London Calling

Meet some athletes with Tucson ties who have hopes of competing in the 2012 Summer Olympics

The 2012 Summer Olympic Games will be held in London, with opening ceremonies on July 27, and competition running through to the closing ceremonies on Aug. 12.

Actually, if anybody cares, there will be a few soccer games a couple of days before the opening ceremony. Due to the grueling nature of the activity (grueling, in this case, meaning that people run up and down a nice, grassy field and then spontaneously fall down, pretending to have been fouled), the soccer schedule had to be extended beyond two weeks. And, for reasons that no one can explain, archery also starts before the opening ceremonies.

Over the past several summer games, athletes with Tucson ties have represented us well in places like Athens and Beijing. (And who can forget Kerri Strug's performance in Atlanta?) A lot of it had to do with the fact that the badass U.S. softball team, headed by University of Arizona coach Mike Candrea, was in the house. However, the International Olympic Committee decided to eliminate softball, probably because America was too dominant. Just to show the IOC how silly that decision was, the U.S. didn't even win the gold medal the last time out.

Still, there are some athletes with local ties who have a chance to shine on the world stage in a couple of months. Some, like Sahuaro High School grad Caitlin Leverenz, who now swims for the University of California, have left the Old Pueblo to make their name. Others have come to Tucson to work toward greater success. For all of them, these next two months may turn out to be the most memorable of their entire lives.

Weird Olympic Fact No. 1: For quite a while, the flags of Liechtenstein and Haiti were absolutely identical, and no one noticed. Then, when the two countries' teams were marching in the opening ceremony of the 1936 Hitler games in Germany, they noticed and were mutually appalled. Liechtenstein added a crown to its flag, while Haiti added a coat of arms. War averted (for those two countries, anyway). Currently, Chad and Romania have essentially identical flags; Chad's dates back to the early 1960s, and Romania's was adopted in the late 1980s. In 2004, Chad asked the United Nations to look into the matter. Really!

"Oh, I hope to be able to march into that stadium behind my country's flag," says UA high-jumper Edgar Rivera-Morales, a native of Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico. "I've represented my country in other parts of the world; I was in (Shenzhen) China for the World University Games and (Daegu) South Korea. But being in the Olympics would be the ultimate."

While many top athletes and students in Agua Prieta attend school across the line in Douglas, in hopes of getting better competition, the 6-foot-6 Rivera-Morales attended Centro de Bachillerato Tecnologico y de Servicio. (The letterman's jacket must weigh 20 pounds.) He always competed in sports, but "in Agua Prieta, as in the rest of Mexico, the two main sports are soccer and baseball. Basketball is also popular. But track? Not so much."

Nevertheless, he took to jumping in a big way. He competed against men in Mexico's national championships during his junior and senior years in high school, winning the national title as a high-school senior with a jump of 7 feet 3 inches, after having finished second the year before. Not surprisingly, he was the top-ranked prep jumper in all of Mexico.

He is the only Mexico native to win gold in the International Children's Games, and he did so twice. (The first time was in Coventry, England, and the second was in Bangkok.) Just to show his versatility, he competed in the triple-jump in the Mexico junior national championships. In only his second competition ever in the event, he went 48 feet and finished second.

Edgar's older brother, Luis, competed for the UA in 2008-09 and was the first Wildcat long-jumper to place at the NCAAs since 1984. Luis Rivera-Morales and the legendary Gayle Hopkins are the only two Wildcats who are in the school top 10 in both the long-jump and triple-jump.

What's somewhat odd is that while Edgar Rivera-Morales is probably the best high-jumper in all of Mexico, he may not even be the best on his own collegiate team. Fellow college junior Nick Ross is nipping at his heels, and the two push each other at practice all the time.

No matter how well they do, they're both in the long shadow of Brigetta Barrett, the UA jumper who is currently the NCAA indoor and outdoor champion, and is a favorite to win the national crown and a spot on the U.S. Olympic team next month.

"Brigetta, Nick and I are all good friends," says Rivera-Morales. "We push each other at practice, but we all want each other to do our best in meets."