Greg Louganis, the actor, stood at the top of the tower and peered down at the waiting water 10 meters below. This was a role he was born to play: the final dive, a reverse 3� somersault in the tuck position, the most difficult dive performed, and only near perfection would bring him a national championship. With grace, Louganis soared from the tower. With grace, and barely a ripple, he whispered into the water. And with grace, he learned that the dive had been not quite good enough.
"I am only human," the 27-year-old Olympic champion said with a small grin. "I've been proving that all week."
It had been a long week for Louganis, who came into the Phillips 66/U.S. Diving Indoor Championships in Baton Rouge as the defending champion in all three men's events and with a mind-boggling cache of 41 national titles during his 11-year career. No one else has come close to that record; no one probably ever will. But when he left Saturday for this week's World Cup diving championships in Amersfoort, Holland, the record still sat at 41.
On Thursday he finished second to Mission Bay Makos teammate Doug Shaffer in the one-meter springboard event. Shaffer dived well, but Louganis missed one key dive—a reverse 1� in layout in which he was penalized severely for descending dangerously close to the springboard. "I looked down, and there was the board, under my head." he said. "I don't know how I missed it."
By the thin margin of 10 points after 11 dives, Louganis had lost only his second one-meter U.S. championship in 18 indoor and outdoor competitions dating back to 1978. It was after the one-meter competition that the double-gold medal winner at the L.A. Olympics first mentioned that he was, popular belief to the contrary, mortal.
"I'm not the only person diving," said Louganis, who last year played the part of a womanizing beach bum in the as-yet-unreleased movie Dirty Laundry. "There are other people out there." Since his 1984 Olympic triumphs he has also been busy with commercials and speaking appearances.
To keep from psyching himself out during the one-meter finals, Shaffer, a 23-year-old UCLA graduate who was 0 for 15 in U.S. national championship finals, spent his time between dives reading J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. Like most divers, he prefers not to know what the competition is doing. "You start thinking about how well they are doing and you forget about your dive," Shaffer said. "That can get to you. Yeah, I think you can say this was an upset. But I wouldn't say it was impossible. It's not like Greg was never going to lose."
On Friday night another teammate, Kent Ferguson, defeated Louganis in the three-meter springboard, an event that Louganis had lost only once on a national championship level since the U.S. Outdoors in 1978. Like Shaffer, Ferguson dived well; and as on the night before, Louganis missed his closer, a reverse 3� in the tuck position. Descending, at a 45-degree slant, he entered the water the way a three-year-old enters a bathtub—with a great splash. Louganis had needed 65.89 points on the dive to win; he got only 49.35 when the judges hit him with 4's and 5's.
In Tuesday's preliminaries, Ferguson, a taller-than-average (6 feet) diver, had finished 10th, which, as a student of psychology (his major at graduation from Michigan in 1985), he figured put him in the perfect position to win that evening. "I could do my dives and then go off somewhere," Ferguson said. "I wasn't forced to watch my competition."
Although he knew he was leading after his final dive, a reverse 1� somersault with 3� twists, in which he scored 7�'s and 8's, he didn't watch Louganis's final dive. Ferguson had found himself in the same position at last year's national outdoors, when he was leading and Louganis needed 7's to win. "I told Greg I'd rather not know," he said. "So I went into the bathroom. He got 9's."