[REAL VERSION] London 2012

REAL VERSION

Full coverage on NBC through August 12

Olympic Great Greg Louganis Returns to USA Diving as a Mentor

The five-time Olympic medalist hopes his guidance can help lead the United States back to diving prominence

By Steven Covelman and Robert Kovacik
|  Tuesday, Jul 17, 2012  |  Updated 6:09 PM EDT
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NBC4's Robert Kovacik interviews Greg Louganis about his new role with the U.S. Olympic diving team.

NBC4's Robert Kovacik interviews Greg Louganis about his new role with the U.S. Olympic diving team.

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Olympic legend Greg Louganis was once the world’s best diver. His career is full of spectacular performances, including winning double gold medals in two consecutive Olympics. In 1988, he won gold despite famously hitting his head on the springboard in a preliminary dive.

Now, at age 52, he's trying to help return US diving to glory. For the first time since retiring from diving after the 1988 Olympics, Louganis is serving as a mentor for American divers.

"(U.S.) diving is in a real tough spot," Louganis said. "We haven’t won a medal since 2000."

Louganis said he hasn't helped USA Diving before for a simple reason: He was never asked. In preparation for the London games, Steve Foley, high-performance director for USA Diving, reached out to him.

"He said, 'Well, how do we get you back involved in diving,'" Louganis said. "And I said, 'Ask.'

Louganis, who is openly gay and HIV positive, believes that homophobia led to his distance from USA Diving. Until now, he said he didn't feel welcome.

"I was giving USA Diving the benefit of the doubt," Louganis said. "You know it’s sad, but I’ve seen changes, and that’s the reason why I’m back."

The California native, 24 years removed from his last Olympics appearance, is now working with divers in preparation for the Games.

"A lot of them weren’t born when I was diving," Louganis said. "They have to look me up on YouTube, but most of them know the history with regard to me hitting my head on the board at my last Olympic games during prelims and coming back to win."

The American divers have their work cut out for them -- in recent years, the sport has been dominated by China and Russia. Chinese divers took home seven of the eight gold medals available in Beijing in 2008, and Russian divers won three silver medals and two bronze medals..

For American diving, Louganis believes the stakes have never been higher: A poor performance in London could spell trouble for the program.

"If we don’t get a medal this Olympics there is concern that we may lose funding from the USOC because the U.S. Olympic Committee is putting their money into performance," Louganis said.

With the games just days away, Louganis hopes that his mentees can find the podium -- just like he did so many times before.

"I really want them to be successful," he said, "and now we really need them to be successful."

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