Taormina can't get enough of Olympic Games

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- Sheila Taormina can't get enough of the Olympics Games.

She's already been to the last three Summer Olympics, in different sports. Taormina has her sights on a fourth games -- in yet another sport, which would be unprecedented for American athletes.

The 38-year-old Taormina finished 11th Monday in the modern heptathlon at the Pan American Games. That wasn't nearly good enough to clinch a berth in Beijing, although teammate Mickey Kelly of Chatham, N.Y., earned a spot by finishing third. Taormina gets another chance at the world championships next month in Berlin, where a top three finish would do the job.

Taormina began her competitive career as a swimmer and, in 1996 won gold as part of the U.S. 800-meter freestyle relay. It remains one of her fondest memories.

"For me, the bottom line is my family has gone to every Olympics I have," Taormina said. "There were 20 or 25 in Atlanta. I remember when we won the gold medal in '96 and I was done on the relay and Jenny Thompson was swimming the anchor, I saw all 20 or 25 people jumping up and down in the stands. It was such a blessing."

Taormina thought her competitive career was over following those Olympics. But in 1998, as much to stay in shape as anything, she entered the Waterloo Triathlon in Ann Arbor, Mich. When she finished sixth and was told by the race director that she had potential in triathlon, Taormina decided to take the sport seriously.

Although she missed races in the summer of 1999 with a muscle disorder, she won the 2000 Olympic trials and was headed to Sydney.

At those Olympics, Taormina was first by 50 meters after the swimming portion of the event, then fell back in cycling. She finished sixth -- not bad for someone in the sport for about two years.

"In Sydney, I wasn't going to be on the podium, but I was finishing in sixth place, and my whole family was jumping up and down the same way as when we won a gold in 1976," she said. "It makes you realize the people who love you, all those relationships never change no matter the results. They are there for you.

"I'd see my nieces and nephews and they would tell me how they traded pins and I'd hear the stories of who they met from other countries. I wanted to cry when I'd hear that, it was so heartwarming."

By 2004, she was world champ. But leg cramps ruined her performance in Athens as she finished 23rd.

That, it seemed, was it for Taormina. Except that modern pentathlete Eli Bremer had other ideas.

Bremer suggested -- more like goaded -- her into considering his sport, which combines running and swimming, at which she excelled in triathlon, with fencing, shooting and equestrian. Bremer saw a natural athlete with superb stamina and coordination.

And versatility.

"I need to be retired from sports, to be honest," Taormina said, laughing. "But the whole challenge of trying to make the Olympics in a third sport, well. I thought, 'That is an interesting note.' Maybe I will try it.

"And I fell in love with the three sports (fencing, riding and shooting). I love the diversity. I come from a specific sport where you can get real pumped up before a race. But shooting, you know that is the biggest challenge -- staying calm and not getting that race-readiness you need for other (events)."

She also found modern pentathlon was humbling.

"If you have won world championships in one sport, then lose 15 fencing bouts in row or you fall off a horse, it's a little tough to swallow," Taormina said. "The learning curve is very exciting, though, but at times I perform like a complete beginner and get frustrated. I want it now."

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- Highlights Monday of Day 10 at the Pan American Games:


Three modern pentathletes qualified for the Beijing Olympics with their medal performances. Yane Marques of Brazil got the gold, followed by Monica Pinette of Canada and Mickey Kelly of Chatham, N.Y.

Sara Slattery (Lafayette, Colo.) set a Pan Ams record of 32:54.41 in the women's 10,000 meters for the first U.S. track and field medal.

Olympic silver medalist Yipsi Moreno of Cuba repeated as women's hammer throw champion with a throw of 246.72 feet to break her own Pan Ams record.

Canada won both water ski finals. Whitney McClintock captured women's slalom ahead of Regina Jaquess of Atlanta and Mandy Nightingale of Sapulpa, Okla. Drew Ross finished first in the men's slalom.


The U.S. men routed Puerto Rico 21-3 in water polo behind six goals from captain Tony Azevedo of Santa Ana, Calif., and three by John Mann of Newport Beach, Calif.

Argentina beat the U.S. team in futsal (indoor soccer) 5-2.


The Pan American Sports Organization requested the National Security Secretariat, which is in charge of security at the games, to investigate the disappearance of two Cuban boxers, said Marcelo de Paiva, the secretariat's press spokesman. Bantamweight Guillermo Rigondeaux, who won the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, and Erislandy Lara, a top welterweight, left the athletes village Sunday.


Brazil's women, the favorite in soccer, beat Mexico 2-0 on a pair of goals by Rosanna. The hosts will face either Canada or the United States in the final.

Brazil's basketball team also moved into the gold medal game, routing Cuba 79-60. Micaela and Kelly both scored 17 points and Kelly had 14 rebounds for the winner.

The United States and Canada met in the other semifinal of that sport, too.