Olympic Diver Greg Louganis Recalls Scorn of Being Different

John Doyle is a writer for the Globe and Mail who primarily covers television. During the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015, he ventured into sport writing with What’s the Right Way to Cover Women’s Sports?, and penned one of my favourite anecdotes of the tournament:

The Women’s World Cup is a peculiar beast of a tournament. I’ve covered many major soccer events featuring the top male players and the tournaments have their own narrative. I was reminded of this after a couple of days in Moncton recently covering the women’s tournament there. The players and their families and friends were everywhere. One evening I saw Louisa Nécib, the great French player, out for a stroll. I must have stared, looked awed, because she gave me an indulgent smile and, I’m pretty sure, winked at me.

AH! To be winked at by Louisa Nécib … heaven on earth. Anywho, back to things … a number of months ago, Doyle interviewed Greg Louganis, one of the best divers of all time. Louganis was promoting the documentary Back on Board: Greg Louganis (produced by HBO Sports), which chronicles his journey from growing up adopted, his ascent in competitive diving to the USA Olympic diving team, coming out as gay and HIV positive in the early 1990s, and life thereafter.

Louganis has had a difficult, vulnerable and resilient life and the documentary chronicles this. It is also an incredible case study of homophobia, fear of HIV-positive people, masculinity and sport. As Doyle states in the article, Olympic Diver Greg Louganis Recalls Scorn of Being Different, those under the age of 30 may not know who Louganis is. And if this is the case, Back on Board is the perfect opportunity to familiarize oneself with him and his tremendous story (trailer).

 

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Women’s World Cup: Finals

The WWC final feels like it occurred ages ago, what with the Pan American Games now happening in the Greater Toronto Area. Yet, the experience is still vivid – it was the most exciting and intense sporting experience I have ever been to. The day of the finals, the streets of Vancouver were littered with soccer supporters – everywhere I looked there were USA jerseys, Japan jerseys and yes, Canada jerseys (I was wearing one myself). There was also a rally outside BC Place, see for yourself***.

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Inside BC Place, the energy was electric. USA fans were an overwhelming majority, although with Vancouver’s large Japanese community, there were many committed Japanese fans in the stadium.

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Over the last few weeks there have been heavy forest fires throughout the western part of Canada. BC is not experiencing the worst of it, however the afternoon of the finals there was smoke that seeped into the air at BC Place and stayed there for the entire match. You’ll notice that many of the photos of the match are covered over with a layer of gray – that’s the smoke.

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The shock of USA scoring not once but FOUR TIMES in the first fifteen minutes was unreal (the crowd was so loud after they scored their first goal, I thought my ears were going to pop). My take was that Japan was caught completely off-guard by the pace and strength of the Americans so early in the game. Coupled with some shaky defense and young, nervous energy – Japan was chasing for the rest of the match. At the beginning of the second half, it looked like they might mount a comeback, however when the USA scored their fifth goal, everyone knew it was done and USA had clinched their third World Cup in the history of the tournament.

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USA played a brilliant game and were the better team in the finals. Their squad is also in its prime, and Japan is going through a transitory period with a bit of a gap between younger and veteran players, much like the Canadian WNT. However, throughout the tournament I was most impressed by Japan’s creativity and technical proficiency. France was my other favourite – they excite me the most with a side that is the best balance of strength and flair. The 2019 WWC will be held in France, and I think this will be France’s tournament to shine.

Kadeisha Buchanan was awarded the Young Player Award at the WWC ceremony – I was beaming! Much deserved and an incredible environment to have her receive it. As an aside, when the FIFA officials were introduced prior to the start of the ceremony, the fans booed them…it was expected and unfortunate.

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After the game, the streets were packed with fans. My buddies and I were hungry and went to Guu Garden after the game, a popular Japanese izakaya in downtown Vancouver, which was the BEST choice. Half hour after we arrived the place became packed with Japanese supporters who were celebrating their team despite the loss. It was incredible. But get this! The whole time we were eating and drinking, the USA WNT arrived at their hotel RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET. We only noticed them after they had already arrived, changed and went back out to their bus, which was on route to their local celebration (the bus had an eagle on it with the words “It takes 23”, amazing). I was only able to get pics of them in the bus, not walking onto it. Nonetheless, it was a cool moment that topped off an incredible WWC tournament experience in my home country.

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***All pictures © Cristina Murano

Women’s World Cup: Semi-Finals

Once all the group stage games had been played, you could trace all match-up possibilities moving forward, which meant that there would be no Germany vs USA final, no France vs USA final, etc. Japan wouldn’t have to play any of these three teams in a semi-final game, and Canada (if they had made it past the quarter-finals) would have had a shot at a top three finish. I was really hoping for a France vs Japan final – that would have been electric. However, the USA vs Japan final will also be dynamite. Did you know the US WNT hasn’t won a World Cup since 1999?

The semi-final games delivered in terms of excitement and quality. The key moments during USA vs Germany were: Nadine Angerer’s first half saves in the box; Célia Šašic’s penalty kick miss, and Kelly O’Hara’s game-clinching second goal to put USA through to the finals. Japan vs England moments, on the other hand, were completely overshadowed by Laura Bassett’s own goal, which came at the worst, most disastrous moment in the game: 1 minute left in stoppage time, 2nd half.

Today, the Lionesses face Germany in the third place match. Here’s what their coach, Mark Sampson, had to say yesterday: “We want to achieve something special … we’re playing the queens of women’s football – but they’ve just been beaten and Germany don’t usually lose two in a row. They’ve got the greatest coach in the history of the female game and will want to win Silvia’s last match for her. We want to make history. The exciting thing about this England team is that they don’t know where the limit is, they want to keep evolving, keep getting better. We feel we’ve put the pride back into English football … Laura will be absolutely determined to lift the FA Cup … she and her team-mates deserve a hero’s welcome when they get home”. England has definitely been one of the breakout stars of the tournament.

Before the tournament started, scandal and corruption abounded involving dozens of FIFA executives. As a result, we won’t be seeing Sepp Blatter at the finals on Sunday, which is for the best. One can’t help but wonder how things will be moving forward, especially with the WWC. Will FIFA get its act together and bring in new leadership? I’m not sure, but the cost of corruption on the game is high. David Olive, of the Toronto Star, wrote a fantastic piece about this prior to the tournament starting: It’s not all Sepp’s fault: Why the sports industry is failing us. The relationship between sport and business is profound, but it is only part of the reason women’s soccer is not where it should be, the other part is just plain sexism.

No pictures today, but when I post about the third place match and the finals, I’ll be sure to include some of the latter. Yes, yes, I will be at the finals in Vancouver! So excited, can’t wait.