ESPN 30 for 30 Shorts: Thicker Than Water (2015)

Directed by Jennifer Arnold

Olympic athletes are treated as great heroes and celebrities in the United States, especially if they are as successful as Greg Louganis. Louganis won two gold medals in diving (3m Springboard and 10m Platform) in back to back Olympic games (1984, 1988), becoming the first male diver to accomplish such a feat. In ESPNs latest 30 for 30 Short, director Jennifer Arnold explores the 1988 Olympics in conjunction with Louganis’ discovery that he was HIV positive, and the subsequent consequences of this discovery on his participation in the game, and his celebrity status.

Arnold, who had directed the Nine for IX film The Diplomat, involves both Louganis and his coach, Ron O’Brien, in sit down interviews to recount the 1988 games and the unknown drama that surrounded them. In this presentation, it is apparent that the relationship between the two, diver and coach, was close and founded on trust. The core of the film is about the internal struggle of Louganis and his responsibility as an HIV positive athlete, as the 1988 game took place in a country and a worldwide culture that rejected people who were HIV positive as outcasts and condemned by God. But matters got even more questionable when Louganis cracked his head on the springboard during a dive.

Drawing blood, Louganis and coach O’Brien knew of the repercussions that would arise at that time should they reveal the true condition of Louganis, who was up day and night taking AZT, the only known HIV drug at the time, to fight the terrible disease. The story is harrowing, and I cannot imagine the conditions at the time and the public perception of HIV. Ultimately, Arnold’s film succinctly tells the story, yet remains at arms length and fails to elevate the material above a fairly standard entry into the series, and one which is overshadowed by such films as ESPNs own The Announcement, and more renown films like How to Survive a Plague, and even We Were Here.

**1/2 – Average

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