Montoya kicks off UA athletes’ quest for Olympic medals

The University of Arizona‘s contribution to the Olympic Games in London has begun quietly this year, as the Columbia women’s soccer team took the field at Hampden Park to play DPR Korea – well ahead of the official start to the contests.

Thanks to the eight-hour time difference, the match began around noon Arizona time, which means even fewer people in the States will be tuned in to the start of the first day of competition for the 2012 Games.

But Ana-Maria Montoya, the sophomore midfielder from Arizona, is taking care of business as a member of the 18-player roster for the Columbians.  She is one of a handful of players from various U.S. colleges on the squad, including the University of Kansas, University of Maryland, University of Indiana, and Austin Peay University.

At 20 years old, Montoya is one of the younger players on the team, but brings some solid credentials with her.  She played in 38 of 39 matches for the Wildcats during her first two years and was ranked second on the 2011 squad with 26 shots.  And she has international experience that came with her participation in the 2008 U17 FIFA Women’s World Cup in New Zealand.

She is just one of a total of 23 athletes and coaches with ties to UofA that will join with more than 10,000 athletes from 205 countries on Friday for the Games’ opening ceremonies.  But she is the first to step on the field to represent her Tucson school, and the first among the 238 athletes and support staff in London representing the member schools of the Pac-12 Conference.

Over the years, 112 athletes with UofA ties have accumulated 56 medals, 23 of them gold, and have won at least one medal in every Olympiad since 1968.

Swimmers Amanda Beard and Amy Van Dyken accounted for many of those and are a couple of the most-recognized Arizona athletes.  Beard won seven medals, including two gold, and Van Dyken earned six gold medals in two Olympic appearances, 1996 and 2000.

The largest potion of medals attributed to Arizona swimmers has been earned in the swimming pool, as 42 of the 58 medals came in swimming, diving, water polo, and synchronized swimming competition.

This year, some of the school’s best chances for picking up more medals come in track and field, where the Cats will be represented by three current athletes who have been dominant in their respective events.

The high jump has been a popular event for Arizona athletes, as seven Wildcats have competed in the past.  This year, Brigetta Barrett will join that list and hope to bring home just the second medal in the event; the only other coming in 1968, when Ed Caruthers won the silver.

Barrett will be entering her senior year at UofA and is coming off two consecutive years in which she won both the indoor and outdoor collegiate titles, to become the first woman in NCAA Division I history to earn dual-season titles in back-to-back years.

Beginning in 2011, she has won 17 straight collegiate competitions in the high jump, which include two straight Pac-12 championships.

Georganne Moline is another incoming senior who has been a force in the 400-meter hurdles, where her 54.33 time at the Olympic Trials recorded the fourth time this year she has broken the UofA record in the event.  That is also the fifth-best time in the world this year.

And Julie Labonte will also be competing at this year’s Games, but not for Team USA.  The 2011 national champion in the shot put redshirted for the 2012 season, but competed at the Canada Nationals to earn a spot on the Canadian team in London.

Barrett has probably the best chance of the three to medal this year, but we won’t be able to find out for awhile just how far she goes.  Women’s high jump doesn’t get off the ground until Aug. 9.

By that time, Montoya will either be playing in the soccer finals, or in the stands cheering on her teammate in the high jump.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)