Greg Louganis had been away from USA Diving for over two decades before he got a phone call from an old friend, Steve Foley, last year.
Foley, the recently appointed High Performance Director at USA Diving, asked Louganis what his organization could do to bring the five-time Olympic medalist back into the national diving circuit.
“I said ‘ask,’” Louganis said. “I’d never been asked, nor did I feel welcome.”
Louganis initially left USA Diving after the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, where he had earned gold medals in both the 10-meter platform and three-meter springboard events for the second-straight Games. He remains the most decorated diver in modern American history, winner of 47 U.S. national diving titles and three NCAA championships.
Foley proved to be a much more welcoming ambassador than his predecessors, though Louganis was still unsure that he had the necessary expertise to be a formal coach. The pair soon came up with a compromise—an athlete mentor program that sends the former Olympic champion to different diving hotspots around the country, using his vast experience to help young divers learn how to compete on the world stage.
“After working with the kids I’m realizing that I do have something to give,” Louganis said. “A lot of [diving] is just keeping it together. The Olympics are a media circus.”
This weekend Louganis is in Durham working with Blue Devil divers Nick McCrory and Abby Johnston, who will both travel to Shanghai, China, to compete in the 2011 World Championships from July 16-31.
McCrory, the two-time reigning NCAA champion in platform diving, will try to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics in the ten-meter platform and the 10-meter synchronized dive with partner David Boudia.
“[Former coach Nunzio Esposto] had a picture of Greg diving at Candler Pool [in Raleigh],” McCrory said. “I still have it up in my room.”
Johnston will compete on the one-meter springboard. The reigning NCAA three-meter champion will not get an similar opportunity to qualify for the London Games because the one-meter springboard is not an Olympic event.
“He’s intimidating,” Johnston said, laughing. “He has this resumé that we all hope to achieve, though none of us ever will.”
Louganis says he was also inspired to partner with USA Diving because of the recent struggles American divers have seen in Olympic competition. The United States has won just one medal in men’s ten-meter platform diving since Louganis retired, while China as won five of the last seven gold medals in the event—finishing in second place in the other two years.
“Diving used to be a sport that we’d dominate…. [Now] the entire world is chasing China,” Louganis said. “In China it’s very regimented, almost a cookie-cutter program. They’re great, but to have that X-factor, they’ve had very few who’ve had that.”
Louganis believe in a coaching philosophy he calls “meditation in motion.” He focuses on helping divers continue breathing throughout their dives, keeping them relaxed and loose until they hit the water.
“I’m kind of stickler on breathing,” Louganis said. “That’s the key to diving—make it look effortless. Make it look like everyone can get up there and do a reverse three-and-a-half.”
The former Olympic champion is confident in the abilities of both Blue Devils, both in the World Championships and their chances of making the 2012 Olympic team.
“They’re great kids. They’ve got a great future,” Louganis said. “It could come together for them next year [for the Olympics], it really could.”