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Michael C. Lewis: Wrestler Justin Ruiz encounters another obstacle en route to Olympics

Published April 1, 2012 1:01 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If only Justin Ruiz had turned the guy, he wouldn't be in this position.

If only he had managed to lift Adam Wheeler just one more inch during the U.S. Olympic Trials for wrestling four years ago in Las Vegas, the Taylorsville native and Orem resident already would have been an Olympian, certainly still basking in the afterglow of such a momentous lifetime achievement.

Instead, the chase continues.

And it isn't getting any easier for the man who has finished runner-up at the winner-take-all trials twice , denying him spots in the Greco-Roman competition at both the 2004 Athens Games and the 2008 Beijing Games.

Ruiz thought it was all over after that last one, when he couldn't score just one more point against Wheeler — an opponent he had beaten three times for national titles —┬áin the final agonizing seconds of the championship bout, collapsing on the mat afterward in a heap of tears and broken dreams.

He took some time off —┬áretired, pretty much — and worked a grueling job in the Wyoming oil fields. But it didn't take long for the man who won three state championships at Taylorsville High School, became a two-time All-American at Nebraska, claimed seven national titles and a earned a world bronze medal to realize he wasn't finished.

So while starting a family and migrating back to Utah, Ruiz has battled his way back to become the top-ranked American wrestler at 211 pounds, having won two national titles since his return.

The only problem?

The Americans have yet to earn a place at the upcoming London Games in his weight class.

So instead of heading to the U.S. Olympic Trials in Iowa next month, Ruiz has to ship out to China, and then possibly Finland, in search of a top two or three finish that would secure the Olympic spot for the U.S.

Presuming he earns the place — and that's hardly a sure thing, considering he hasn't managed it in his last two chances, at the World Championships and the Pan-American qualifying tournament — Ruiz will have to return home for a special "wrestle-off" with whoever wins the Olympic Trials in his absence.

The winner would go to London.

"This one's going to be hard for him," said Gary Abbott of USA Wrestling, "just like you'd expect."

Of course, Ruiz has been through hard before. For once, he'd like to wind up with rapture at the other end.







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