Ed Eyestone, The full-time BYU assistant track coach and part-time TV color commentator for NBC, strives to maintain objectivity and professional detachment when he is on the air. But that was proving difficult at Saturday's U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials.
One of Eyestone's proteges, Josh McAdams, was running in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and making a big move late in the race, with Eyestone noting it excitedly for the TV audience. At one point, out of the camera's view, he pumped his fist.
Just then, two of his NBC colleagues, Lewis Johnson and Ato Bolden, scribbled a note and passed it to Eyestone while he was on the air, reminding him of a journalism maxim: "No cheering in the press box."
"They could see I was getting a little worked up," Eyestone said. "I think they thought I was going to start (screaming)."
Who could blame Eyestone for getting worked up about McAdams? The previous night he had recalled just how far McAdams had come. He was a walk-on at BYU a few years ago and a fat one at that. He had gained 40 pounds on his 5-foot-9 frame while serving a two-year church mission, peaking at 190.
"He was a little gob of goo," says Eyestone. "I can remember giving him and the other walk-ons the standard speech 'You've got your work cut out for you. You're going to have to show us your mettle. Do the best you can. I can't give you a locker yet, but try to prove yourself. The cream rises to the top."'
And so it has. As of Saturday evening, McAdams whose stocky girth once caused teammates to call him "Hobbit" is going to the Olympic Games.
With his coach trying to control his emotions as he called the race on national TV, McAdams finished third in the 3,000-meter run at the U.S. Olympic Trials. The top three will represent the United States in next month's Olympic Games.
"I'm an Olympian!" he told Eyestone as they embraced following a victory lap. "I'm going to Beijing."
"Welcome to the club," replied Eyestone, a former two-time Olympic distance runner himself.
The race was won by Anthony Famiglietti in 8:20.24, followed by William Nelson (8:21.47) and McAdams (8:21.99). That threesome finished some 13 seconds ahead of the rest of the field.
The Olympic Trials are a cruel but fair all-or-nothing proposition place in the top three and you're on the Olympic team; everyone else stays home.
As Eyestone and McAdams plotted their race strategy, that was foremost on their minds. McAdams runs best by staying off the pace and running from the back of the pack to set up his trademark blistering kick late in the race. Lacking that kind of speed, Famiglietti likes to push the pace to tire the kickers or to get out of range of their closing speed.
If McAdams went with Famiglietti early or stayed within striking range, he would be going for victory but risked tiring and being overtaken for one of the top three spots. Eyestone and McAdams decided to play it safe and run for a top-three finish, with the possibility of making a late charge for first.
"I told him, 'This is the Olympic Trials; your first goal is to make the team; don't jeopardize that,"' says Eyestone. "And he knew that already. Third place is third place; fourth place is last place."
The previous day, another of Eyestone's BYU athletes, Josh Rohatinsky, finished fifth in the 10,000-meter run, missing an Olympic berth by just two places.
As expected, Famiglietti opened a huge gap on the field, and McAdams let him go. After two laps, McAdams trailed by 25 meters; after four laps, he was down by 35 meters. McAdams began to work his way up through the pack and, on the gun lap, McAdams and Nelson were closing in on Famiglietti. They couldn't quite catch him, but they had clinched an Olympic berth.
"That was the plan, just to sit back and work my way up slowly," said McAdams. "Don't go out too hard. Run first with the head and then with the heart. That is what I had to do."
McAdams put his life on hold just for this moment. If all had gone according to his original plan, he would be attending Southern College of Optometry now. But after he won the 2006 NCAA championships and the 2007 USA Championships, he was persuaded by Eyestone to postpone his post-graduate studies to make a run at the Olympic Games.
"There are no guarantees I'll make the Olympic team," McAdams said last year, "but ... I don't want to have any regrets."There will be no regrets now.
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