SEATTLE -- His demons were everywhere. They followed him to the pool for practice. They stalked him in the Olympic Village when he tried to relax. They were on the stage with him for every news conference, on the board before every dive.
In 1988, in Seoul, while the world was preparing to watch the last of the best of Greg Louganis, the greatest diver his sport has produced, Louganis was merely trying to keep his life together.
As he readied himself for another run at gold, Louganis was battling the dual fears of knowing he had been diagnosed with HIV-AIDS, while coping with the seemingly inescapable pain of an abusive personal relationship.
At the Seoul Olympics, his life was so chaotic that Louganis' dangerous sport became his safe haven. Diving was the only thing left in his life he felt he controlled.
The future? He didn't think he had one.
"That was the year I was diagnosed HIV positive," Louganis said Wednesday afternoon, sitting in the Seattle Capitol Hill offices of Lifelong AIDS Alliance, wearing a red, white and blue USA jacket. "And back then, when you were diagnosed HIV positive, that was a death sentence."
In Seoul, Louganis became the only man to win consecutive Olympic gold medals in both the platform and springboard events, yet the entire time he competed he lived with the belief that he was dying.
"It was easier for me to focus on diving and also it was much more positive," he said. "I think in many ways, the diving was a blessing. I had heard about all these deaths from HIV, but it wasn't part of my daily consciousness because I was focused on the diving."
Louganis grew up with depression. He considered suicide. He remembers telling his mother, "I really think it's possible for somebody to die from sadness." Even before he was diagnosed with HIV-AIDS, he didn't think he would live to see his 30th birthday.
"It was scary," he said, "because most of the pictures of AIDS, most of the visual images that you had at the time were of skeletal figures on their death beds. Of course you don't want to be that person. That's not the image of yourself that you want. It was terrifying."
After Seoul, Louganis left the sport and disappeared from the public. He calls his time away "an interesting detour and a valuable one."
When he competed, he was the perfect combination of sports and art; Julius Erving meets Mikhail Baryshnikov. Now 23 years later, Louganis, 51, is healthy and back in diving. Except for the abundant gray that streaks through his hair and goatee, he looks fit enough to compete for another medal.
He had one scare a couple of years ago when his T-cell count dropped alarmingly, but he says he feels so good he often forgets about his disease.
"It used to be that every time I got the sniffles or a sore throat I thought, 'Oh, my God I'm going to die,' " he said. "But not so much anymore. I've been through so many experiences now, nothing much surprised me."
He has been to hell and back, but Greg Louganis is back where he belongs, on the diving board, coaching at a club in Fullerton, Calif., called SoCal Divers.
The United States needs him. The Chinese now dominate the sport. The United States hasn't won a diving medal in the past two Summer Olympics, and Louganis has virtually been ignored by the national team.
"I'm here," he said. "They've had a source here right in front of them and they didn't take advantage of me. How stupid is that? It kind of baffles me. There were egos. There were jealousies. There was homophobia."
Still, the best of the best don't always become the most accomplished coaches. Louganis, who has been with SoCal Divers for three months, says he learned how to coach during his time away from diving. His "detour" was when he became a dog trainer.
"If I had gone right into diving after competing I probably would have been that kind of person who isn't good at coaching," he said. "I would have been miserable, but I got totally immersed into dogs. Dogs listen. And they want to please. Talking to a friend the other day I told him that when I was growing up I kind of imagined myself as a Doctor Doolittle. I thought I could talk to the animals, and I thought that was way cool.
"Training dogs really has helped me in my coaching. It's really helped with patience. You don't train a Jack Russell terrier and not learn patience."
Louganis, who was in Seattle to speak at Life AIDS Alliance's annual Make A Difference Benefit Breakfast on Thursday at the Red Lion Hotel on Fifth Ave., believes that too many U.S. coaches are teaching acrobatics at the expense of fundamentals.
He says he isn't bothered by China's dominance. "But we can compete," he said. "What we have to do is go back to the basics and the fundamentals and repetition, repetition, repetition. We have to be rock-solid."
Every once in a while, Louganis said, he gets on the springboard at practice and does a dive that barely raises a ripple in the pool.
"I'm still not bad," he said, smiling.
The best-ever diver is in a strong personal relationship. He's back in his sport. And at 51, Greg Louganis' life just might be better than ever.