At the start of the Olympic marathon, Ed Eyestone's game plan was simple: Win the gold medal. At the end he had a different game plan, equally as simple: "Just finish the darn thing."
The marathon, track's most fickle event, did Eyestone no favors Sunday. The native Utahn, running in only the fourth marathon of his life, went out strong with the leaders, averaging just under five-minute miles."But at about the halfway point some of those in the lead pack started to fall off," said Eyestone. "Unfortunately, I was one of them."
His legs cramped up and kept cramping up to the finish. Eyestone came in 29th in a field of 124 with a time of 2:19:09. He was the second American. Teammate Pete Pfitzinger finished 14th overall at 2:14:44, and Mark Conover dropped out.
Gelindo Bordin of Italy took the gold medal in 2:10:32, followed by Douglas Wakiihuri of Kenya in 2:10:47 and Houssein Ahmed Saleh of Djibouti in 2:10:59.
Binesh Prasad, another Utah resident competing in the marathon who was running for his native Fiji, finished in 2:41:50 in 76th place.
The winning time was well off the Olympic record of 2:09:21 set four years ago by Carlos Lopes in Los Angeles, and the world record of 2:06:50 set earlier this year in Rotterdam by Belayneh Dinsamo of Ethiopia.
The slow times reflected the unkind race conditions. Sunday was a perfect autumn day in downtown Seoul for anything but running a marathon. The temperature at 2:35 p.m., when the race began, was 78 degrees. The humidity was 50 percent. Thousands of people in shirtsleeves lined the city streets as the runners wentby, broiling in the heat.
"It was a brutal sun," said Pfitzinger. "It was like a Florida sun. The only relief was the shade, and there wasn't much of that."
Bouyed by a relatively pain-free performance at the Olympic Trials marathon last summer, Eyestone came into the race with both confidence and aggressiveness. "These are the Olympics," he said. "You might as well go for it. See what you've got. If it's your day and you can pop one, who knows?"
At the 10-mile mark, he was one of 19 runners within 15 yards of each other. And at the 13.1-mile halfway mark, when he was under an hour and five minutes, he was still one of a group of about 15 runners close enough to reach the leader - at that point Juma Ikangaa of Tanzania - in a matter of seconds.
"Then my legs started to cramp," said Eyestone. "I don't know why exactly. Whether it was the heat or what. That's the marathon. You just don't know. But once you start cramping there's nothing you can do except try and hang on. The last six or seven miles, especially, were just for pride.
"The times we were running (at the start of the race) weren't that unrealistic," he continued. "I was running the race I wanted to run, letting the pack do the work and float along . . . you have to hand it to the guys who were medalists. They had it today in some tough conditions. They're from Italy, Kenya and Djibouti. Probably they're a little more accustomed to this type of heat."
Eyestone said rumors that Korea's leftist student movement would disrupt the race did not bother him, either before or during the marathon.
"I was wearing this cap with USA on it. I wasn't worried at all," he said. "There were guards every 10 or 20 feet. There was a lot of chanting in the crowd, but I think it was people cheering for the Korean or the Japanese runners."
Eyestone said he'll take some time off and then get back on the road racing circuit, to "run some 10Ks - I've got to make a living."
"The marathon," he said, "really makes you appreciate the 10K."
Prasad, who lives in Salt Lake City and was summoned to the Games by the Olympic committee in the Fiji Islands, where he was born and raised, didn't have a lot of compliments for the Olympic marathon, either.
"The heat was terrible," said Prasad. "I was on target, for the pace I wanted to run, until about the last eight miles. Then I just wanted to finish. I'm happy that I was able to. I was only a few seconds behind the top South Pacific runner (Aaron Dupnai of Papua-New Guinea), so I was pleased with that."