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Up Where She Belongs
Kenny Moore
January 09, 1989
Louise Ritter's longstanding love for the high jump was finally requited in Seoul, where she won Olympic gold
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January 09, 1989

Up Where She Belongs

Louise Ritter's longstanding love for the high jump was finally requited in Seoul, where she won Olympic gold

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In 1983, she hoisted the American record to 6'6¾" at a U.S.-East Germany meet in the L.A. Memorial Coliseum and, with it, expectations for Olympic success. But a year later, unable to shake the effects of a chronic hip flexor injury, she finished eighth in the L.A. Olympic final, which was won by Ulrike Meyfarth of West Germany at 6'7½".

She suffered then from a dreary sense of having let people down. "I have a history of doing things for reasons, for the scholarship, for friends," she says. "After L.A., here was the choice: I could quit and hate myself for the rest of my life, or go on for me. Just me."

She went on. She had a good year in 1985, jumping 6'6¾", and a rotten one in 1986, when she took part in only 10 meets. "It just got very old. I trained at most once a week. I was 28. Was it time to start a career? To build more of a foundation for myself than jumping?"

Her mother had begged her to retire after the '84 Olympics. "I'm a mother." Dorothy says. "I'm proud of all she's achieved, but what is this doing to her physically? Will she be limping at 40 or 50?"

Yet when all was factored in, Ritter concluded that the seasoning of her years not only would make her reliable in big meets like the 1988 Olympics but would let her enjoy her jumping more. "Maybe it really was too easy at 20," she says, grinning. "You didn't think about it then. You did it and took it for granted. Now I value a good workout. Now after 15 jumps I may walk home stiffly, but I have this mysterious little smile because...I can still do it."

"I think when Louise let it drift in 1986, she realized how much jumping meant to her," Brill says. "Rather than standing outside it, she became it." Ritter labored on refreshed, with a more abandoned love.

Her fidelity was rewarded with one more blow to the heart. After a splendid 1987 season, with two victories over Kostadinova, she got sick, lost 10 pounds in 10 days before the World Championships in Rome and finished eighth.

But in 1988 she was unstoppable. "And now people say I got lucky in Seoul," she says. "I'm kind of tired of that. I jumped my best. Why can't it be that I was unlucky all those years?"

After Ritter was home and the excitement of Seoul died away, she went through a period of despond. "I couldn't figure out what was wrong," she says. "Everything I wanted happened, and I'm depressed?" Yes, because a goal achieved is a goal lost. "I felt in limbo."

She had already helped start The Sports Connection, a Dallas company that sells used sporting equipment. Across from the old Dr Pepper building on Mockingbird Lane, it seems a typical Ritter operation. Texas-sensible. Useful. Now she has also taken an assistant coaching job at SMU. But what pulled her through the doldrums was contemplating a jump she made in the U.S. Olympic Trials last summer.

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