Not much has been heard from Utah's Henry Marsh, Doug Padilla and Ed Eyestone in the months since they won a spot on the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team. They have been conspicuously absent from competition this summer - Padilla and Marsh skipped the European circuit, and Eyestone bypassed his usual schedule of road races.
Echoing the trio's sentiment, Padilla explains, "I just felt I needed to stay home and train more for the Olympics."Whether this is a prudent strategy remains to be seen. It's a calculated, all-or-nothing risk, both financially and competitively. Bob Wood, Eyestone's
agent, estimates that Eyestone has given up $20,000 to $30,000 in prize money by sitting out the summer road racing season. Padilla and Marsh also passed up the biggest money their sport has to offer by skipping the European season.
Such is the lure of the Olympics.
Some experts would cite the need of races to sharpen up for the Games, particularly for the track races. World record holders Said Aouita and Steve Cram have tuned up with fast times on the European circuit. Other medal contenders, such as Steve Scott and Abdi Bile, have kept a low profile. It's a tricky business, peaking for one competition.
Since the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in mid-July, Padilla and Marsh have raced in a handful of small, low-key (read: slow) Olympic tuneup races on the West Coast. Marsh, who was second in the trials steeplechase race, produced a couple of good showings, but Padilla, who won the trials 5,000, was wildly erratic. As for Eyestone, he has raced just once since mid-June and only four times since finishing second in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in April. But he looked sharp while beating a solid field to win the Bobby Crimm 10-mile road race last month in Flint, Mich.
"After what happened to me in the world championships, I felt like this was the best thing for me to do," said Eyestone.
Eyestone's poor showing (21st place) in last year's World Championships 10,000-meter race caused him to alter his plans for the Olympic year considerably. He decided to pursue the marathon instead of the 10,000 and to cut back his summer racing schedule. "I think my races earlier in the summer caught up with me in the World Championships," he says. "I peaked too soon."
Of the three Utahns, Eyestone seems to have the best chance of winning a medal. At 27, he is just beginning to reach his peak years. He has run only a couple of serious marathons and, aside from his personal-record time of 2:12:49 in the trials, his next fastest time is only 2:16:13. But his inexperience in the marathon may or may not hurt him. Newness to the marathon hasn't prevented others from excelling at that distance ('84 Olympic silver medalist John Treacy comes to mind), and some believe it may even help (marathon careers can be short-lived). Also, where Eyestone is inexperienced in marathoning, he IS experienced in major international competition, and he has beaten many of the world's best at other distances.
Eyestone, an Ogden native, would seem to have what it takes to become a force in marathoning. He has fine 10K credentials (27:41.05 on the track) and he's Marine tough; he can run with pain. He could medal.
But Eyestone, and for that matter Padilla and Marsh, as well, will be bucking the odds. Since 1928, only one American - Frank Shorter - has medaled in the Olympic marathon. What's more, in the last four Olympic Games in which the U.S. has competed, Americans have totaled just three medals in the four distance races (steeplechase, 5,000, 10,000, marathon), and two of them were delivered by Shorter.
"Ed felt confident after the trials," says Wood, "because he hadn't had to put out 100 percent to make the team. His only problem was leg cramps late in the race."
At 34, Marsh is not expected to win the Olympic medal that has somehow eluded him during his long, successful career - a career that will come to a close at these Olympics (see related story this page). Track & Field News picks him to finish 10th.
"My training has been going very well lately," says Marsh, whose early-season training was interrupted repeatedly by illness. His seasonal best time, run at the trials, is a mere 8:24.21. "It will take sub-8:20 just to make the finals," says Marsh, who placed fourth in the last Olympics. Last week he put himself through a standard workout he uses to guage his fitness before major competitions. "It was the best I've ever done," he says. If nothing else, Marsh's racing skill and experience could put him in medal contention.
Like Marsh, Padilla, 31, has been in decline since his peak year of 1985, when he ranked No. 2 in the world behind only Aouita. He has had numerous health problems, and this year has been no exception, but who knows? Padilla ran poorly right up until the trials and then won the trials anyway. He has run badly again since then, but a big meet such as the Olympics could pressure Padilla into another fine performance. Track & Field News considers him a long shot; he's not listed in the magazine's predictions for the top 10 finishers.
Aouita, the unbeatable defending Olympic 5,000 champ and world record holder, reportedly will contest the 800 and 1,500 at the Games. That should help Padilla's cause.
"Give me a little rest, and I'll be all right," says Padilla, who was seventh in the '84 Games. "I feel like I'll be ready. It's starting to come."
But does he have the strength to handle a fast pace, if it comes to that? Padilla ponders that question himelf. The old Padilla could run under 13:20 when challenged; the Padilla of the past two years has broken 13:30 only rarely and never 13:20. His best time of the year - 13:32 - leaves him some 15 seconds behind the frontrunners.
"I can't see anyone pushing the pace (under 13:20)," says Padilla. "I think it will be in the 13:20s." Such a pace would play into his kick. Don't count Padilla out.