, he’s got a website! He’s also on Instagram, and full disclosure, I gave him a follow.
In case anyone’s wondering how he and Johnny are holding up, sad to say that his relationship with Johnny ended earlier this year. They were together for eight years, and that’s a damn long time for any relationship, let alone a committed partnership.
In short, I’m loving this one. 10/10, would recommend. Two thumbs up. I saw it on Kanopy, but if your library doesn’t have it, you can watch it on YouTube. Someone uploaded it for free back in March, but you can also rent it or buy it on YouTube. But whatever you do, don’t hit up the janky download sites of ill-repute.
Over to you, readers. Have you seen Back on Board: Greg Louganis? Have any plans to see it? I’d love to hear your thoughts and takeaways, so drop ’em like they’re hot below, and let’s talk!