U.S. distance runners are better prepared for the Seoul games than most critics realize, but the nation could do a better job supporting its athletes, say Olympic marathoners Nancy Ditz and Ed Eyestone.

"I really don't believe that American distance running is in as dire straits as some people think," said Eyestone, winner of Saturday's 10-mile Crim Road Race. Ditz finished third among the women and another Seoul-bound U.S. marathoner, Mark Conover, was the No. 5 man Saturday."I'm not real critical of our system," said Eyestone, 25, of Orem, Utah. "I prefer our system with the freedom of choice it allows to what the Eastern Bloc has ... where they tell you when to run."

"The media had been expecting a disaster in '88 until they say the '88 Olympic trials," said Ditz, 34, of Woodside, Calif. "In the past, things had been running skewed toward the Americans."

U.S. dominance in the 1984 summer Olympics in Los Angeles, boycotted by the Soviet Union and its allies, painted an unrealistic picture of the world balance of sports talent, according to Ditz and Eyestone.

"Americans have to realize that the whole world runs," Eyestone said.

Critics of the U.S. Olympic preparations often cite the lack of financial and material support to competitors, who often must squeeze in training time around working to pay the rent.

This hasn't been a problem for Ditz and Eyestone, they say, because of the money available to top U.S. marathoners through shoe company endorsement contracts, appearance money from races like the Crim and financial assistance from The Athletic Congress, which governs U.S. track and field.

But other, lesser-known Olympic-bound Americans must scrimp and scramble to train while holding down a job, said Ditz, who quit her television news job in San Francisco in December to prepare for the Seoul games.

She cites Conover, who was described as nearly destitute before he jumped from obscurity to win the U.S. Olympic marathon trials in April, and Patti Sue Plummer, a law student who made the team at 3,000 meters.

"I think financial support should be based on need," Ditz said. "We have Operation Seoul," which pays living costs of some Olympic-bound Americans, she said. "We gave that money to Carl Lewis and Mary Decker Slaney, among others. There's no way they need that money."

"The money is already going out to those athletes who already have made it," Eyestone said. "There are those guys just out of college who are having a hard time making it."

He advocates a system of financial support for talented runners who are just coming into their own, "the people who are coming up through the ranks."