Former Olympic great Greg Louganis will once again be before the cameras at a sporting event — serving as commentator for the Westminster dog show agility competition. Wait. What?
The man described as the greatest diver of all time will work for Fox Sports 1 at the Westminster agility competition on Saturday, February 8, which will be telecast from 7 to 9 p.m. Eastern.
From diving to dogs? For those who compete in dog agility, it’s no surprise. Louganis dove into the sport two decades ago and made a big splash. And yes, he’s even trained a couple of his dogs to dive.
Dogs have always been a big part of Louganis’ life. Boyhood photos often show him with dog in arms, and he’s said his dogs have always gotten him through his toughest times, including his diagnosis of and treatment for HIV.
“Some of the treatments I’ve had to go through are pretty harsh. When I feel most scared or insecure, my dogs have been there for me. They sense this and stay closer to me. When my treatments or their side effects are most debilitating, we stay in, snuggle into bed and watch TV, and the dogs don’t leave my side. Tell me dogs aren’t family.” — from For the Life of Your Dog by Greg Louganis and Betsy Siino, 1999.
Once Louganis retired from diving, it wasn’t long before he was back in front of the judges, this time in dog conformation shows with his harlequin Great Danes. Unlike most celebrities who like to boast of owning a winning show dog, Louganis never hired professional handlers to show his dogs; he did it all himself. Nor did he just go out and buy an already proven champion, which he could have well afforded. “I didn’t care about championships,” he said in an interview. “It was just my time with my dog.”
Not that that time always went as planned. “You have to maintain a healthy attitude toward showing, which means keeping your sense of humor about it. Everyone has stories of how their dogs choose the most inappropriate times to become clowns in the show ring,” Louganis recalls in For the Life of Your Dog. “One time when I was showing two of my Danes, Donna and Lamb Chop, they were both a little antsy. They looked at me and I could see what they were thinking: ‘Let’s play with Greg!’ They decided to do everything they could think of, the exact opposite of what I asked them to do or what they knew they should be doing. They would jump up on me and smother my face with kisses. They’d suddenly plop down when the judge wanted to evaluate their movement or take a look at their teeth. They were so wild that I couldn’t gait them across the ring — this after weeks of good behavior.”
At one time Louganis had five Great Danes. Unfortunately, Great Danes just don’t live long enough to avoid repeated heartache. Eventually he added a Bouvier des Flandres, a Border Terrier, and a Jack Russell Terrier — and even a Pumi.
Louganis’ involvement with dogs wasn’t just with his own. For years he made house calls, grooming dogs as part of Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS), a nonprofit that helps people with HIV care for their pets. And in 1999 he co-authored a book on living with dogs called For the Life of Your Dog.
Louganis enjoyed developing his dogs’ mental powers, which meant training them. It was while at an obedience class that he saw dog agility. In agility, dogs race through tunnels, over jumps and around weave poles, among other obstacles. It looked like fun, so he signed up his Jack Russell Terrier, Nipper. Nipper was a natural, and in no time they were competing in agility trials. Since Nipper, he’s also competed in agility with his dogs Dr. Schivago, Captain Woof Blitzer, Gryffindor, Dobby and Hedwig.
Greg isn’t all about winning. “I’m competitive,” he says, “but first and foremost it’s about your relationship with your dog. What’s fun about agility is that even if you don’t win, you can still earn points and work toward a championship title. There’s a lot of camaraderie out there. Everyone’s so supportive.”
He’s a respected competitor who even gives seminars on competing in agility. Among his advice: Visualize success, not perfection. Plan not only for the run where things go well, but for the run (or dive) where they don’t. Practice the dive where you didn’t jump high enough so you know how to recover. Practice the run where your dog ended up on the wrong side so you know how to recover. Visualize success, not perfection.
It’s worked pretty well for Greg Louganis.
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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.
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