Five-time world diving champ Greg Louganis’ story is the stuff of high drama, but Alan Hines’ script doesn’t catch the subtleties and motives that drove the true hero into gold. The vid bio, handled respectfully by director Steven Hilliard Stern (Greg Louganis was consultant), traces the champ’s year-to-year triumphs and sadnesses; it’s a routine accounting.
Adopted at nine months in Southern California, half-Samoan Louganis (Patrick David) draws away from his tough, critical adoptive father, Pete Louganis (Michael Murphy). His mother, Frances (Rosemary Dunsmore), is always in his corner (there’s a little-seen adopted sister around at times). The boy’s passage from 9 to 15 is cunningly accomplished here, and his gayness surfaces with admirable restraint. It’s just a fact among facts.
Louganis’ acquaintance Megan (fetchingly played by Megan Leitch) proves more of a friend than he does; though he likes her, he repeatedly dismisses her. She returns with the fidelity of an old tune, and he tells her over and over how much her friendship means to him. Stern has injected Hines’ scenes between the two of them with charm and a touch of sadness.
Louganis, who’s been practicing diving at every opportunity, trains with John Anders (Fulvio Cecere), then with diving alumnus Dr. Sammy Lee (Aki Aleong), a strict man who devotes as much time as he can to Louganis. It’s star trainer Ron O’Brien (persuasively played by Bruce Weitz) who brings the diver to the gold.
Mario Lopez takes over the adult Louganis role as an innocent abroad, passive and vulnerable except on the diving board. The athlete has been living with friend Keith (Jonathan Scarfe), who, wearying of Louganis’ singular diving concentration, moves out. Louganis pursues his Olympic goals, and Hines concentrates on the champ himself, not the medals.
Louganis, in this account backward about personalities, is pursued by wily, smart-cookie Tom Bennett (Jeff Meek), who weasels his way into becoming not only Greg’s lover and housemate but his personal manager, taking over Louganis’ power of attorney. Tom starts going out every night without explanation, and Louganis takes it. Greg’s not only in love, but is dominated by Tom’s guardianship. Megan’s cut out, most of Greg’s friends are history, and Tom, whose temper often flares up, only tolerates Louganis’ parents.
The blow comes when Louganis learns Tom has AIDS, and that he himself is HIV-positive.
Producer Mark Bacino, director Stern and writer/co-producer Hines have handily interwoven Olympics clips with new footage. If Louganis seems to hover around rather than inhabit “Breaking the Surf,” the telefilm still takes measure of a brave and loyal soul who sticks to his purposes.