MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - In a sport where centimeters can make all the difference, the more than 5,000 miles between Memphis and Rio de Janeiro can seem impossibly large.
But one former University of Memphis pole vaulter will be making the trip to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
Meet Pauls Pujats. He's a Memphis transplant from Riga, Latvia. His journey to Rio took an important pit stop in Memphis.
It all started when he missed the cut for the 2012 Olympic Games.
"I went to qualify for London Olympic Games...I missed out by 10 centimeters," Pujats remembered.
He refused to give up his dream of being an Olympian. In fact, missing the cut made him more determined than ever.
Pujats' brother Karlis, an established pole vaulter in his own right at the University of Memphis, thought the Bluff City was the perfect place for his brother to further his dream of representing Latvia in the Olympic Games.
"This is a good place for him to be better person and greater athlete," Karlis said. "This is the main reason I told him he has to come here."
But getting Pujats to Memphis was only half the battle of getting him to Rio.
Pujats was a three-year athlete on the Tigers Track and Field team. His personal best jump in college was 18 feet, 2 inches.
To qualify for Rio, he needed a jump of 18 feet, 8 inches.
"When you go to the higher elite level it takes a lot more energy and effort to get another centimeter," Pujats said. "You have to be very precise. You can have huge space, but if you touch it on the way down, it's going to shake off and fall."
"When you get as high as Pauls, and the other Olympic jumpers, centimeters count," Pujats' coach Tyler Frazier said. "Five centimeters, four centimeters, you've got a short window to complete a vault and everything has to click in place. Every centimeter counts and they're tough to come by."
Hard work, determination, grit, grind...Pujats put in the time day in and day out.
"Four years later I decided to set up a vision to qualify for Rio Olympic Games, and I'm glad to say I finally did it," Pujats said.
Pujats is the number one ranked pole vaulter in Latvia.
"I want to make proud my country, all the people around, and also my teammates," Pujats said. "They help me out...I know they put a lot of trust in myself--and me in them. It really helps a lot."
The Bluff City transplant will be wearing Latvia on his Olympic uniform, but his heart definitely has a bit of Memphis locked inside.