"I don't have to coach him technically as much as the other divers because of his ability level," says O'Brien. "My main job is to keep him relaxed. I joke a little. When he smiles, he dives well."
When he was looking over colleges in 1978, Louganis decided to accept a scholarship offer from Miami because it had an excellent drama program. So once again he was on stage, and in the fall of his sophomore year Frances Louganis traveled east to see her son in his first dramatic performance. The play was Equus. As well as having a bit part, Greg played Nugget, one of the horses. Attending a dress rehearsal, Frances heard her son say some things she had never allowed to be uttered in her house. "Everybody in the audience heard me gasp, and started laughing," she recalls, "but Greg never broke stride." Frances wound up seeing the play four times.
But Miami was a long way from El Cajon and Mission Viejo, and Louganis wanted to consolidate his training. He took last fall's semester off to work as an apprentice bartender in a Mexican restaurant at Anaheim. He also took a two-month leave from diving. "I needed the money," he says, "and I needed a rest."
In December he accepted a scholarship from the University of California at Irvine where he resumed his studies in January. A drama major, he is taking 22 units at Irvine, a load that will keep him out of competition until next month. "Ronnie and I have talked about this," he says. "If I'm going to continue until 1984, which I intend to do. I need a break. So this is the year when I can do what I want to do. I want to get involved in school, get to know people. I am new here. I don't know anybody. I'm glad I don't have to live and sleep diving this year. I have so many other interests."
Louganis' favorite classes are classical literature and dance. In his dance class he has discovered that ballet is far more demanding than tap, jazz or modern dance. It has been said that Louganis could have his pick of admiring girls anywhere. In ballet class, however, as he ruefully explains, he has to pick them up. "You pick them up," he says, "and you set them down, none too gently, and they land on your foot. I never lifted weights in my life, and now I am lifting partners. I am using muscles I never knew I had. A pas de deux is a lot harder than diving workouts. On tower I do a few dives and I'll be a little sore the next day. From a ballet session I come home dying, absolutely exhausted."
Louganis shares a two-bedroom apartment with Kevin Perry, a former art student who works for the phone company because he can no longer afford tuition. It is a simple place on a back street in Costa Mesa, a 20-minute drive from Irvine, 30 minutes from Mission Viejo, an hour and a half from home. The couch and armchairs are covered with newspapers because Maile, the Hawaiian leaf, acts more like the rambunctious Great Dane puppy she is than the "Mellow Maile" she is supposed to be. But she is something to come home to, "like a little daughter," says Greg.
Next month, Louganis will compete in the three-meter at the World Cup in Mexico City, where he expects to meet Portnov, and next year there will be the world championships in Ecuador. The Los Angeles Olympics are only three years away. Nobody has ever won both the springboard and tower at the world championships, and the only man to win the two events at an Olympics was Pete Desjardins of the U.S., way back in 1928.
"Greg has the ability to win both in a world championship, and in '84." says O'Brien. "Nobody is perfect, but when he's prepared and confident and smiling, he can come closer to being perfect than anybody has ever been."