The Extraordinary Gift of “Back on Board”



In August of this year, HBO aired a new documentary film on legendary Olympic diver Greg Louganis.  I don’t keep an active subscription to HBO; but when I read about the film, I knew that I, of all people, needed to watch it.  So I contacted my cable provider and subscribed to the premium channel; and on a weekend evening, my husband and I sat down to watch “Back on Board.”

It was Louganis’ return to diving a few years ago which caught the attention of producer Will Sweeney, who read a news article about Louganis’ new role as mentor to the 2012 US Olympic Diving Team.  In an interview with the film’s director, Cheryl Furjanic told me about the series of events which led to the making of the film:  “[Will] wondered why the best diver ever was away from his sport.  He thought that there must be a story there.  Where has he been, why was he away, and why is he back?”

It’s a question that more of us should have asked, but didn’t.  There is no name more synonymous with diving and Olympic diving than Greg Louganis.  That he virtually disappeared from his sport after retiring in 1988 should, perhaps, have been questioned sooner than it was.  When they began working on the film, Sweeney and Furjanic came across numerous people born after 1988 who had never even heard of Louganis!  “We were stunned,” Furjanic commented.  “This was surprising to us but it also made some sense–Greg really hadn’t been talked about much in their lifetimes.”

I for one hadn’t questioned his disappearance.  Instead, I assumed he’d moved on to a new chapter in his life, choosing to leave behind diving for new adventures and achievements.  After all, it’s not uncommon for Olympians to seek something different in life following years of incessant training and competition.  It is, however, less common for athletes of Louganis’ talent and accomplishments to be no longer connected to their sport.  What most of us don’t know is that aside from the numerous medals and awards, Louganis’ life has been complicated, riddled with emotional turmoil: bullying, rejection, struggle with sexual identity, financial woes, and a diagnosis of HIV.  Feeling unworthy and at times unloved, the young Louganis found solace in the somewhat isolating sport of diving, and his natural talent was quickly recognized by elite coaches who took his raw talent and molded him into the greatest diver the world has ever seen.  Yet the sport in which he excelled would also be a source of heartache.  He was discriminated against and rebuffed by those within the diving community due to jealousy, homophobia, and other irrational agendas, both during and after his years as a competitive diver.

Early in the film, Louganis repeats the question asked to him by an interviewer.  “Who is Greg Louganis?” he asks.  With a somewhat strained smile, Louganis replies, “I don’t know.”

There is no easy answer to the question.  Using no narration other than those being interviewed (including Louganis), we see for the first time other parts of his personality, particularly his extreme vulnerability and sensitivity.   Many of his personal struggles unfold in front of the camera, allowing the viewers to be a part of his journey of self-discovery—or as Furjanic says, “finding his way—and his footing—again after being a bit adrift.”

There are various themes in the film:  the longing for a home, for security, for love; the pain of rejection; and the struggle to navigate one’s way through life….I could go on and on.  The title “Back on Board” applies to many aspects of Louganis’ life, to name a few.  The title, “Back on Board” not only suggests Louganis’ return to diving; it also shows the man’s incredible resiliency.  As Furjanic says, “We…were confident that Greg’s story of resilience was so moving that our film could convey his life story while inspiring audiences at the same time.”

“Back on Board” is an invaluable record of Louganis’ competitive years.  It’s not that I totally forgot about Louganis after he retired from diving; but as time wore on, the appreciation for his talent and skill began to fade from memory.  Watching “Back on Board” brought him back to mind.  Furjanic and her team, using footage of his diving (much of it in slow motion), accompanied by music from composer Tom Rutishauser and Aaron Copeland’s “Appalachian Spring,” remind us of Louganis’ unparalleled talent and skill.  For me, it was a stark reminder of  how ethereal and otherworldly Greg Louganis was.  I’ll admit that I found myself tearing up a bit, the hair on my arms bristling, and I said to my husband, “There will never be another like him.”

As a young girl watching Greg Louganis in the Olympics, I was entertained and enthralled by his skill and accomplishments.  Now as an adult, watching these dives again evoked different feelings:  awe and reverence of that kind of natural talent, that kind of skill,, and I realized how lucky I was to have grown up watching him dive.

During the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, we’ll watch the diving and other athletes compete in their respective sports.  And there will, no doubt, be inspiring stories of athletes who have triumphed over injury and other obstacles.  “Back on Board” offers us a similar yet different story of triumph—one that occurred after the Olympian left athletic competition and worked tirelessly to pull himself up, collect the fragments of his life, and start anew.

If you will pardon the pun, there are more themes I’d love to dive into, but to do so would detract the reader from the experience of watching this beautiful documentary and coming to one’s own conclusions as to who Greg Louganis is.  “Back on Board” is a gift—a gift of extraordinary cinematography and sport history.  The manner in which Furjanic tells Louganis’ story is both heart-wrenching and inspiring.  I recommend it with enthusiasm.

(“Back on Board” first aired August 4 on HBO.  It is still available for viewing using HBO On-Demand or HBO GO and will be available for purchase in September.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Petanque Moving Closer to Its Target: Inclusion in the Olympics

France's Dylan Rocher (Source: Boulistenaute)

France’s Dylan Rocher (Source: Boulistenaute)

This post has been in the works for a while now.  For the last two years it’s been written and re-written in my mind, debating the pros and cons of pétanque becoming an Olympic sport.  The decade-plus lobbying efforts have progressed considerably, and pétanque players and fans alike are optimistic that the French game could make its Olympic debut in 2024, which coincidentally, Paris is bidding to host.  So I decided it’s time for me to put my thoughts in writing.

For anyone reading this who’s not familiar with pétanque, let me make something clear:  Pétanque is not the same as (Italian game) bocce.  It’s better.   I’m sorry, but one won’t ever find me excited about the possibilities of bocce becoming an Olympic event.

Because I do play pétanque, one might think that I’m automatically biased regarding pétanque in the Olympics.  Do I think pétanque should become an Olympic event?  The answer is surprising:  yes and no.

I have a bit of a problem with certain games or skills being in the Olympics if they don’t require a lot of athleticism.  Now, I’m not suggesting that pétanque requires no athleticism, but it requires much less compared to wrestling, swimming, gymnastics, or speed skating.  My interpretation of the Olympics is that it’s a series of multiple, athletic sporting events and does not include those which require less athleticism or physicality.  With that said, shooting, archery, and maybe even curling wouldn’t make my cut.    I know.  I’m going to get a lot of flack for these comments.

Adding pétanque to the Olympics also brings up another problem I have with new events continually being added the Olympics.  Already the Summer Olympics are teetering on the edge of becoming a circus, these additions to the Games diluting the uniqueness and respectability of being an Olympian, of becoming an Olympic medalist.  Does every game and sport need to be in the Olympics?  No!

And yet these two sentences I just wrote will be argued by those who cite the words of Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern-day Olympics:  “All sports for all people.”  However, to use Coubertin’s lovely quote and argue for continued expansion opens the Olympic floodgates, allowing all games and sports into the Olympics.  Chess, backgammon, video games, poker, stair climbing, hang-gliding, hot air balloon racing….Do you see where this is going?

Let’s set aside my personal feelings about the dilution of the Olympics and examine the current IOC requirements for becoming an Olympic event.  All 33 criteria are in published form on the IOC website, titled the, “Evaluation Criteria for Sports and Disciplines.”  Rather than go through the entire exhaustive list, I’ll touch on the most important ones:

  • Youth appeal.   While youth development is a problem in some countries (including the United States), it appears to strong and growing in both African and Asian countries.  In addition, development remains a focus for many European nations.
  • Universality and popularity.  According to the International Federation of Pétanque, there are over 110 countries with established pétanque federations.  There is no question that the popularity of pétanque is widespread and well-established in the majority of these countries.
  • Good governance.   The sport has an international governing body and affiliated federations (mentioned above).

Based on this criteria, pétanque qualifies to become an Olympic event.  And while I might initially heave a heavy, exasperated sigh over yet another event being added to the Olympics, as a player of the game, there’s a small part of me which will be excited.  I’ll be excited for the game which I’ve quickly grown to love.

I have one small request:  For pétanque to be included in the Olympics, the semi-finals and finals need to be more than just one game.  The present structure has titles being won in final games which last as few as 30 or 60 minutes.  Let’s have a best of three matches to determine the victors.  After all, this would be for an Olympic medal!

Faster, Higher, Stronger.

Leave a comment

Filed under Olympic Fever

The Olympic Games: Everyone Wants to Compete, No One Wants to Host


(Photo: Associated Press/Charles Krupa)

Just when it seemed promising that Americans could enjoy an Olympics not being aired at 2:00 in the morning, such chances were dashed today–dashed when Boston mayor Marty Walsh announced that he would not “commit to putting the taxpayers at risk” to cover the expensive costs of bidding for and hosting the 2024 Olympic Games.  Walsh’s press conference occurred a few hours before sources inside the US Olympic Committee confirmed that a Boston 2024 is no longer likely, and therefore there’s little optimism that a post-2016 Olympics will be held in the Americas any time soon.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Olympic Fever

Say It Ain’t So!

thirtysixIt’s been a long time since I’ve written–a long time since I’ve found any inspiration to write about my beloved Olympics. Perhaps today’s entry isn’t due to any inspiration, but rather to take a moment and open my heart, laying out some of my feelings with which I’m conflicted.

A few months ago I was dismayed to learn that a record number of cities had withdrawn their bids to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.  Out of the original six cities which bid, only two remain:  Beijing, China and Almaty, Kazakhstan.  Lviv (Ukraine), Krakow (Poland), Oslo (Norway), and Stockholm (Sweden) have all withdrawn their bids.  Didn’t we just have an Olympics in China some eight years ago?  Kazakhstan?  Really?  Never have I seen the selection of an Olympic host city be whittled down by the candidate cities themselves, bailing one by one, leaving the least popular cities as the only two available choices.  It’s already difficult to be excited about a 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang.  I’m already frustrated in learning that new medal events will debut at these games:  mixed doubles curling, mass start long track speed skating, snowboard big air, and an Alpine skiing team event.  How much bigger of a circus can these games become?

Let’s see, then there was the report of dead fish filling the harbors near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (host of next year’s Summer Olympics), protests by Brazilians over slum evictions, the growing safety concerns for tourists arriving next year, and yes, the reminder that golf will debut in 2016 as a medal sport.  Yeah, it’s difficult to rally around the excitement which will soon begin building for these next Olympic Games.

Now I’ve learned that in the last few days one of 2012’s great heroes (and a favorite of mine from London) is under investigation for performance enhancing drugs.  Who can forget the gold medal finish by Mo Farah three years ago?  It brought tears to my eyes as he and two other compatriots won gold for the United Kingdom in track and field events.  Now there is suggestion that his win was not earned honestly.    Farah is one of many athletes who continue to fall under scrutiny for alleged cheating.  Some will be cleared of any wrongdoing; others will not, and their Olympic glory will be forever tarnished.  I thought we were past the decade of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs?  Apparently not.  Farah denies all accusations.   I hope his denials are truthful.  Say it ain’t so, Mo!

Sochi’s 2014 Olympics will probably go down in history as one of the most boring and lackluster games of the 21st Century.  The IOC continues to add sports left and right, diluting the value and uniqueness of an Olympic Games and its medals.  In addition, the cost of hosting is leading to potentially great hosts declining or withdrawing from the opportunity to host.  And athletes like Sanya Richards-Ross are demanding compensation in addition to their medals, claiming training costs are too expensive and that IOC members pocket too much money–money that should be given to athletes.

I’m not sure what direction this blog will take from here on.  Imagine how heartbreaking it is for this fanatic to feel so conflicted about the one thing she has loved and revered her entire life!

Say it ain’t so!

Swifter, Higher, Stronger.

1 Comment

Filed under 2012 London Olympics, 2016 Rio de Janeiro, 2018 PyeongChang Olympics

The Most Forgettable Winter Olympics?

Perhaps some of you noticed that I didn’t blog during the 2014 Winter Olympics.  No, my computer wasn’t broken.  Nor was I tucked away somewhere without

Even I wasn't the only one yawning. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Even I wasn’t the only one yawning. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

electricity.  I just didn’t have anything to say.  And that’s not a common occurrence when it comes to the Olympics.  I love the Olympics.  It’s the most exciting thing that happens in my life every two years.  Some might wonder if this is because I have an uneventful life.  No!  It’s because I love the Olympic Games that much.  That much.

One can imagine, then, how disappointed I am over these Winter Olympics.  Okay, I’ll admit I was never particularly excited about Sochi as the host city.  But I put my feelings aside and tried to throw myself into these Olympics as I normally do.  I took vacation days to stay at home and watch.  I even woke at 2:00 AM (or earlier) to watch events live.  But for the most part, the competition was dull.  The venues were architecturally sound, but not worthy of awe.  And when it’s February but the average temperature at a Winter Olympics is 57 degrees Farenheit, something is off.

Throughout the two weeks I kept trying to find that excitement.  Aside from the pairs competition, ladies ski jumping, and the cross-country skiing, there was no sparkle.  No athletes with whom I really fell in love.  No captivating stories.

The only consistency in Sochi was NBC’s continued terrible coverage.  It’s something the network has mastered.   While it offered more live streaming online, it plastered results all over its website.  And rather than forcing me to watch on my laptop, it could have made more use of the other channels it owns.  Quite often as I watched live Olympic coverage online, USA Network was showing re-runs of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and CNBC was airing infomercials.

The one bright spot in these games was NBC Sports’ choice of analysts for figure skating.  While Tara Lipinski  showed poise and articulated

Screenshots from my TV of Lipinski and Weir.  Oh, Johnny!

Screenshots from my TV of Lipinski and Weir. Oh, Johnny!

herself, her colleague Johnny Weir brought much-needed fun and sparkle.  I predicted Lipinski would be in Sochi, and I’m glad NBC decided to also bring Weir to Sochi.  I felt bad for those who weren’t able to watch skating during the day.  They were stuck with Scott Hamilton and Sandra Bezic for evening analysis.

Yes, it breaks my heart that these Olympics weren’t memorable.  But like any Olympian, I’m going to persevere and set my sights on the future.  I hope that Rio brings its A-game to the table in 2016.  And to Pyeongchang, let me say this:   I can’t handle another dud of a Winter Olympics.  I expect the next Winter Olympics to be phenomenal.  If you need any advice, e-mail me.  I’ve got some great ideas.

Faster, Higher, Stronger.



Filed under 2014 Sochi Olympics

The Most Important Event at Sochi’s Games

Gorki“The stars seemed near enough to touch and never before have I seen so many. I always believed the lure of flying is the lure of beauty, but I was sure of it that night.” – Amelia Earhart

When someone asks me which event(s) I recommend watching during an Olympic Games, my typical response is, “Watch all  of  it!”  Yes, I still stand by this.  As a fanatic I believe that all of the Olympics are worth watching.  However,  if one isn’t going to tune in for all of the competition, I can say without doubt that there is one event in Sochi worthy of everyone’s attention:  Women’s ski jumping.

Back in 2010 I wrote a lengthy commentary on gender bias in Olympic sports, focusing on the ridiculous and inexcusable exclusion of women’s ski jumping from the Olympics.  The fact that in the 21st Century women’s

Pioneer and Olympian Lindsey Van (Photo:  WSJ-USA)

Pioneer and Olympian Lindsey Van (Photo: WSJ-USA)

ski jumping still wasn’t a part of the Olympic Games….Well, I still can’t wrap my head around it.  Yet thankfully with all the tireless efforts of athletes, coaches, and various sponsors, women are finally getting their opportunity to compete in Olympic ski jumping.  The historical event will begin tomorrow (Tuesday), February 11 with the normal hill  competition.  Pioneers like Lindsey Van and Jessica Jerome who fought tirelessly for equality and inclusion in the Olympics are finally seeing the fruits of their labor.  And compared to what they’ve endured over the years to earn their place in the Olympics, launching off a 70-meter hill might be less daunting.


Women ski jumpers will finally have an Olympic podium. (Stanko Gruden/Agence Zoom/Getty Images Europe)

As a child I was inspired by the story of Amelia Earhart.  The tales of her courageous adventurous spirit and her belief in gender equality helped make me who I am today.  How many young girls out there have been–and will be–inspired by Lindsey Van Jessica Jerome, or Sara Takanashi?  How many of them watching this week will be encouraged by these athletes’ bold determination, mesmerized as they watch them soar through the air under a Sochi evening sky? Regardless of who will be standing on the podium tomorrow night, all of Sochi’s female jumpers deserve role model status.  Their dogged determination, conviction, and bravery is to be celebrated. Their gallantry deserves the gratitude of all women, old and young.

There will be other memorable stirring moments in these Olympics.  But tomorrow night when the first and last jumpers speed down the hill and launch themselves into the frosty air, history will be made.  And to all of them, I say: Thanks.

Faster, Higher, Stronger.

1 Comment

Filed under 2014 Sochi Olympics, Ski Jumping

From Russia With Love: Opening Ceremony & Day One Recap

“Yes, love, ….I knew that feeling of love which is the essence of the soul, for which no object is needed. And I know that blissful feeling now too. To love one’s neighbours; to love one’s enemies. To love everything….” ― Leo TolstoyWar and Peace

Friday night’s theme was love: romantic love, the love of sport, patriotism, and tradition.  With the first portion of the 2014 opening ceremony centered around a girl named Lubov (which is Russian for love), the program then continued with a  brief and very selective history of Russia depicted through animation and theatrical performances.  It was new IOC president Thomas Bach who stole the show.  His first speech at an Olympic Games was the first one of its kind that I can remember.  Never do I recall an IOC President speaking from the heart and making such bold statements.  It gives me hope for the IOC.  Perhaps I am naive.

It was a safe program; and while it wasn’t as visually appealing as Vancouver’s, it edges out Danny Boyle’s disaster of London two years ago.  But I was puzzled by the persons chose to carry the cauldron into the stadium.  Were the Protopopovs slighted because they defected from the former Soviet Union?  Where was Ekaterina Gordeeva?  I was, however, very pleased to see that Irina Rodnina was chosen to light the cauldron with hockey star Vladislav Tretiak.

Day one of the Olympics is usually jam-packed with events.  But after rising at 5:00 AM to watch live competition, I was done by the middle of the afternoon.  I don’t remember the first day’s schedule of events being so sparse.  So what was yesterday’s highlight for me?  Sven Kramer and team Netherlands sweeping the men’s 5,000 meters in speed skating.  I love watching the Dutch speed skaters.  They are a joy to watch.

Tomorrow will be a jam-packed day of Olympics to watch.  I’m staying in my PJ’s and ordering take-out.  Sochi is my Sunday sanctuary!

Faster, Higher, Stronger.

1 Comment

Filed under 2014 Sochi Olympics