She came to her senses in the pit. She had won. Her giddiness astonished her: "I'd imagined a million times how I'd feel on the award stand if I won. I'd cry patriotic tears. That's how it's supposed to be. But I associate tears with pain, and there was no pain. I was so happy, all I could do was smile and smile."
Three months later, taking a stab at the meaning of it all. Ritter says, "The high jump is a relationship. You have to nurture it. You have to treat it with respect, to sense what you're bringing to it, and what you're getting back. And just like when you're involved with somebody who's maybe not treating you right, you won't listen to your parents or to the wisdom of someone who's experienced. You have to go through every dumb, emotional thing yourself."
So it is only now that we can look back and see how high jumping seduced, hurt, nurtured, strung along and finally fulfilled a good woman.
Ritter was born in Dallas in 1958, the second of Leo and Dorothy Ritter's four daughters. Leo drives 18-wheelers. Dorothy stayed home with her energetic offspring. "You could have tied Louise to a chair, and she'd end up with a dirty face," says her mother. Baby Louise once firmly announced, "I want you to know I'm washable."
"Even as a child, no matter what it was, she wanted to be the best at it," says Dorothy.
Louise was pounding out her niche. "I had three sisters," she says. "I always felt one's prettier, one's smarter, one's my mom's favorite. What am I?"
The athlete. "Her second grade P.E. teacher had her running," says Dorothy. "She already had that great stride. We went to an all-comers track meet, and Louise saw the high jump for the first time. Just kids, doing it feet first."
Ritter let out a yell that would carry all the way to Seoul: "I wanna do that!" Thus she was smitten.
The affair would have to wait, though, because in the fourth grade Ritter contracted rheumatic fever. "Her wings were clipped for eight or nine months," says her mother. Medication and restrictions didn't end for another year or more.
"It wasn't a bad case, in that there were no lasting side effects," says Ritter now. "I just felt weak and tired all the time. But not getting to do physical things, boy, you find out how important they are."