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Ready To Dazzle Again
Demmie Stathoplos
August 08, 1988
Trade Ruiz-Conforto won gold in 1984, and she's looking to repeat in Seoul
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August 08, 1988

Ready To Dazzle Again

Trade Ruiz-Conforto won gold in 1984, and she's looking to repeat in Seoul

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"Your left leg drifted two inches to the left," says Davis, who sometimes videotapes Ruiz-Conforto's figures so that the two of them can watch instant replays of each tiny mistake on a pool-side monitor. But the system is broken this afternoon.

"After your next figure, the dolphin, you'll have completed five figures," says Davis.

"I feel like I've done 10," says the swimmer.

Ruiz-Conforto has been competing in synchro since she was 10 years old, and along with Candy Costie-Burke, her duet partner, she dominated the sport from 1981 to '84. In addition to her two Olympic golds, she has won six national, two Pan Am and four world solo titles. But she decided to hang up her nose clip after L.A.—partly because she felt it was expected of her and partly because she felt it was time to get on with her life.

In June 1985 she married former Penn State linebacker Mike Conforto, who owns four health clubs in and around Seattle, and they settled in Redmond. The two met while Tracie and Candy were training for the '84 Olympics at one of Mike's clubs. Though she stayed in the swim by appearing in Esther Williams-type extravaganzas at Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven, Fla., and the Sea Worlds in San Diego and Orlando, Ruiz-Conforto missed the excitement of competition. Mike encouraged her to make a comeback.

"My first reaction was, No way, it's impossible," she says. "I was afraid I was going to fail. But I kept hearing about what people in synchro were doing. After watching the nationals in '85, I realized I really missed it."

In August 1986 she got up the courage to call Davis, her longtime coach, and say, "I think I want to get back in training." Davis, of the Seattle Aqua Club, was surprised and wouldn't agree to coach her until they talked it over. "I wanted to make sure Tracie was coming back for the right reasons," she says.

"I had won the Olympic gold in solo, and that was really great, but it wasn't satisfying," says Ruiz-Conforto. It takes almost a year to create and perfect a solo routine, but the International Olympic Committee didn't approve the solo event until just two months before the start of the '84 Games. So Ruiz-Conforto, like the other competitors, more or less had to wing it with a new and quickly-created routine. "I just didn't peak for the solo event," she says now. "I didn't really nail it, and that bothered me."

After dispensing with figures, Ruiz-Conforto begins to practice the solo routine. Davis sets up a sound system that includes two speakers, one on the deck and one underwater. Stravinsky's suite from The Firebird suddenly blasts out of the deck speaker. Now Ruiz-Conforto is in her element. As she glides and swoops across the surface of the water, performing triple split crashes, rockets and torpedoes, other swimmers and bystanders stop what they're doing to watch her. This is a star, and the assorted matrons, teenyboppers and middle-aged men who look on know it. Ruiz-Conforto isn't wearing the glittering sequined swimsuit and matching hat she dons for competitions. She isn't even wearing her 50,000-megawatt smile. This is, after all, just practice. Nevertheless, the spectators break into applause when she has finished her routine.

"Is she somebody?" asks one admiring onlooker.

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