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Associated Press Newswires
Angelique Rodriguez Diving Into Summer Olympics
by STEVE RIVERA
August 15, 2000
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - "Del cielo a la tierra." Angelique Rodriguez is living the saying. She embodies it. She embraces it.
It's her because it fits.
And although the translation means from the sky to the ground, her life in the elite athletic world is more about her going from the ground to the sky.
Or from nowhere to the top.
Given her meteoric rise, it's easy to see that the University of Arizona graduate student may be able to reach her dream to be one of the best female divers in the world.
And that's amazing because just 5 1/2 years ago Rodriguez was barely a spectator in the sport .
"I had heard of Greg Louganis, but I knew nothing about diving," she said.
Next month Rodriguez will be headed to the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, representing her native Puerto Rico.
"She's one of the best female divers to come out of Puerto Rico," said Michele Mitchell-Rocha, Rodriguez's former coach at Arizona and current coach-adviser.
Rodriguez, 24, is a quick study, eager to learn anything and everything about the sport .
She also has pure athletic talent, having spent most of her life as an elite gymnast.
It was that drive to remain competitive that led to her new-found love of diving. After years of being a gymnast - and all the bumps, bruises, strained and sprained bones - it was a back injury that eventually made her give up that sport at age 15.
But she needed another athletic outlet. She started dancing for her high school club. When her mom saw that that wasn't enough, she encouraged her to try diving.
That lasted all of two weeks when she saw her team didn't have the discipline she was used to as a gymnast. Gymnasts had to be on time for everything. Or else.
To be a diver, at least on this team, it seemed all you needed to do was show up, so she quit.
But at the University of Massachusetts, she had second thoughts and went out for the team. The coach gave her two months to show what she could do. After all, she had no experience.
"In two months, I was doing the dives everyone else was doing," Rodriguez said.
Two years later, in 1997, she was the conference's diver of the year, and the school recordholder in four categories.
By the end of the year, she realized she had maxed out her potential at UMass, which has a Division II program in swimming.
Yet, she wanted to get better. She thirsted for more.
To find it, she sent letters and tapes to schools "that looked good to me."
Arizona was one.
"I was sent this underground tape," Mitchell-Rocha recalled of her first viewing of Rodriguez. "I remember looking at it and saying, `This girl is rough, but she has a lot of potential. She had all the elements of a world-class athlete.' A lot of kids don't."
Mitchell-Rocha should know. She was an Olympian in diving, winning a silver medal at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles and in 1988 in Seoul, South Korea.
What struck Mitchell-Rocha was Rodriguez's flexibility, quickness and grit.
"From talking to her, it was very apparent she was very determined and hungry to succeed," Mitchell-Rocha said. "But most of all she loves to work hard. She gives no excuses. That's why she's gone from being a Division II diver to the Olympics (in such a short time)."
Rodriguez understands that it has taken many divers years of hard work to get to this position. She doesn't take her situation for granted. But she's not shocked about her status .
"I think I've surprised a lot more people than I have surprised myself," she said.
She knows what she's capable of doing. She did it in gymnastics. And there was nothing she wouldn't do in that sport that scared her. After all, she wasn't given the nickname of "Crazy Girl" for nothing. It's carried over to diving.
"I'd try everything and anything you could imagine," she said. "It wouldn't look pretty at times, but I'm still that way in diving. I want to learn everything I can. I want to get better."
She understands she has a long way to go. Although she's hoping to do well in Sydney, she has her eyes set on 2004.
"I really think in four years I can go for a medal," she said. "I'm not going for a gold - I'll leave that up to the Chinese and Russians - but I think I can fight for a silver or a bronze."
In Sydney she will be shooting for the quarterfinals, which would put her among the sport 's 18 best. The goal seems attainable. In May she finished 17th in the women's platform at FINA/USA Diving Grand Prix in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
"I think if she made the quarterfinals she'd be very successful," Mitchell-Rocha said. "She's been hovering in that area now. She has the ability, so it wouldn't be a stretch."