It was probably the first time most of them had seen Greg Louganis with his shirt on, but nobody failed to recognize the unofficial face of the 1988 Olympic Games. The cameras flashed and the young girls screamed and their mothers applauded as Louganis, wearing a navy blue sweat top, brown pants and his NBC golden Olympic smile, made his way through the crowd to the temporary stage in the Trolley's Square amphitheater Tuesday.
Some 1,000 or so fans had crammed shoulder to shoulder to get a glimpse of history's greatest diver and teen-agedom's latest heartthrob. Most of the fans were teen-age girls, including the two who sat on either side of Louganis - gymnast Missy Marlowe and archer Denise Parker, Utah's own Olympians, who did their best to provide a backdrop for Louganis. (Utah's other three Olympians were no-shows, because there was no dough, but more on that later.)For three hours, Louganis answered questions from the crowd, signed autographs with Olympian-like endurance and mugged for pictures. Then he dashed off for the next city on his going-for-the-other-kind-of-gold U.S. encore tour.
What Louganis thinks about any of this nobody can know. "No interviews for two months," said the Olympic champion's manager, Jim Babbit. "He has been deluged (by requests). You name it, he's turned it down."
And so the interviews were left to his fans, who fired off questions and devoted remarks at their hero: Sample: Do you still have the teddy bear? (Yes.) Did you know you'd win the gold before your last dive? (No.) How do you like Utah? (It's great.) "You're sexy, Greg!" shouted one young girl. (Bashful smile.) Do you teach private lessons? (He doesn't have time.)
Are you going to be an actor? ("Yes, I`ve been studying acting for 10 years.") If he goes into the movies, will he promise to stay as nice as he is now? ("I don't think I'm gonna change.") Does he have a girlfriend? (Yes.) How does he feel about being an idol? ("I just try to be the best person I can be." Wild applause.) Will he dive competitively anymore? ("I'm retired, but I do have an exhibition coming up. I'm not opposed to exhibitions. The problem is I haven't had a lot of time to train.")
Finally, someone stepped in and ended the Q & A session, and Louganis took his place behind a table to sign autographs. For about an hour, his fans, who waited in a line that extended outside and around the corner, walked across the stage to get their signature, which was enough to reduce some girls to tears.
Such is life for Louganis since returning from Seoul with two more Olympic gold medals. The '88 Games may well be remembered for Louganis and Florence Griffith Joyner, like '84 belonged to Mary Lou.
And so, while he's still a hot item, Louganis is on the road (Babbit won't say how much money his appearances command). He flew into Salt Lake City at 1 p.m. Tuesday and flew out later that night. During the next month or so, he will appear in Dallas, Pittsburgh, Washington D.C., El Paso, San Francisco, San Antonio. He will do a diving exhibition in Gillette, Wyo. He will film Hollywood Squares. There is talk of doing an episode of "Murder, She Wrote."
Louganis' face won't be going away soon. You can see him Friday night on Improv, a syndicated TV show; on Saturday night on Vote '88, an ABC special; on Sunday on ESPN's Sportraits. "He's entertaining film and TV offers, and he's reading some scripts," says Babbit. "But right now he's mostly doing personal appearances."
Louganis was supposed to share Tuesday's appearance with Utah's five Olympians - It was billed as "Greg Louganis and our Utah Olympians - but three of the Utahns were absent - distance runners Henry Marsh, Doug Padilla and Ed Eyestone. During introductions their absence was glossed over - "They had previous commitments." Jeanne Sommers, who helped organize the Louganis appearance for Trolley's Square, said the same thing: "They had prior commitments."
Actually, the only reason Marsh, Padilla and Eyestone didn't show was because, unlike Louganis, they weren't getting paid. They will make personal appearances at grade schools and churches for free, but not where their names are being used commercially, as, they felt, was the case in this instance.
"Initially, I was going to do it," said Eyestone. "I didn't want to come across as a prima donna. But Trolley's Square is doing this to get people into its stores."
On Monday Padilla and Marsh called Trolley's trying to strike a deal, but they struck out. Said Padilla, "They're paying Greg lots of money. Henry told them they were paying Greg between $10,000 and $20,000 and they didn't refute the amount. We didn't want much. Even a gift certificate for $25. It was the principle of the thing."
Well, almost nothing that's related to the Olympics is without controversy. Said Sommers, "It was all a big misunderstanding. We originally had scheduled Greg to be here, but we felt it would be rude not to invite the Utahns. We didn't intend it this way."