In an era where sports heroes are in short supply, one of those standing the tallest is Greg Louganis.

His competitive spirit and ability were put to their sternest tests this Olympiad. First, he had to overcome an accident where he hit his head on the board to win the springboard diving competition. Then this week he had to come from behind with a stellar dive on his last attempt to rescue a gold medal in platform diving that seemingly had slipped away.He thus became the first diver to win gold medals in those two events in consecutive olympics, having first won them at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

What makes him a true hero, though, are his human qualities. They are as impressive as his athletic ones.

He's a guy who believes in being a role model, that he has a debt to pay for being blessed with such athletic skills.

The moment of truth for him in the human arena came in 1984. As he told NBC-TV during an Olympic interview, he had just finished a competition and was walking to the parking lot when he saw a boy about 12-years-old smoking.

"Hey, what's going on. Why are you doing that," he asked the boy.

"I'm doing it because I want to be just like you and you smoke," the boy replied.

At the time Louganis smoked and drank.

He said the boy's response stunned him and he realized the effect he had in people's lives. With that realization came his decision to quit smoking and drinking and to become a role model for young athletes.

Contrast that attitude with that of many of today's athletes who believe their responsibility to their sport starts when they put on a uniform and ends when they take it off. Being a role model doesn't enter into their thinking.

Louganis' life story is one of overcoming adversity. It is an inspiring one.

His parents were unmarried 15-year-olds who gave him up for adoption at nine months. Because of his dark skin - his father was Samoan - he was taunted in school. Plus, he had trouble reading and was taunted because of that. He didn't find out until he was in college that the reading problem was caused by a learning disorder, dyslexia, in which letters appear transposed.

Greg Louganis has had a lot of challenges in and out of the swimming pool. He has met all them to become a gold medalist in sports and life.