Several times I have written that it is unimaginable any small-market sports city could match or exceed Tucson's number of four-time Olympians: Abdi Abdirahman, Amanda Beard, George Young and Bernard Lagat.
And then I got a note from former Tucson High and Notre Dame quarterback Pat Flood. Your math is wrong, he said.
He introduced me to Al Morales. It is one of the most fascinating sports stories in Tucson history.
Morales' Olympic odyssey began at Rome in 1960, moved to Tokyo in 1964, to Mexico City in 1968 and finally to Munich in 1972. He was a contemporary of Cassius Clay, Billy Mills, Bob Beamon and Mark Spitz.
Had he chosen, Morales likely could have competed in the 1976 Montreal Olympics and beyond - in a second sport - but life intruded. "I went to work," he says now.
In 1954, Morales was a light-hitting baseball player with an impressive GPA who left Tucson High and enrolled at Yale. The chances of him being a four-time Olympian were beyond infinitesimal.
It's not that Morales didn't have a lineage of athletic genes to match any family in Tucson history; his father, Mike, played minor league baseball. His uncle, Tony Morales, was a baseball/basketball starter at Arizona and, later, a state championship basketball coach at Tucson High. His older brother, Michael, was a first-team all-state halfback and a first-team all-state third baseman at THS. Michael accepted an appointment to West Point, playing football for Army when the Cadets were a top 10 program.
"I was always known as Mike's little brother," Al remembers. "He was the star. I was a late bloomer. I didn't hit my stride until I got to college."
After a year at Yale, Morales received a telegram from U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona.
"Goldwater said he had arranged for me to get an appointment to the Naval Academy," Morales says. "I wired him back. 'I'll take it.'"
At Navy, Morales lettered in lacrosse, but lacrosse wasn't his game any more than baseball had been. He became a fencer, starting from scratch in the saber discipline. He helped Navy win the 1959 NCAA title. A year later he made the U.S. Olympic team.
He became so accomplished that in 2012 he was inducted into the United States Fencing Hall of Fame, a four-time Olympian who helped Team USA finish fourth in the team saber competition in 1960 and sixth in 1968.
I wondered how, all these years later, I had never heard a word about Al Morales, the four-time Olympian from Tucson High. I examined the newspaper archives from 1960, 1964, 1968 and 1972.
Finally, on Sept. 6, 1960, I saw a small below-the-fold headline that said:
It was a two-paragraph brief, fully inadequate to chronicle the Olympic debut of a hometown Olympian and his remarkable journey to Rome. I mean, come on, a fencer?
I asked Flood, a Phoenix attorney who spent 25 years as a Pac-10 football referee, how Morales could have gone without proper attention in what was then a small town of about 100,000 people?
"I guess by the time Al found his niche, at Navy and in the Olympics, some people had forgotten him," said Flood. "But I remember him well; I had transferred from Notre Dame to Navy a year before Al arrived at Navy. I went out of my way to 'protect' him during his plebe year, but he held his own."
That would be the working title of Al Morales' life story. "He Held His Own."
He became such an accomplished athlete that he made the U.S. Modern Pentathlon team (an event that involves pistol shooting, horseback riding, swimming, fencing and distance running) and competed twice for Team USA at the Pan American Games.
Morales might have remained active, at the 1976 Olympics as either a fencer or a modern pentathlete, but after he resigned his Naval commission he knew there was no future as an Olympian even though he often represented the hallowed New York Athletic Club.
"Once I got out of the Navy, I made a decision that I couldn't be an athlete 24/7 any longer," Morales says. "I had some pretty expensive tastes, and I wasn't sure how to satisfy them, but working out all day, all year, wasn't going to take me anywhere.
"It's a different era now, some Olympic athletes can make a wonderful living, millions of dollars. But in the '60s and '70s, there was no money. Maybe had I gotten into golf or tennis I would've pursued an athletic career. I'm fortunate. I got out of athletics and have done rather well."
Morales, 75, is the CEO and president of Scottsdale-based Global Resorts Network. He lives in Beverly Hills, Calif. Before that, he was the president of Western Energy Systems, a corporate group that designed energy-related projects.
The son of a shoe salesman, a would-be-baseball player who grew up on a plot of land - Cherry Avenue and Fourth Street - now occupied by McKale Center, met his post-Olympics competitive desire by becoming an avid snow skier and polo player.
"I've got nothing but good thoughts about Tucson," Morales says. "I was a baseball nut, consumed by it, and I watched every inning of Arizona's championship at the College World Series last month. But I have no regrets. I went into the Navy and became a fencer. Life has been good to me."
Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or email@example.com