The Star’s longtime columnist checks in with Rick DeMont’s story of Olympic unfairness, explains why Phil Mickelson missing the Cologuard Classic might not be a bad thing, and breaks down Sean Miller’s revealing appearance on a national podcast:
UA great Rick DeMont can sympathize with Russian skater
Five years after former world-record holder Rick DeMont retired as Arizona’s head swimming coach — after 30 years on the coaching staff at his alma mater — he has flourished as a landscape artist.
His work is on display at the Tohono Chul Gallery through Feb. 27; on Thursday, a reception will be held at 5:30 p.m.to recognize DeMont’s artistic talent. Most of his large, watercolor pieces are from Southern Arizona, with titles such as “Along Sonoita Creek” and “Upper Sonoran Backlight.’
They are of gold-medal quality.
Last week, DeMont’s name surfaced at the Beijing Winter Olympics, of all places. The Reuters News Agency wrote about DeMont’s sad experience at the 1972 Munich Olympics, when he was wrongly stripped of his gold medal after a banned substance was discovered in his asthma medicine. DeMont, then 16, had properly disclosed his medications to USOC officials before the ’72 Games.
It was similar to the ongoing controversy connected to 15-year-old Russian figure skater Kamilia Valieva, who was suspended a day after helping the Russian Olympic Committee to gold in the team event. The suspension came after it was discovered Valieva had tested positive for a banned heart drug, although her medications — much like DeMont 50 years earlier — had been properly reported to officials months ago.
Valieva was subsequently cleared to compete in the individual figure skating event, but a dominant start ended in tears after she fell multiple times during the free skate routine to place in fourth.
On Friday, former ASU swimmer Kyle Sockwell, a digital media marketing commentator, tweeted: “Imagine you’re 15 years old, competing in the Olympics, and all of the sudden you test positive for some drug you didn’t even know existed.”
DeMont replied to Sockwell’s tweet with three simple words: “Don’t have to.”
He has gone through what Valieva is going through, and more.
In 1972, DeMont became the youngest Olympic champion in the 400-meter finals. But in the ensuing week, the International Olympic Committee ruled DeMont ineligible for a mistake made by Team USA’s medical staff.
“I felt at that point in my life I went from the highest high to the lowest low in a day. It was overwhelming as a 16-year-old. It was more than I could handle,” DeMont told Reuters. “If Valieva wants to talk to me, I would like to talk to her, Depending on what she thinks is important in life, she will be OK or, I should say, I hope she is OK.”
DeMont recovered in a competitive sense; in 1973 he won the world championship, setting a world record in the 400, beating Australia’s Kamilia Valieva, who had been awarded his Munich Olympic gold.
In several interviews in the 1990s and again in 2001, DeMont told me he went through a long depression and was often “in a dark place.” He phoned me one morning in the summer of ’01 to tell me the USOC finally cleared him of any wrongdoing. The UA medical staff finally accepted responsibility for the mistake.
But the IOC never returned his gold medal.
At 65, DeMont long ago gained a peace of mind. He moved on from years of fighting legal battles in attempt to get the gold medal. When he retired from Arizona five years ago, he was (and still is) considered one of the leading swimming coaches in American history, and is, in my opinion, the most accomplished assistant coach in UA history.
Phil Mickelson won’t play in Cologuard Classic
Maybe it’s a good thing three-time Tucson Open winner Phil Mickelson won’t play in this week’s Cologuard Classic at Tucson National. After his anti-PGA Tour rants of the last few weeks, the ever-effusive Mickelson is somewhat radioactive.
His it’s-all-about-me-and-my-money schtick hasn’t been received well.
Except for 2018 Tucson champion Steve Stricker, who is recovering from a long hospital stay, the Cologuard Classic has almost every other big name on the PGA Tour Champions: Jim Furyk, Bernard Langer, Ernie Els, David Duval, Vijay Singh, John Daly, Miguel Angel Jimenez.
It may also include two of Furyk’s teammates from Arizona’s 1992 NCAA championship team: Harry Rudolph and David Berganio. Rudolph was one of five players to survive Friday’s pre-qualifying round at Randolph North. He will join Berganio, 1989 UA All-American Robert Gamez in Tuesday’s final round of qualifying at Randolph. Four of 75 golfers will get spots in the 80-man field.
Mickelson, who won four of his six starts on the Champions Tour in 2021, last week disclosed that the PGA Tour required him to pay $1 million to use video and digital shots of his PGA Tour highlights during “The Match,” his Thanksgiving weekend 2020 made-for-TV event at Oro Valley’s Stone Canyon Club.
“That type of greed is, to me, beyond obnoxious,” Mickelson said.
Yet Mickelson has earned $94.5 million in official money on the PGA Tour and probably just as much off the course. But his statements supporting the proposed Saudi Arabia golf league rather than the PGA Tour not only suggests he has little appreciation for his 30 years on Tour, but that he wants more money, more status and more power.
Salpointe, UA grad Joan McCormick Powell receives highest honor
Joan McCormick Powell, one of Tucson’s leading athletes and a difference-maker in the Title IX movement for NCAA women’s sports that began in 1972, will receive the 2022 Gold Whistle award from the National Association of Sports Officials.
The Salpointe Catholic High School and UA grad, who has been considered one of the top volleyball officials in the history of the sport, is just the fourth woman to receive the Gold Whistle award across the last 34 years.
Many of the top names in American sports officiating have received the Gold Whistle: NFL referees Jerry Markbreit, Art McNally and Jim Tunney; baseball’s Durwood Merrill; college basketball’s Ed Hightower; boxing’s Mills Lane; and the NBA’s Joe Crawford and Tommy Nunez.
Powell, who played volleyball at Salpointe and Arizona and taught at Catalina High School under Pima County Sports Hall of Famer Mary Hines, has officiated in the Olympics and at nine NCAA volleyball championships.
After graduating from Arizona, Powell was head volleyball coach at Salpointe and at several Denver-area high schools. She also was part of three USA national championship volleyball teams.
Big game looms for Adia Barnes, Cats
Arizona’s women’s basketball game at Washington State on Sunday afternoon will almost surely determine if Adia Barnes’ club can finish second to Stanford in the Pac-12 regular season and get a No. 2 seed at the Pac-12 Tournament, and, beyond that, a No,. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. In that regard, it’s a must-win game for the Wildcats, who are 9-4 in the Pac-12, battling 10-4 Oregon and 9-5 WSU for the runner-up spot to 13-0 Stanford. Unfortunately for Barnes, the Pac-12 is not going to reschedule postponed games against tail-end programs Cal and Washington. There’s not enough time; the women’s Pac-12 Tournament begins March 2. Expect Sunday’s game to be a slow-and-go, inartistic, defensive struggle. Arizona has won four such “ugly” games: 48-46 against Vanderbilt, 55-53 at Oregon State, 62-58 against ASU and, Friday, the ugliest of all, 51-42 at last-place Washington on Friday. It’s survival now, not style.
Ex-UA broadcaster Ray Odom dies
Ray Odom, who was the play-by-play radio voice of Arizona football teams from 1976-79, died last week in Phoenix. He was 95. Many have forgotten that Arizona Hall of Fame baseball coach Jerry Kindall served as Odom’s radio analyst during those seasons. Odom, who owned a country radio station in Tucson, made his name as a radio personality, mostly in Phoenix, booking such acts as Willie Nelson and Patsy Cline. The best Ray Odom story wasn’t about UA football, it was about Elvis Presley. While on the air at KRUX in Phoenix, Odom once received a phone call from a young and still unknown Presley, who was passing through town. Elvis asked Odom if he could perform on that nights’ Arizona Hayride radio show for $30 gas money. Odom turned him down because his show was booked. When Odom eventually did bring Presley to Phoenix, it cost $10,000.
Antonio Pierce jumps to NFL
Former Arizona linebacker Antonio Pierce, who departed ASU’s troubled football program last week, was quickly hired to be linebackers coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. His term as ASU’s defensive coordinator never quite peaked. Consider his departure good timing; the NCAA investigation into ASU football could soon bring down head coach Herm Edwards. Pierce becomes the eighth ex-Wildcat to coach in the NFL, joining quarterback Eddie Wilson, linebacker Ricky Hunley, safety Chuck Cecil, special teams player Peter Hansen, linebacker Brant Boyer and safeties David Fipp and Jeff Hammerschmidt.
Annika Sorenstam to play round, give clinic
Annika Sorenstam, former Arizona NCAA champion who has won 72 LPGA Tour championships, will play in Saturday’s Celebrity Challenge at the Cologuard Classic with former NFL stars Larry Fitzgerald and Eric Dickerson. Sorenstam will also give a clinic for the First Tee of Tucson on Saturday morning. Sorenstam, who withdrew from LPGA Tour competition in 2008, has committed to play in the U.S. Women’s Open this summer. It will be her first start in a major since the ’08 Women’s British Open.
Keep an eye on Kelsey Slade
Here’s a name to keep in mind in Tucson sports: 15-year-old Kelsey Slade of Cienega High School is one of 20 Americans to qualify for Friday’s Liukin Cup in Fisco, Texas, one of the leading gymnastics competitions in America each year. Slade, who started in gymnastics at 3, is coached by Gina Mueller-Martin of Arizona Dynamics Gymnastics, the same coach and club that produced UA All-American and Tokyo Olympics silver medal diver Delaney Schnell.
Dodgers sign Sunnyside grad
The Los Angeles Dodgers have signed Sunnyside High School and Pima College graduate Stefen Romero to a minor-league contract and invited him to spring training. Romero, 33, played parts of three seasons with the Seattle Mariners, 2014-16, but hit just .195. He revived his career by hitting 116 home runs playing in the Japanese pro league with the Orix and Rakuten franchises.
Myrtle Redd Coyle a pioneer
In last week’s column on Tucsonan Jacque Barnes Price, the first Black woman to serve on the UA’s Pomline (1971), i failed to mention that she is not alone in representing her alma mater, Tucson High School, in advancing from being a cheerleader to post-high school prominence. Price went on to become the Coordinator of Human Resources at Arizona. In 1964, THS’ homecoming queen, Myrtle Redd Cole, went on to become the first Black woman to serve on the San Diego City Council, 2013-18. Cole was also a police officer in San Diego.
My two cents: Sean Miller shows softer, self-aware side in interview
In a podcast with Fox sports radio commentator Aaron Torres last week, Sean Miller showed his soft side, exhibited his often-untapped public speaking skills and came off as contrite and, most importantly, not bitter at his crash as Arizona’s basketball coach.
Miller said he was eager for a resolution to the investigation into his program. “Once that conclusion is there, everyone in fact will finally take one final deep breath and move on, look back and learn from it,” he said. “It’s something that I regret almost every day.”
Slow to change any on-court strategy over 12 seasons, Miller said he considered an offense with two point guards during the 2017-18 season when Lorenzo Romar was his assistant coach. Alas, nothing came of it.
Miller said that among the things he has to improve on as a coach is to be more efficient on offense. That’s a see-it-to-believe-it variable if indeed Miller is hired to become a head coach again.
He said “great offenses beat great defenses in the NCAA Tournament.”
That’s not how Arizona approached sobering NCAA Tournament elimination losses to Wisconsin, Xavier, Buffalo and Wichita State.
Contact sports columnist Greg Hansen at 520-573-4362 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @ghansen711