London Calling

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

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Olympic Fact No. 2: Mexico has actually won three gold medals in track and field in the summer games. All three have come in race-walking. (That's the event in which, apparently, everybody cheats. Can you imagine being a judge of that event and having to watch somebody fast-walk more than 30 miles and make sure that the racer had at least one heel and/or toe on the ground at all times?) In 1984, Mexicans finished first in both the 20-kilometer and 50-kilometer events.

Rivera-Morales has a long way to go before he can challenge for an Olympic gold medal; in high-jumping, a long way is defined as 6 or 7 inches. Cuba's Javier Sotomayor holds the world's record in the high-jump at just more than 8 feet. Yes, 8 feet. (However, Sotomayor's record should have an asterisk on it the size of Chris Christie's right butt cheek, because he "retired" before the International Association of Athletics Federations could ban him for life because of multiple drug tests that found cocaine and steroids in his system.) The best Rivera-Morales has ever done is 7 feet, 5.5 inches (2.28 meters), and he did that in 2011. (At press time, heading into the NCAA championships, the best he had done in 2012 was 2.25 meters.)

It's a rule of thumb that world records are rarely set in the Olympics or even in the Olympic trials; the pressure is simply too great. Many records are set in meets held in the weeks after the Olympics or in the World Championships, held in odd-numbered years.

Maddeningly, Rivera-Morales will have to hit or exceed the 2.28 mark this year to even have a chance to make it to the Olympics. That's the Olympic qualifying standard, designed to keep out the riffraff, who apparently are defined as people who can only high-jump 7 feet, 5 inches. Also, unlike in the United States, where national trials are held, and the top three in each event go to the Olympics, Mexico's Olympians are chosen by a committee. As Richard Pryor said, "It's the politics, baby." The (slim) possibility exists that he will be the best high-jumper in his country, and they won't send anybody.

"I can't worry about that. I just have to do my best in the NCAAs and then continue jumping after that," Rivera-Morales says.

He realizes that his best years are ahead of him; most jumpers hit their peak in their mid-to-late 20s. "But I really, really want to go to London."

Olympic Fact No. 3: Chariots of Fire is one of only three sports movies (along with Million Dollar Baby and the original Rocky) ever to win the Oscar for Best Picture, and the only one with an Olympics backdrop. Based on a true tale, much of it is set in and around London and tells the story of two runners—Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell—whose participation in the 1924 Paris Olympics is strongly affected by their respective religions.

Olympic Fact No. 4: Officials in Salt Lake City, perhaps the most-religious place ever to host an Olympics, got popped for bribing International Olympic Committee members in exchange for being named the site of the 2002 Winter Olympics. After the scandal broke, Salt Lake City brought in none other than Mitt Romney to take over. There is no substantial evidence for the rumor that in order to balance the books, he sold off the city of Ogden, gave all of his subordinates bonuses, and then tried to spin the whole thing as a matter of job-creation. Meanwhile, not one person in the world believes that the IOC is now free of corruption.

University of Arizona softball pitcher Kenzie Fowler is not a fan of the IOC. It's not like she had planned her whole life out beforehand, but you have to figure that some time back, when she was at Canyon del Oro High School—winning state championships and nabbing national awards—she did a little counting on her fingers and perhaps daydreamed about the Olympic Games: Let's see, in 2012, I will have been playing softball for Coach Candrea at the UA for three years. It's probably a long shot that I would make that Olympic team, but I'd be in a good position for the 2016 team.

Yeah, well, except for the fact that there is no softball in the Olympics anymore. The IOC got rid of softball (and baseball) a few years back. There is no softball this year, and there will be no softball in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Despite repeated appeals from softball-playing member nations, the IOC is resisting pleas to switch back like a hippie mama resists vaccinations—strongly, and with no good reason whatsoever.

On the off chance that softball is restored to the Olympics in 2020, Fowler will be nearing 30. The window of opportunity won't be completely closed, but it also won't be more than slightly cracked open. But Fowler is used to dealing with adversity. A freak condition involving a nerve in her throwing shoulder led to a life-threatening situation that required emergency surgery. A year later, a renegade umpire forced Fowler to abandon a pitching technique that had taken years to develop.

Still, she perseveres and hopes to help the UA win another NCAA softball championship before her eligibility is up.

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