Due to the lack of TV coverage and other attendant fanfare at the recent Midvale Half-Marathon and Demetrio Cabanillas 10K running races, held in Midvale and Magna, respectively, you may not have been aware that Binesh Prasad qualified for the Olympic Games.
Prasad - by day a teller at First Security Bank in Salt Lake City - used these two TAC-certified races as his Olympic Trials.While those runners alongside him were running for ribbons, or to just see if they could finish - totally oblivious to who in the world they
Binesh was running for his chance at Seoul gold.
No sooner had he clocked his 30:50 in the 10K, and 1:09 in the half-marathon, than he was sending the results off to the headquarters of the Fiji Olympic Committee in downtown Suva, the capital city of the South Seas island nation.
And no sooner did the Fiji Olympic Committee receive the results than they sent word back: "See you in Seoul."
Binesh may be just one of the pack of good distance runners in Utah, but in Fiji - where he was born, named, raised and developed - he is the leader of the pack. He is Fiji's Steve Prefontaine. Little kids in Suva, where Binesh grew up, go running up and down the street saying, "I'm Binesh Prasad."
Just because he moved to America two years ago doesn't mean he isn't still a celebrity in the island kingdom of 512,000 - where, from 1983 through 1986, he dominated all the distance events from 1,500 meters up - or that they don't want him wearing Fiji's colors in the Olympic Games.
When they got evidence that he was still alive and running, that was good enough for them.
So on or about Sept. 11 - six days before the Olympic opening ceremonies - Binesh will close his cash drawer at the First Security Bank branch on Eighth South (across from Sears) and announce "see you in one month." Then he'll be off to Korea to run in both the 10,000 meters and marathon. His goals will be slightly less than medal-calibre. "I want to establish new Fijian national records in the events I compete in," he says. That translates to better than 32:30 in the 10K and under 2:32:50 in the marathon. Both should be within reach.
Binesh first came to America, and Utah, in 1986. He hoped to get a track scholarship, and a college education, at BYU. But he was already 23, and too old to qualify under the NCAA's age requirement.
His parents had already moved to Utah - they were sponsered here by their daughter, who married an American - and Binesh moved in with them. Soon after he got the job with First Security, a natural enough occupation since he had already worked for several years at a bank in Fiji.
Now 25, he has two years of American-ized living behind him, which includes fairly high-level distance training. He hired Demetrio Cabanillas - the man, not the 10K race - as his coach, and has been religious about getting in 80 to 100 miles a week. Lately, his mileage has been up to 120, and he says he feels stronger than at any time in his life.
"Three things have helped," he says, "Better competition, more races _ and then the good food in this country."
Binesh finished first in the Salt Lake Track Club's 25-mile series this spring, and recently competed in the Grandma's Marathon in Minnesota, where he finished in 2:36 despite a strong headwind the entire 26.2-mile route. His best marathon was a 2:35 a year ago in Las Vegas, so the 2:36 in adverse conditions encouraged him. Also encouraging was the 1:09 half-marathon in Midvale _ good for second place. The 1:09 translates to about a 2:28 marathon.
The 30:50 10K time is exceptionally fast, translating to an average of 4:59 miles. However, the course in Magna is downhill.
Of course, no one's made a big deal over his running in Binesh's adoptive country. It's different being in a country of 220 million versus a country of half-a-million.
After the Olympics, Binesh hopes to visit Fiji in the not-too-distant future.
In the meantime, he's a teller by day and a runner the rest of the time, and his only worry _ besides laying claim to a couple of national records in Seoul _ is getting to Korea and back without breaking the bank. His bank. Just because the officials in Fiji said "come on down" doesn't mean they said "the check is in the mail." Fiji is a relatively poor country and has little in the way of Olympic funds. The entire Olympic team will be six members.
Binesh needs $2,000 for his Olympic trip. He has some small benefactors to date, but could use more. Deposits are welcome. Still, as he says, "These are the Olympics. For this I would take out a loan."
That's the runner talking - not the banker.