Back on Board
Louganis became a legend at the 1984 Olympics, winning gold in the 3-meter springboard and 10-meter platform, and becoming the first diver to break the 700-point plateau. He was a regular on the Tonight Show, Merv Griffin, game shows and every sports program imaginable. He was an Olympic star waiting to cash in, as fellow 1984 competitor Mary Lou Retton had done. There was only one difference: Louganis is gay, and Wheaties was not going to put a gay athlete on cereal boxes. Other possible sponsors followed suit. Even USA Diving turned its back. Louganis came out publicly in 1994, and announced a year later he had competed in the 1988 Olympics after being diagnosed with HIV. The decision to compete was a difficult one and created severe backlash.
“My first thought at the time was that I was going to do the honorable thing and lock myself up in my house and wait to die,” he says.
His doctor convinced him competing would be the best thing for his health.
“It was much easier to focus on the diving than to focus on what my situation was, because we thought of HIV/AIDS as a death sentence.”
It wasn’t until 2010 that Louganis was welcomed back into diving as a mentor. Steve Foley, the high-performance director of USA Diving, did something no one had ever done: Ask if the sports greatest athlete would like to aid the next generation of divers. Unlike his formerly abusive competitors, Louganis believes homophobia is the reason he had been shut out of the sport for two decades.
Back on Board opens inside Louganis’ beachfront home. Boxes of personal belongings are stacked against the walls, ready for the worst to happen. After being scammed by a dishonest contractor and his former business manager and partner, Louganis had defaulted on his mortgage and faced eviction from his home of 27 years. He had even purchased an RV just in case he suddenly needed a place to live. Louganis had $2,000, mountains of debt, and his former manager had power of attorney over his financial affairs. Things were bleak.
Louganis was approached by filmmaker Cheryl Furjanic in 2011, after a poll of friends revealed no one under the age of 27 knew who Louganis was. After years being an advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness and LGBT rights, she felt his story needed to be told. Although leery at first, he accepted. The results were both fulfilling and therapeutic.
“Once we started working together, it was almost like she became my therapist. We have so much footage and there were so many stories they could have told. I thought it was incredibly powerful.”
Filming took three years, with another eight months of editing.
The documentary ends with Louganis getting married at home to boyfriend Johnny Chaillot, a paralegal he met on Match.com. That same day, Louganis presented coach and surrogate father Ron O’Brien his 10-meter platform gold medal from the 1984 Olympics. It was the second medal he has given away. The other was to Jeanne White Ginder, the mother of Ryan White, the 18-year-old hemophiliac who died of AIDS in 1990.
The Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival stays specific to LGBT themes and not just movies made by gay filmmakers. But festival organizers believe the power of the films will attract a wide range of audience members. “We always strive to introduce new audiences to our festival, and we’ve been successful doing that by partnering with a lot of community organizations,” says festival director Brent Anbe.
“It’s not just LBGT organizations we are working with, but organizations that relate to our programming.”
Among that diverse group of supporters are Hawaiian Airlines, Bank of Hawaii Foundation, Korean Drama Club and Pacific Roller Derby.
Having recognizable celebrities and a glittering red carpet event also helps. That’s where Louganis comes in.
“I think it’s a very relevant and emotional film that will resonate with a lot of people,” says Anbe. “It’s our centerpiece film, and it’s very well made and we are honored to have Greg as a part of our festival.”
More than 150 films and shorts were submitted for consideration. Over the course of a year, the programming committee narrowed down the list to the 25 feature films and shorts that will be shown June 4-7 at Doris Duke Theatre and Kahala Consolidated Theatres.
Back on Board is being screened June 6 at 7:55 and 8:20 p.m. at Kahala Consolidated Theatres 2 and 4, followed by a question-andanswer session with Louganis.
To save time — no, Louganis has never done a Triple Lindy, though he gets asked about it often.