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The Orlando Sentinel

Victories Put Ruiz On A New Platform

by Juliet Macur

June 26, 2000
Copyright © 2000 The Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

Mark Ruiz's mom embraces him after Sunday`s win.

Mark Ruiz looked as if he was goofing around the pool with friends.

Before each of his dives during Sunday`s Olympic Trials, he smiled and waved to the crowd from atop the platform, unlike most of his competitors, who were serious and stern.

Most likely, he`s still smiling.

Ruiz -- a 21-year-old Puerto Rico native who moved to Orlando when he was 12 -- won the 10-meter platform event to clinch yet another spot on the U.S. Olympic Team.

He also won the 3-meter springboard event Thursday, making him the first American since Greg Louganis in 1988 to win two events at U.S. trials.

"To do the things Greg Louganis was able to do is just unbelievable," said Ruiz, who considers Louganis his hero. "So much was expected out of me this week, being the favorite on both boards. It`s pretty amazing that I came through and won with so much on the line. It`s just so awesome."

Ruiz`s mother, Lydia Torres, watched the finals held in Federal Way, Wash., outside of Seattle, from the stands, where she sat and cheered with about 25 family members and friends. They came in uniform, wearing white T-shirts with the words, "We`re with you, Mark" on the front.

Unlike Thursday`s competition, when Ruiz dramatically moved from fourth to first on the final dive, Sunday`s event was much easier on Torres. Her son started and finished the day in first place --ahead of Fort Lauderdale`s David Pichler, who made his second consecutive Olympic team.

So, instead of sitting in the hallway and praying for her son as she did Thursday, Torres celebrated without worries.

"I didn`t care whether he finished second or first. I just thought, `I`m already watching an Olympian because he`s qualified for the 3-meter already," Torres said. "Now, Mark has a good chance to do better than Greg Louganis. He has four chances to win gold. He`ll be like Carl Lewis!"

Ruiz will compete not only in the 3-meter springboard and 10-meter platform events at the Summer Games in Sydney, Australia, but also in synchronized diving, which debuts this year. The synchronized events feature two athletes diving simultaneously from different boards.

While Ruiz is eligible to dive in both synchronized events, he said he might only compete in the platform version because he doesn`t match up well with other divers on the springboard.

Whatever Ruiz competes in, however, his coach, Jay Lerew of Orlando, will be there to encourage him. After the U.S. trials, Lerew has a fancy new title in addition to his recent success.

Lerew was named coach of the U.S. team because Ruiz qualified in two events, and no other coach had an athlete qualify in more than one. He and Ruiz, who graduated from Dr. Phillips High School in 1998, train with Team Orlando Diving at the YMCA Aquatic Center off International Drive.

Now that the two are Sydney-bound, they plan to train even harder in their quest for gold. Although Ruiz is one of the medal favorites, he must get by top Chinese and Russian divers to contend for first place.

Not many people think it will be a problem.

Even Ron O`Brien, who coached Louganis to four gold medals, likes Ruiz`s chances to win both the springboard and platform events.

Ruiz is sure he can win double golds, too. After his performance at the trials, he is more confident than ever.

"After this, I know I can win in Sydney," Ruiz said. "I proved that this week. Now I just can`t wait for the Olympics."

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