Samir Ait Said broken leg
Samir Ait Said

There is scary cute. And there is scary scary.

On this 31st day of October, aka Halloween, here are three legitimately scary moments in Olympic history. These images are not for the faint of heart.

Samir Ait Said, gymnast for France, broke his leg in a vault qualifier at the 2016 Rio Olympics, the snap of the bone so loud that people in the stands could hear it.

 

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Andranik Karapetyan

Armenian weightlifter, Andranik Karapetyan, dislocated his left elbow attempting a lift in the clean and jerk competition at the 2016 Rio Olympics

Greg Louganis hits head on board

At the 1988 Seoul Olympics, diver Greg Louganis was performing a reverse somersault dive in the preliminaris of the 3-meter springboard competition when the back of his head slammed into the board full force. Despite the concussion and five stitches he received after that dive, he still went on to win the gold medal.

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sammy-lee-on-the-podium-1952-olympics
Sammy Lee on the podium (center) at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics
  • He was a doctor.
  • He was an officer in the US Army, serving in Korea.
  • He was an Olympian, a two-time gold medalist in platform diving.
  • And he was a coach of Olympians, both formally and informally, not just of American medalists, but of divers around the world.

He was Dr. Sammy Lee. And on December 2, 2016, this great man passed away.

I am an Asian American, and I am proud of the example my grandfather, and my father – both of whom are people I can openly say are my role models. But for Asian Americans, we sometimes complain about our lack of Asian American heroes on the big screen, in the big leagues, in the government. It’s a silly thought of course – examples abound and I won’t list them here (because I am Asian).

But if I were to mention one special role model in the sporting world, it would have to be Dr. Sammy Lee, a Korean American and a diving legend. To be honest, until I started my book project on the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, I was not so aware of him, although I was familiar with the name. However, when I met diving Olympians like Frank Gorman, Soren Svejstrup, Jeanne Collier, and Bob Webster, I realized that Sammy Lee transcended race, that he was a role model for the world, particularly for the world of diving.

sammy-leeHe inspired: He was the very best in platform diving in the world, winning the gold medal in the 10 meter dive at the 1948 London Games, and the 1952 Helsinki Games, in addition to being a medical doctor and an officer in the US Army.

He knew how to get the best out of you: In this article, two-time gold medalist Webster told me that Lee knew how to light a fire in your belly, how to believe in yourself, and how he would do it with equal parts pressure and humor. He was regimented in his training plan for you and he was strict in making you follow it, but he got results out of you.

He was committed to you, in many cases, for life: Lee took diving champion Greg Louganis into his home to train him for the 1976 Montreal Olympics. In this article, I wrote that he spent time coaching promising young divers who showed up without coaches, eventual champions like Gorman and Svejstrup, and always stayed in touch.

Collier told me that Lee would always have a camera and would make sure he took a picture of the divers he knew as they stood on the medal podium, and then send it to them. “He is one of the greatest people on the planet,” gushed Collier.

Said Svejstrup, who said that at a time in his career when he was inexperienced and unsure of himself, Lee stood up for him. “I was grateful, and of course I lost my heart to Sammy forever.”

Qui Bo diver
Qiu Bo

There are 8 gold medals up for grabs in the diving competitions at the Rio Olympics: the 10-meter platform and 3-meter springboard for both men and women, as well as synchronized 10-meter platform and synchronized 3-meter springboard, for both men and women.

In the past three Olympics in London, Beijing and Athens, athletes from the People’s Republic of China have won four, seven and six of the possible eight at the respective Olympics, which is pretty darn good. The international organization overseeing swimming and diving, FINA, organized four international competitions in 2016 – the FINA Diving World Series. Of the 40 gold medals up for grabs in those four competitions, the Chinese took an outstanding 38 of them. That’s 95% of the gold medals in 2016. That’s dominance.

While defending Olympic champion of the 10-meter platform, David Boudia hopes to return America to Olympic diving glory with a rare Olympian gold-medal repeat. To do so he will likely have to beat Qiu Bo, the man he defeated in London, who will of course be very hungry for revenge. Qiu is the current world champion in the 10-meters, where he edged out Boudia, and in fact has won three straight world championships since 2011, something only American Greg Louganis has done.

But Qiu is just one of a mini army of divers from China who look to take gold in diving in Rio.

Wu Minxia
Wu Minxia

Wu Minxia recently was the 2015 world champion in synchronized 3-meter springboard, partnering with teammate Shi Tingmao to win gold. She is hoping to exceed her current medal haul of six since 2004 and become the most decorated female Olympic diver in history.

And after their victories in the 2015 world championships, the Chinese are also favored to win in the men’s synchronized 3-meter springboard, the men’s synchronized 10-meter platform, the 3-meter springboard, the women’s 3-meter springboard, as well as the women’s synchronized 1-meter platform.

In other words, except perhaps for the men’s 10-meter platform, it’s possible that the Chinese can take 7 of 8 golds at the Rio Games, in addition to silvers and bronzes along the way. As Tom Gompf, the American diver who took bronze in the 10-meter platform competition at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics told me, “The Chinese dominate. They will get the bulk of the medals. If you saw their program you’d understand why.”

There you have it. Expect to hear the Chinese national anthem around the diving pool…a lot.

Greg Louganis and his Wheaties box

She’s not an athlete. She’s an IT consultant from Chicago. And she had just seen the documentary, “Back on Board: Greg Louganis“, the HBO documentary about the diving legend. When she sees the scene of Louganis walking though the Swimming Hall of Fame, passing by a series of Wheaties cereal boxes on display, he says “never got a Wheaties box – “In that moment,” Sondgerath writes, “I was inspired to start a campaign asking General Mills to ‘Put Greg Louganis on the Wheaties Box’.

Julie Sondgerath went to Change.org and submitted a petition that over 40,000 people signed on to, including me. Six months later, on April 5, Sondgerath got word: “I’m proud to announce that the campaign was a success!,” wrote Sondgerath on change.org. “Today, Wheaties will have a press release to unveil a WheatiesLegends Campaign to begin with a legacy photo of Greg Louganis on the Wheaties box! Congratulations to Greg, as well as Janet Evans and Edwin Moses! I can share with you that he is beside himself with excitement!”

Put Greg Louganis on a Wheaties Box

No other man has won gold in both the 3-meter springboard and 10-meter platform in two consecutive Olympics, doing so in Los Angeles in 1984 and Seoul in 1988. Louganis had often wondered that the reason he didn’t get on the Wheaties box, or perhaps other financially lucrative sponsorship deals, was the rumors at the time that he was gay. In fact, Louganis is now openly gay, having come out in 1994.

General Mills has downplayed the reasons for now placing Louganis on the box. They said that there are many athletes who deserve to be recognized, which is why they also chose to create boxes for Olympic legends Janet Evans and Edwin Moses. The New York Times quotes Mike Siemienas, manager of brand media at General Mills, saying that the choices

Greg Louganis
Greg Louganis

Greg Louganis had won silver in Montreal and two gold medals for diving in Los Angeles in 1984. In 1988 at the Seoul Olympic Games, Louganis was favored to win gold again in both the 3 meter springboard and the 10-meter platform events.

But that changed suddenly when Louganis hit his head in the 3-meter preliminaries, and fell into the water with blood seeping from his head. As he explained in a recent episode of Hang Up and Listen (the Slate sports podcast), “in that split second, I was the underdog.” (Listen from the 36-minute mark for the Louganis interview.)

Louganis went on to win gold in both the 3-meter and 10-meter competitions, ending the Olympic career of who some say is the greatest diver of all time. But the competition in 1988 was the toughest he faced with the Chinese coming on strong and challenging Louganis for diving supremacy. And more personally, it was only six months before when Louganis learned he was HIV positive. If the Korean authorities had known that, it is possible they would not have let him into the country to compete in the Olympics.

As the Slate interviewers asked in disbelief, after getting a concussion in the prelims, leaving blood in the water hiding the fact that he is HIV positive, the Chinese breathing down his neck as he battles to stay in medal contention….how did he focus.

Louganis replied with a laugh, answering as it wasn’t that big a deal to do so.

“That was my upbringing. I’ve been performing (for so long). I started dance and acrobatics when I was 3. I was taught, “Hey, the show must go on.” As soon as that music starts, there is no looking back. if you lose your place, you gotta catch up. You don’t get second chances. It was easy for me to compartmentalize my life because I had done so for so many years. We get good at what we practice. That is something I practiced a lot.”

Louganis is not alone. Almost all athletes at that level can narrow their focus on only the elements they know will contribute to their success. It amazes me