Better Late Than Never: Olympic Champion Greg Louganis Gets His Wheaties Box | KUOW News and Information

Better Late Than Never: Olympic Champion Greg Louganis Gets His Wheaties Box

Apr 5, 2016
Originally published on April 7, 2016 12:30 pm

In his competitive diving career, four-time Olympic diving gold medalist and five-time world champion Greg Louganis has been all over the world. Now he'll be in one place that's eluded him for years: your kitchen table.

Wheaties announced that Louganis — who is openly gay and HIV-positive — along with two other former Olympians, hurdler Edwin Moses and swimmer Janet Evans, will be featured on the cereal boxes as part of the revamped "legends" series.

In a 2015 HBO documentary called Back on Board: Greg Louganis, the diver said he understood that he wasn't featured on the Wheaties box during the prime of his career in the 1980s because he didn't fit the company's requirement of a "wholesome image," as he was rumored to be gay. He came out publicly about his sexual identity and HIV-positive status in 1995.

Louganis says he is glad to finally be getting the recognition.

"[It's] so incredible to be honored with the likes of Edwin Moses — we were in our first Olympic games in 1976 together," Louganis told NPR's All Things Considered. "Janet Evans — we trained at Mission Viejo together — I watched her grow up."

Louganis became the only man to sweep the Olympic diving events in back-to-back games when he won gold medals in both springboard and platform diving in the '84 and '88 Olympics. He's now a role model for other athletes including British Olympic diver Tom Daley, who came out as gay when he was around 20 years old.

"I would have always wanted someone like him as a role model on the front of a cereal box," Daley told NPR's Ari Shapiro. "He's a great model and forever will be the greatest diver to walk this earth."

General Mills spokesman Mike Siemienas told NPR he couldn't provide an answer as to why Louganis wasn't on the box previously because no one who was involved in those decisions still worked at the company. Siemienas said a committee is responsible for determining which athletes are on the boxes.

Wheaties unveiled the "legends" cereal boxes after the documentary detailing Louganis' athletic career and experiences as a gay man sparked a petition on Change.org to get the diver on the iconic Wheaties cereal box. Created by Julie Sondgerath, who had never met Louganis, the petition garnered nearly 45,000 signatures.

Wheaties told NPR that the petition did not factor into the decision to put Louganis on a Wheaties box.

"We were aware of the petition, as we see this all the time from fans wanting their favorite athlete on the box," Siemienas said. "But appearing on a Wheaties box is not a popularity contest. Wheaties chooses athletes based on their achievements on and off their field of play."

As for Louganis, he says that he appreciates the honor more now than he would have in the 1980s.

"Back in '95, I wasn't expected to live very long because we thought of HIV-AIDS as a death sentence, so to be here today, now 56, the box means so much more to me than it would have then because I feel like I'm being embraced as a whole person, not just for my athletic achievements."

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Greg Louganis had come to accept that despite being a four-time Olympic gold medalist, there was one badge of honor he wouldn't see.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "BACK ON BOARD")

GREG LOUGANIS: Yeah, I never got a Wheaties box (laughter). Their response was that I didn't fit their wholesome demographics or whatever, basically, you know, being gay.

SHAPIRO: That's the champion diver speaking in a recent HBO documentary called "Back On Board." Now it has happened. Today the Wheaties box with his photo was unveiled, and we're going to ask Greg Louganis what he thinks about that. Welcome to the show.

LOUGANIS: Thank you. It's great to be here.

SHAPIRO: First just describe the picture of you on the box. Do you remember when this photo was taken?

LOUGANIS: Yes, I do remember. It was at Mission Viejo, and I think we were preparing for the 84 Olympic games. I had a photographer friend who was photographing that day. So, oh, my God, my legs are big.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: They're not that big anymore?

LOUGANIS: They're not quite that big anymore.

SHAPIRO: Describe the image. You're sort of bent forward in a classic...

LOUGANIS: It's...

SHAPIRO: ...Diver pose.

LOUGANIS: Right. It's an inward dive pike. It's a little black-and-white photo. It looks so retro and so cool.

SHAPIRO: You can see your - sort of whatever those muscles are called along your ribs. It's a really active shot. It is not like a studio portrait.

LOUGANIS: No, it's not a studio portrait. It's definitely action.

SHAPIRO: You've won so many awards, gold medals at the Olympics. Why does being on a box of cereal matter?

LOUGANIS: Well, you know what? It - I really didn't follow it. You know, it really started with "Breaking The Surface" with Eric Marcus in 1995. People were coming to me with these Wheaties boxes with my picture on it and asking me to sign it. And it's like, well, what's this all about?

SHAPIRO: You mean they had, like, pasted your picture onto a Wheaties box.

LOUGANIS: Yeah, yeah.

SHAPIRO: I should also say "Breaking The Surface" is this book that you co-wrote - it came out in the mid-90s - that is your life story.

LOUGANIS: Correct. That's when I came out about my HIV status and talked openly about being a gay man. But back in '95, you know, I wasn't expected to live very long because we thought of HIV-AIDS as a death sentence. So you know, to be here today, you know, now 56, the box means so much more to me than it would've then because I feel like I'm being embraced as a whole person, not just for my athletic achievements.

SHAPIRO: So I got to tell you. Before this conversation, I texted Tom Daley, the olympic diver from...

LOUGANIS: I love Tom Daley.

SHAPIRO: And he just wrote back to me, and he says, tell him that I would've always wanted someone like him as a role model on the front of a cereal box.

LOUGANIS: Oh.

SHAPIRO: He's a great role model and forever will be the greatest diver to walk this Earth.

LOUGANIS: Oh, my God.

SHAPIRO: And you know, Tom Daley is somebody who came out around the age of 20...

LOUGANIS: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...And now has this Olympic career much like yours.

LOUGANIS: Right.

SHAPIRO: And he's able to be open in a way that you were not able to be open.

LOUGANIS: Exactly. It was a different time back in the '80s. I was afraid it was going to be all about, oh, the gay diver or the gay athlete, you know, which it may have been.

SHAPIRO: You had this level of fame with your Olympic wins, and now, all these years later, you're going to be introduced to a new generation that might not be as familiar with you through the Wheaties cereal box.

LOUGANIS: Right.

SHAPIRO: What do you want this new generation to know about you? What do you hope you represent to them?

LOUGANIS: In a word, hope because when I was diagnosed back in 1988, I was 28. Six months prior to the Olympic games, I didn't expect to see the age of 30. And here I am today at 56 and really living and thriving - that HIV isn't a death sentence.

Also the important factor, too, is that I share my experience with my HIV meds. It hasn't been easy. I wouldn't wish my drug regimen on anyone, so prevention, prevention, prevention, education, education, education. You know, those are the kinds of things that I try to convey to the younger generation that - you know, that's coming up.

SHAPIRO: Well, Greg Louganis, it is an honor to talk to you, and congratulations on finally getting your photo on that box of Wheaties.

LOUGANIS: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.