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Fear Costs Ruiz Spot in Platform

June 13, 2004|From Associated Press

ST. PETERS, Mo. — Mark Ruiz climbed to the next-to-last ledge of the 33-foot-high tower -- and couldn't go any farther.

Overwhelmed by a fear of heights after a painful crash in practice, the 2000 Olympian skipped a dive during the U.S. trials Saturday night, costing himself a chance to make the squad in the 10-meter platform.

"I'm so disappointed," said Ruiz, who competed in three events at Sydney but will do only one -- synchronized platform -- in Athens. "To not be on the Olympic team in this event is devastating."

Ruiz's dramatic decision didn't affect the outcome at the top of the standings -- Caesar Garcia dominated from start to finish and finished with 1,157.94 points to earn his first Olympic berth.

On the women's side, Kimiko Soldati bounced back from a poor dive to win the 3-meter springboard with 884.70 points. At 30, she's the oldest diver at the trials.

Under new rules, the second men's platform berth went to the top-scoring diver from the winning synchro team -- Ruiz and Kyle Prandi.

Ruiz was up by about 10 points after the fourth round, coming off his best dive of the night. He received one perfect 10.0 and nothing lower than 9.0 for a backward tuck 3 1/2-turn somersault.

Inside, though, Ruiz's emotions were churning. He was coming up on the dive that begins from an armstand atop the platform -- the same dive that caused his problems in practice.

"I rely totally on my spots with that dive, but I was completely lost," he said.

Ruiz landed flat on his chest, bursting blood vessels in his stomach. It was still bright red as he prepared to compete in the evening. He was in tears during in the introductions, unsure if he wanted to compete.

Prandi, competing just ahead of Ruiz, nailed his fifth dive, the same armstand maneuver that had his friend terrified. When Ruiz saw Prandi's scores -- one 10.0, the rest ranging from 8.5 to 9.5 -- the decision was made.

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