Justin Ruiz can erase the just-missed memories of the 2004 Summer Games with a second chance as the top-seeded favorite in his Greco-Roman weight division at this weekend's 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Wrestling and Judo.
The two sports are combining their Olympic trials into one mega-event spread over today, Saturday and Sunday at UNLV's Thomas & Mack Center.
An estimated 112 judo competitors and 200 wrestlers will be vying for the top spot in the 18 Olympic wrestling weight classes (six each in men's freestyle, men's Greco-Roman and women's freestyle) and the 14 total men's and women's Olympic judo weight divisions.
And Ruiz, a Salt Lake City native who starred at Taylorsville High before wrestling collegiately at the University of Nebraska, headlines the five Utah wrestlers seeded in this weekend's trials.
Ruiz is hoping to spend his 29th birthday this summer at the 2008 Beijing Summer Games, avenging his runner-up finish at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials.
Fresh off winning his fifth U.S. Nationals individual title earlier this year, Ruiz is one of only a half-dozen Nationals champions who advance directly to the best-of-three trials finals, which for his Greco-Roman weight division 96 kilograms (211 1/2 pounds) is set for Sunday evening's third and final day of competition.
Ruiz is one of three Greco-Roman champions from April's U.S. Nationals meet who also placed fifth or better at the 2005-06 World Championships, which is the second of two criteria needed to be met for a wrestler to go directly to the U.S. Olympic Team Trials finals.
Others are seeded in their respective division and must go through a more extensive "Challenge Tournament" bracket in wrestling for a spot on the U.S. Olympic wrestling team.
Winner of the 2005 World Championships bronze medal, Ruiz is a four-time U.S. World Team member who was a three-time state champion at Taylorsville High and a two-time NCAA All-American at Nebraska.
He interrupted his Cornhusker career after his freshman year to serve an LDS Church mission to Concepcion, Chile.
He spent last year as an assistant head coach at Utah Valley State College to head coach Greg Williams.
Other wrestlers with Utah ties seeded in this weekend's U.S. Olympic Trials all have taken paths to Michigan collegiate wrestling programs after competing at local high schools. They include the following:
Bo Beckman, 145 1/2 pounds, Greco-Roman: Formerly of Pleasant Grove High and currently wrestling for Northern Michigan University, Beckman won the University Greco-Roman Nationals title in his weight division. He is seeded 12th at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
Cheney Haight, 163 pounds, Greco-Roman: Haight, who wrestled at Orem's Timpanogos High as well as at Northern Michigan, is seeded fourth in the 74KG Challenge Tournament. He finished fourth at the U.S. Nationals in April.
Nathaniel Holt, 145 1/2 pounds, Freestyle: The former Provo High standout and Central Michigan University redshirt freshman posted a surprising upset title win at the University Freestyle Nationals earlier this year, upsetting 2007 NCAA runner-up Ryan Lang in the finals. He'll be the No. 13 seed in his division.Talan Knox, 163 pounds, Greco-Roman: Knox, who is also at Northern Michigan after wrestling for Brighton High, is seeded eighth in his class. He placed seventh at the U.S. Nationals and third at the University Greco-Roman Nationals this year.