Dashing diver Mark Ruiz took over the indoor national with two come from behind
With his engaging enthusiasm and Ricky Martin looks, 21-year-old Mark Ruiz is pumping some fresh air into U.S. diving. Last Friday at the national indoor championships in Minneapolis, Ruiz was pumping his fist, too, as he bobbed to the surface after his final dive in the three-meter springboard final. The dive, a reverse tuck 3� with a half twist, had barely rippled the water. A wave of copycat fist pumps swept through the crowd even before the judges awarded their marks, which were between 75 and 8.5. The scores gave Ruiz, who had stood seventh with four dives to go, 650.64 points for the competition, 1.38 ahead of runner-up David Pichler.
The next day Ruiz went into the finals of the 10-meter platform having finished seventh in the preliminaries, but he rallied to win again. Shortly after that he teamed with Pichler to win the synchronized 10-meter event.
Ruiz taught himself to dive by flinging himself off ropes and tree branches into a lake in his hometown of Toa Alta, Puerto Rico. His mother, Lydia Torres, used to sneak him into hotel pools to swim, though Ruiz kept crawling out of the water so he could flop back in again. He was four when he first dived off a 10-meter platform and nine when he finally joined a club, bought a Greg Louganis diving video and started taking ballet classes because his coach told him Louganis had.
When Ruiz was 12, Torres moved him and her other two children to Orlando to find better training for Ruiz. "You have to kick him out of the pool to get him to leave," says Jay Lerew, Ruiz's coach since 1997
The three titles in Minneapolis gave Ruiz a career total of 16, a distant second among U.S. male divers to Louganis's 47 "Mark has a natural feel for diving," says Louganis, "and he isn't resting on his accomplishments."
Ruiz is a prohibitive favorite to make the U.S. Olympic team on springboard and platform; in Sydney he is a good bet to improve on his sixth-place on the 10-meter at the 1998 worlds in Perth. Last year he came from behind on his last dive to win the three-meter tide at the Pan-Am Games, edging Fernando Platas of Mexico by less than a point. In close competitions, it seems, Ruiz has a flair for pump and circumstance.
Stacking the Deck in Vegas
Oddsmakers might have deemed it an upset, but Kerry McCoy's 3-2 defeat of superstar heavyweight Stephen Neal at the U.S. national wrestling championships in Las Vegas last Saturday wasn't that shocking. After all, McCoy was the only man in the world to have defeated Neal in 1999. Two days before last week's match Neal had acknowledged that his route through the tournament, the most important qualifier for the Olympic trials, wouldn't be easy. "We have a lot of talent in our division," he said. "I was fifth seed at this tournament last year and went on to win the world title."
Neal could have been referring to the depth of the entire American freestyle squad. The U.S., by virtue of its performance in international tournaments this year, has qualified to wrestle in all eight weight classes at the Olympics, and the team is strong enough to challenge for medals in every one. Among the other winners in Vegas were such proven performers as former world champions Sammie Henson at 54 kg (119 pounds) and Les Gutches at 85 kg (187.25). The winners last week earned top seeds at the Olympic trials in June in Dallas. There each will have to wrestle only a best-of-three series against the winner of a mini-tournament held over the first two days of competition, giving the top seeds a huge advantage over the other competitors. Says Greg Strobel, co-coach of the U.S. freestyle team, "There will be very few changes in Dallas."