By Cheryl Furjanic, XFINITY Contributing Editor
Olympic Fever. I’ve had it ever since I can remember. Growing up, my parents loved the Olympic Games and in our household that love and excitement was contagious. Two weeks, every four years, of the world coming together to compete in the epitome of sport – and my entire family was on the edge of our seats every time. Later on when I became a filmmaker, these Olympic stories captured my attention just like they did when I was a kid.
In 2011 producer Will Sweeney pitched me an idea, “Let’s make a documentary about Greg Louganis.” Greg had been away from his sport for many years and Will read an article that Greg was returning to diving to mentor the 2012 Olympic team. Why had the greatest diver in the history of the sport stepped away from diving for so many years? Where has he been? Why was he coming back now? Will and I teamed up to work on a film about Greg. We were determined to find out the answers to these questions and to tell Greg’s incredible and inspiring life story to a wide audience.
The mention of Louganis’ name when we started making our film was met with a wide range of responses: From “Isn’t he the one who hit his head?” or “Is he still alive?” to “I LOVE him, what ever happened to him?” to — way too often — blank stares from young people who hadn’t heard his name in their lifetime. How could such an important person in sports history, and gay history, be so far gone from the collective American memory? We spent several years shooting with Greg to dig into these and many other questions.
Over the course of making the film I talked with Greg — on camera and off — about what it was like to be a gay HIV+ athlete, his investment in the “after care” of Olympians, and about his trajectory from athletics to activism, and much more. I watched as he went from prefacing many statements with, “I’m not political, but…” to someone who has fully embraced his multiplicity of identities and speaks out regularly on a variety of social issues.
We shot with Greg for about 3 years and completed the film in 2014. Here’s a run-down of our film’s journey through the world. We kicked off our festival run at the AFI Docs Film Festival in June 2014. The film screened at over 35 festivals worldwide, won 8 festival awards, got picked up for broadcast by HBO, was selected by the U.S. State Department for the 2015-2016 American Film Showcase (a government sponsored film program offering views of American society and culture), got nominated for a Producers Guild of America award and an Emmy award (arguably the first film about an LGBT person to be nominated for a Sports Emmy), and inspired a Chicago woman to start a grassroots petition that collected over 40,000 signatures that helped convince General Mills to finally honor Greg Louganis with his very own Wheaties Box! That’s right, Greg Louganis, one of the most iconic LGBT athletes was finally on the cover of one of America’s most iconic cereal boxes – and it was inspired by our film!
I had made some queer films before. And my first feature film was a documentary about Olympians. But I never thought I would make a film about an LGBT Olympian. And certainly not THIS Olympian! It was a dream come true for me to make this film about Greg and I’m so proud of it.
If you dig a little deeper into our LGBT Olympic past, Greg is arguably the most well-known LGBT Olympian — but he is far from the first. LGBT Olympic historian Tony Scupham-Bilton reports that, including the athletes competing in Rio this summer that the number of LGBTI Olympic athletes totals 243 — some competing as early as 1928. Greg’s participation in sport, as well as his visibility in more recent years, has certainly inspired other Olympians to come out — from Matthew Mitcham and Tom Daley in diving to Australia’s Ji Wallace who came out during the course of making our film. This year there record 36 LGBTI out athletes will compete at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games this summer (up from 23 in 2012 and 12 in 2008).
So to get ready for the 2016 Olympic Games that begin on August 5th, we hope you’ll check out our film about the one and only Greg Louganis!
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