London Calling

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

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Weird Olympic Fact No. 5: The organizers of the London Games invited Keith Moon, the original drummer of The Who, to take part in the opening festivities. Moon died in 1978.

At least being dead for 34 years has spared Moon the humiliation of being affiliated with all of those CSI shows.

Weird Olympic Fact No. 6: Kenya has so many good distance runners that at a single meet in Zurich in 1997, two different guys from Kenya, both named Wilson Kipketer, set world records in distance races contested less than an hour apart. The two men are not related, and, no, "Wilson Kipketer" is not like "John Smith" in Kenya.

Lawi Lalang has a dilemma. The University of Arizona sophomore is one of the best distance runners living on American soil, and he should end his UA career with a boatload of NCAA titles in cross-country, indoor track and outdoor track. Unfortunately for him, he's also a citizen of Kenya, which makes him the equivalent of the 14th-best-looking woman on Mexican television: That woman is still freakin' gorgeous, but there are 13 more-gorgeous women ahead of her.

Lalang hasn't been back to Kenya since arriving on the UA campus in January 2011, but he will be returning to compete in his country's Olympic trials. He wants to run the 5,000 meters, but realizes that whatever distance he attempts—from the 800 meters all the way up to the marathon—the competition is going to be brutal.

If he were a citizen of just about any other country in the world (including the United States), he'd be a lock to reach the games. But he's not, so he isn't. He's philosophical about it all. "I understand what I'm facing. But it's all a great experience. All that I do here in college and all the running I do in meets will help me achieve my goals. I'm still very young, (relatively) young when compared to the great distance runners."

Lalang realizes that it's not just about running, and the mental aspects are equally important. "Certainly, the body must be able to do (the job), but you must train your mind as well."

Olympic Fact No. 7: The first woman Olympic high-jump champion, Canada's Ethel Catherwood, cleared 1.59 meters in 1928. Maya Holzman of Green Fields Country Day School—where I coach track—won the Arizona Division 4 state championship a couple of weeks ago by clearing 1.59 meters.

Brigetta (pronounced Brih-GEE-tuh, with a hard "G") Barrett is poised to take the world by storm. This season, the reigning NCAA and national champion in the high jump has been improving ... quick, what phrase is synonymous with "by leaps and bounds?" Her jump of 1.95 meters (6 feet, 5.5 inches) is the second-best in the country, and she has already met the national qualifying standard. Now she has to finish third or better in the nationals, and she's on her way.

Barrett, who is now nationally known for singing in the car, on the way to class, during practice and even while she's waiting her turn to jump, is a network's dream come true. You know how all of the NBC Universal networks provide about 8 million hours of programming during the Olympics, with more than half of it being cutesy or heart-tugging personality profiles? Well, the quirky and charismatic Barrett is straight out of Central Casting.

Olympic Fact No. 8: Famous pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock won an Olympic Gold medal in rowing in the 1924 Olympics. Gen. George Patton competed in the pentathlon in the 1912 Olympics. And Neil Diamond, who was part of an NCAA national championship fencing team at New York University, dreamed of competing in the Olympics, but then he wrote "I'm a Believer," and that was that.

Anyway, Barrett could be a star. She sang her way through an interview on local TV last week and didn't miss a beat. She may very well do the same in London. (She'd probably have to, since Keith Moon won't be there to provide accompaniment.)

Her coach, Sheldon Blockburger, points out that while her singing is an interesting sidebar, she's all business when it comes to jumping. "She works so hard in practice; it's just amazing."

Interestingly, if both Barrett and Rivera-Morales make their respective Olympic squads, Blockburger may find himself coaching athletes from two different countries in London. Each country provides a coaching staff, but it is largely ceremonial, a thank-you nod for years of dedicated service. The real coaching is often done by others.

Weird Olympic Fact No. 9: Four different athletes have won Olympic medals in both the winter and summer games, including American Eddie Eagan, who won gold in boxing in 1920, and in four-man bobsled 12 years later.

That has nothing to do with Brigetta Barrett. I just thought it was interesting.

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