Saturday, August 14, 2004
Ruiz retires without Olympic medal
By Sherry Skalko ESPN.com
ATHENS, Greece -- Kyle Prandi couldn't spin fast enough. Mark Ruiz couldn't keep his hands together.
Mark Ruiz and Kyle Prandi couldn't get in sync on the dive that had been their best in practice.
And just like that the Americans found themselves in last place in the 10-meter synchronized platform diving finals, and at the end of their careers.
Splash and burn.
Prandi and Ruiz's second dive -- a reverse 1½ somersault with 2½ twists -- had been their best in practice. It was their worst Saturday night. Prandi got stuck in his somersault rotation and ended up short when he entered the water. Ruiz got stuck in a handstand. Neither diver knew how stuck they both were until they saw the scoreboard.
Right away, both men knew they were in trouble.
"It was definitely surprising," Ruiz said. "Neither of us expected to dive that poorly. That's a really good dive for both of us. We both blew it."
They dropped from fifth place and three points out of first to last in the field of eight. They trailed the first-place Chinese by 19.80 points, which might as well have been 100. Ruiz began eyeing the scoreboard, his favorite hobby when he's trailing. Prandi, who prefers not to watch, just kept smiling. Had they trained hard enough? Sure they had, they've trained every day since they arrived in Athens. But did they train long enough? Ruiz lives in Miami; Prandi in Orlando, Fla. They tried to get together as much as possible before the Olympic trials, and they've been training every day in the four and a half weeks since. Who knows if that's long enough for synchronized divers to get in sync.
"It's very odd. It's unexplainable," U.S. coach Randy Ableman, said. "It's just an absolute crusher in a five-dive contest because basically the chances for a medal become very slim -- very, very slim -- so early in the contest."
They didn't need someone else to get stuck if they were going to medal, they needed everyone else to get stuck. Instead, the Chinese amazed the crowd by hitting dive after dive. The British -- who've won only one medal in platform, a bronze in 1960 in solo -- moved into second with their third dive and hung on tight. The Australians finished third, hitting the best dive in the final round to earn their first Olympic medal in the sport -- men AND women.
Prandi and Ruiz's third dive moved them into seventh place. Their fourth dropped them to eighth. Their fifth left them there.
Prandi has one event left, the 10-meter individual platform Aug. 28, exactly two weeks away. He hasn't said definitely whether he'll face the Chinese on their home turf in 2008, but he's hinted plenty that he won't.
Ruiz is done for this Olympics -- and his career. He has no regrets he said, even though he walked off the platform during the Olympic trials, declining to do another 3½ back after smacking the water during the workout before and failing to qualify for the 10-meter individual. He wished all of the junior divers around the world good luck. The rising degrees of difficulty are turning it into an extreme sport. Ruiz seemed relieved to be getting out with his reputation as a battler still intact.
A national champion, a world champion and a World Cup champ, Ruiz also retires a two-time Olympian but without an Olympic medal. That doesn't matter to Ableman, who regards Ruiz among the best divers in U.S. history.
"They always want to know how many medals in the Olympics you have," Ableman said. "As you can see, it's more complicated than that."