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How Greg Louganis’ HIV-Positive Status and His Dad’s Lung Cancer Battle Led to Their Reconciliation

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Greg Louganis is the first to admit he did not have the warmest relationship with his father.

“Growing up, I had a wonderful relationship with my mom. With my dad, it was not always great,” says the Olympic diver, who is the subject of a new documentary streaming on the People/Entertainment Weekly Network and is featured in the current issue of PEOPLE.

Louganis, 57, was adopted by Frances, a homemaker, and Peter, the controller of a fishing company, when he was 9 months old. Though his mother and father were open with him about his adoption, unanswered questions about his birth parents led to a tumultuous childhood for the future five-time Olympic medalist.

“I’d always felt like if my natural parents couldn’t love me, then nobody could. I internalized that and went through a horrible rebellion,” he says. “I was out of control, and I wouldn’t let anyone in.”

Courtesy Greg Louganis

But as he grew older, Louganis developed a close bond with Frances.

“We would spend a lot of time in the kitchen together,” he says.

Peter, though, remained distant.

“I always felt that, once I started diving, he started taking an interest in what I was doing,” says Louganis, who entered the sport at age 9. “Then he got a little bit too involved in my diving and I had to ask him, when I was 11 years old, not to take me to practice anymore because he was bringing it home with me. He was never letting it alone.”

“It was interesting because I had such a long career and that, at a very early age, it was more for my dad,” he continues. “I felt that in order to be loved by my dad — and be deserving of love — I had to win.”

  • For more from Louganis — including his journey to reuniting with his birth parents — pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.

By his mid-teens, Louganis was living with host families and training far away from his family home in Southern California. At 16, he won silver at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, and by the time he was 28, he’d become a four-time Olympic gold medalist. But he remained distant with his father until Peter was diagnosed with lung cancer.

“It was interesting because I was diagnosed HIV positive six months prior to the Olympic games in 1988 and then my dad, I believe in ’89, was diagnosed with cancer,” says Louganis. “Because of his cancer diagnosis, I came out to my dad about my HIV status.”

“That was real bonding time for us because then we started looking after each other. ‘Are you going to your treatments? Do you need help? Do you need anything?’ ” he continues. “In ’91 I ended up taking care of him for the last six weeks of his life, and that was a very healing process because a lot of things happened. He was able to explain himself, why he did some of the things that he did, and so it helped me understand who he was, so it was a very healing time.”

In 2004, Louganis lost Frances, also to lung cancer. But now Louganis is developing a relationship with his birth parents.

RELATED VIDEO: Olympic Diver Greg Louganis Reveals How He Found His Birth Father After Decades of Feeling Abandoned

 

In the current issue of PEOPLE, Louganis opens up about developing a relationship with his birth father — a Hawaiian man who reached out to Louganis during his first trip to Hawaii after the 1984 Olympics — and attending a large family reunion for his birth father’s family in July.

“I did have a challenging relationship with my dad. I felt that I was only worthy of being loved as long as I won. He put a lot of pressure, a lot of emphasis on the importance of winning. After meeting my biological father, I think that he would have been happy no matter what,” Louganis says, comparing his two fathers.

“But everything happens for a reason. I know my parents who raised me loved me and they provided me opportunities I never would have had growing up with my birth parents,” he adds. “I wouldn’t be the person I am without all of their influences.”

People Features: Greg Louganis — Finding My Father is now streaming on the People/Entertainment Weekly Network.