The day Greg Louganis hit his head, but won gold anyway

On September 20, 1988, American diver Greg Louganis claimed gold in the men’s 3-meter springboard at the Seoul Olympics, only one day after he smacked his head on the diving board.

Location: Seoul, South Korea

Thanks to 11 spectacular dives, Greg Louganis crushed the competition in the final round of the men’s 3-meter springboard at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, a follow-up to a gold medal he earned in the same event at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

His triumph in 1988 was the first time a man had won back-to-back gold medals in the 3-meter springboard competition. Louganis also nabbed gold in Los Angeles in the 10-meter platform event.

In Seoul, the American soared past a pair of Chinese athletes on the podium by a commanding 25-point margin. Over the final round, Louganis registered 730.80 points for his 11 attempts while silver medalist Tan Liangde earned 704.88, and bronze medalist Li Deliang collected 665.28.

The domination was all the more impressive considering that a day prior, Louganis clipped the springboard with his head during his ninth preliminary round dive, a reverse 2½ somersault pike. The collision caused a gash in the back of Louganis’ head, and he required four stitches. Additionally, Louganis suffered a concussion during the collision.

Venue: Jamsil Indoor Swimming Pool, shown here in 2007 (주전자/Wikimedia Commons).

In his repeat of the troubled dive, Louganis scored 76.50 points for the attempt, a massive improvement over the 6.30 he earned for bungling it. His closing two dives of the final round both scored above 80, which allowed him to cruise to gold.

On top of the physical trauma, Louganis struggled with mental anguish as well. The diver found out six months before the 1988 Olympics that he was HIV-positive. Because his blood leaked into the water, Louganis “was paralyzed by fear” that he could’ve potentially infected another competitor. However, experts later debunked the idea that infection would have been possible; Dr. John Ward, chief of HIV-AIDS surveillance at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that “chlorine kills HIV”.

Louganis’ HIV-positive status was especially harrowing at the time. Due to South Korea’s attitudes towards gay people in the 1980s, Louganis feared that he would not be allowed into the country if he publicly acknowledged the affliction. His coach, Ron O’Brien, had to smuggle the diver’s HIV medication into the country.

Nonetheless, Louganis overcame his illness and rebounded from the injury to claim the US’ second gold medal at the 1988 Olympics in stunning fashion.

I was very nervous going into the competition. Hitting my head shook my confidence a lot. That’s the reason I worked out this morning. I did quite a few dives, more than I usually do, just to get over my jitters.

Greg Louganis
The 1988 Olympic springboard champion


A week after the springboard competition, Louganis captured his second gold in Seoul when he eclipsed 14-year-old Xiong Ni of China by a slim 1.14 points in the 10-meter platform event. The gold meant that the California-born Louganis completed his double defense of the golds he earned at the Los Angeles Games in 1984.

Louganis’ Olympic efforts went on to net him the 1988 “Athlete of the Year” award from ABC’s Wide World of Sports show.

At the opening ceremony of the 1994 Gay Games, a sporting event that had its first incarnation in 1982, Louganis publicly came out as gay. He revealed the following year that he was HIV-positive during the Seoul Olympics, which caused some public backlash.

More recently, Louganis mentored the US diving team at the 2012 London Games and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.

I had 10 minutes to close the wound, at least so he’d be able to dive again. Unfortunately there were no gloves. I made the decision I was going to close it without waiting, otherwise he might not have been able to go to the next round.

Dr. James Puffer
The US Olympic diving team physician


NBC has uploaded part of the original broadcast of the springboard event to YouTube, which includes coverage of the moment Louganis hit his head and then several dives in the final round:

A few images are around of the event. Below is an image of the moment when Louganis hit his head, which makes it one of the more important photos. No matter how you look at it, it definitely seems painful:

Photo by the Associated Press. Source: The Globe and Mail.

He was really down. Usually when he comes in he’s in a pretty happy state of mind and he’s joking, but this time he was very quiet. I knew he had some question marks.

Ron O’Brien
Greg Louganis’ coach on the diver’s mental state after the injury


  • American Greg Louganis hit his head on the diving board on his ninth dive (out of 11) during the preliminary round of the men’s 3-meter springboard at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
  • Despite the injury, Louganis rebounded the next day in the 3-meter springboard finals to crush the competition by 25 points to win his third Olympic gold medal.
  • Louganis had been diagnosed as HIV-positive earlier in 1988. Because his collision with the diving board spilled blood into the water, Louganis was worried that he could infect fellow competitors. However, no one was infected and experts have since stated that infection would not have been possible.


Print (newspaper)

  • The New York Times, September 20, 1988 via ProQuest


  • “Wide World of Sports Athletes of the Year”, ABC Sports Online
  • “‘I didn’t think I’d see 30,’ says Greg Louganis”, ESPN
  • “50 stunning Olympic moments No20: Greg Louganis’s perfect dive 1988”, The Guardian
  • “The Risk Pool: The Dangers Are Off The Field”, Newsweek
  • “Diving at the 1988 Seoul Summer Games: Men’s Springboard”, Olympics at