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Film Forum Explores Olympic Athlete

by Kevin Saez

The producer and writer of the documentary “Back on Board: Greg Louganis” visited Montclair State university earlier in the week as part of the School of Communication and Media’s Film Forum.

On March 29, the film was screened and afterwards Will Sweeney, the documentary’s producer and writer, talked about what into making the movie and Louganis’ story.

The event was co-sponsored by Montclair State’s LGBTQ Center, which helped give the event a large turnout. Just about every seat in the lecture hall was filled with various film and sports media students.

The documentary focused on Hall-of-Fame Olympian Louganis’ past and present. It explored the harsh reality of his unwelcoming presence in the sport of diving after coming out as both gay and HIV-positive in 1995 and his struggle to live a normal life after his Olympic career.

Louganis is considered the best diver of all time. He won five Olympic medals over three summer Olympic Games, participating in 1976, 1984 and 1988. He is the only male diver to sweep the gold medals in both the three-meter and 10-meter diving events in consecutive Games. Louganis is also remembered for hitting his head on the springboard dive in 1988.

Louganis’ current life is a different story. Over the past few years, the Olympic champion has struggled with financial turmoil. He almost lost his house during the financial crisis. With the threat of financial instability, the documentary captures Louganis reflecting on past choices, relationships and missed career opportunities in the form of lost endorsements.

Writer/producer Will Sweeney, Professor Kelly Whiteside and Professor Pemberton. Photo Credit: Julia Siegel

Writer and producer Will Sweeney, Professor Kelly Whiteside and Professor Pemberton.
Photo Credit: Julia Siegel

Louganis had a hard time adjusting to life outside of athletics. He struggled to stay afloat financially until 2014, when he finally became debt free. He almost had his home repossessed by his bank several times after he could not repay a loan that he was scammed into getting years early. To pay his bills, Louganis was forced to sell his precious Olympics memorabilia to make a quick and small profit.

Professor Kelly Whiteside, an assistant professor of sports media and journalism, said of the film, “The documentary covers the myth that Olympians are set for life.” Bringing home a gold medal unfortunately does not automatically equal millions of dollars or unlimited endorsements.

Even though Louganis was a household name in the 1980s, he was unable to have a coaching career with the USA Diving Team and did not receive any endorsement deals because he was suspected of being gay. He was never even on the Wheaties box. How could one of the greatest athletes in the world not even get his picture on the famed Wheaties box? The documentary shed light on the past treatment of gay athletes.

Sweeney said that the hardest part of making the documentary was getting the licensing from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to show 14 minutes of Olympic footage. The IOC, a non-profit business, charges roughly $50,000 per minute of Olympic footage, which led the filmmakers to have to pay a whopping $700,000 to show the original clips. The IOC also had to approve the film, because they require all films with 10 percent or more of the content being Olympic-related to be approved by the IOC.

This was an incredibly enlightening film forum that showed the true spirit of the Olympics and what happens after Olympians retire from their sports. So much was shown about Louganis that no one would ever know without seeing the documentary.

“Back on Board: Greg Louganis” can be seen on HBO Sports.

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