The swimming club, and the town in which it is located, is owned by a subsidiary of Philip Morris called the Mission Viejo Realty Group.
Greg Louganis was born in 1960. By the time he was eight years old he had started to smoke. He said to a congressional committee studying cigarette advertising, "Smoking was more of a way of rebelling than something I enjoyed. I thought I was cool and that it would make me more grown up--like my parents who both smoked. I thought that my neighborhood pals would accept me if I joined the guys every day outside school to sneak a smoke. By the time I was in junior high, I was hooked on these deadly products, and I was willing to risk whatever future I might have had as a diver and an athlete, all to get my daily fix of those little tobacco sticks. I know now from reading the statistics on nicotine addiction and smoking habits that 85 to 90 percent of smokers start before or during their teenage years. As a diver I kept rationalizing that I didn't need a great amount of wind to succeed, just power and strength."
Louganis continued to smoke until he was twenty-three, even though he had to do it surreptitiously: "My diving coach at the time, Dr. Sammy Lee, would never coach me again if he ever found out that I had even contemplated the idea of smoking cigarettes." But then one day he had a personal epiphany that enabled him to quit smoking: "I had been practicing at the Mission Viejo facility one day and on the way out I noticed this twelve-year-old kid smoking. When I asked him why, he said that he wanted to be just like me! He knew I smoked and he figured that it did not seem to affect my diving performance, so he thought it must be all fight to smoke. At that point I began to question what I was doing, and I quit smoking. I realized that in a way I was a 'Marlboro Man' of sons .... "
Louganis later told me, "After I quit I wanted to tell every twelveyear-old that I had quit." So he started doing volunteer work for the American Cancer Society. According to his manager, Jim Babbitt, the Mission Viejo executives were not very happy about this: "They grimaced when the ACS was mentioned."
And they warned Louganis to "keep a low profile." "1 was very disappointed," he says. "Number one, I was acting as an individual and I don't feel that it was right for the company to have the power to say, 'Don't say this, it's against what our company is selling.' Maybe they could say that I was biting the hand that fed me, but I believe that there is a higher value."
Louganis's activities that the Mission Viejo executives and their masters at Philip Morris on Park Avenue found so displeasing reached a crescendo in January of 1984. In that Olympic year, Louganis was asked by the American Cancer Society to be national chairman of its annual Great American Smokeout. Babbitt was very enthusiastic. He told me, "I was pushing for it heavily. I thought this would have made Greg a hero in other areas than diving. It would have been a real coup for him, a great move for Greg and his career. And, after all, he's told me that he considers quitting smoking the greatest accomplishment of his life." An athlete of his stature in that position would have a major effect on the image of smoking among young people.
But it was not to be. Babbitt got the message from the public relations department of Mission Viejo. If Greg were to accept the honorary position from the American Cancer Society, he would be barred from training at Mission Viejo. "It was done very subtly, very polished. But also very definite." Louganis's coach, Ron O'Brien, was the best in the world. The diver could not contemplate competing in the Olympics without his guidance. But O'Brien worked for Mission Viejo.
Babbitt says the threat of Louganis's being sent away from Mission Viejo, away from his coach, was the sports world's equivalent of saying, "I'll kill your mother." And it didn't stop there. Two of the public relations people told Babbitt that if Louganis accepted the Cancer Society invitation, they too would be fired. "Heads would roll," Babbitt says. 146