LOUGANIS ADMITS HE HAS AIDS VIRUS

Published: Thursday, Feb. 23 1995 12:00 a.m. MST

The greatest diver ever, the man who left crowds spellbound with rollercoaster twists and splashdowns so perfect they barely rippled the water, has a new opponent - AIDS.

In an interview with ABC's "20-20" to be televised Friday, Greg Louganis said he tested positive for the AIDS virus shortly before the 1988 Olympics, where he retained the gold medals in the 10-meter platform and 3-meter springboard.He also said he was "paralyzed with fear" when he hit his head during those Games and bled into the pool.

Louganis, the only man ever to sweep the diving gold medals in two consecutive Olympics, is the latest in a growing list of prominent athletes to disclose he has HIV or AIDS.

Magic Johnson retired from the Los Angeles Lakers in November 1991 after revealing he had the AIDS virus, and tennis star Arthur Ashe died in 1993 after contracting the virus in a blood transfusion.

The disclosure Wednesday that Louganis has AIDS left friends and fellow divers shocked and saddened - and remembering what perfection looked like off the springboard and platform.

"He was the greatest diver the world has ever seen, but he was always modest," said Mark Lenzi, a former teammate with a gold medal of his own. "He was my hero and still is."

It was in Seoul that Louganis did the unthinkable for a world-class diver: He struck his head on the springboard during preliminary dives, leaving a two-inch gash in his scalp.

Already taking AZT for the AIDS virus and keeping his condition a secret on the advice of his doctor and coach, Louganis said he was afraid that his blood would contaminate the water.

"It's, you know, this has been an incredibly guarded secret," Louganis said. "I just held my head . . . I just wanted to hold the blood in, or just not anybody touch it."

Dr. James Puffer, a U.S. Olympic Committee doctor who was unaware of Louganis' condition and not wearing protective gloves, closed the wound with stitches. Louganis qualified for the finals and the next day won the springboard gold.

About a year ago, "Greg did inform me he was HIV positive," Puffer said Wednesday from his office at the UCLA Medical Center. "I subsequently was tested and found HIV negative."

The gold medals in Seoul, on top of two in Los Angeles in 1984, marked the end of Louganis' diving career.

Louganis announced last summer at the Gay Games that he is gay. He said he realized his sexual orientation in 1976.

His book, "Breaking the Surface," is due to be released Monday by Random House. It deals with AIDS, as well as Louganis' homosexuality, dyslexia, racism he suffered because of his Samoan heritage, a stepfather who allegedly abused him, teen-age depression and three suicide attempts, according to Tom Perry, a spokesman for the publisher.

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