By the time Ed Eyestone took the sash from his teammate on the last leg of Saturday's Salt Lake Classic elite relay, he found himself a full 10 seconds behind California's front-running anchorman, Danny Aldridge, and it was all over. This was no contest. This wasn't even fair.
California needed a bigger lead."Ten seconds is not enough to beat Ed - not up here anyway," said teammate Paul Pilkington.
And so it wasn't. Eyestone, the proud new papa, caught Aldridge in front of the homestand at the end of the first 1.3-mile lap around Liberty Park. Moments later, he passed him - and then some. He continued to pull away the rest of the race, beating the second-place team from Arizona by 48 seconds. With Aldridge fading badly, California finished last, 1 minute and 11 seconds behind Utah.
Are you all right? somebody asked Aldridge as race officials helped carry him into the park. "No, I'm not all right," he said. "I got my butt beat. How would you like to have Ed Eyestone gunning you down."
"This one is for Erica," said Eyestone, who was catching his breath at the finish line while signing autographs.
Only 24 hours earlier, Eyestone's wife, Lynn, had given birth to the couple's first baby, a girl, thus ending a long holdout. All week long, Eyestone had awaited the baby's arrival, unable to make definite racing plans for the weekend. But showing all the timing of her dad's kick, Erica arrived Friday morning, thus freeing Eyestone to run in the Classic and in Monday's Boulder-Boulder race in Colorado.
"We had an alternate ready to run (in the Classic) in case I couldn't," said Eyestone.
As it was, the Utah team needed Eyestone desperately. Paul Cummings ran the leadoff leg for Utah. Normally that would have been enough to end matters right there, but this is not the same Cummings who won the 1984 Olympic trials 10,000. He's been bothered by a persistent virus all winter. "It's only in the last three weeks I've started to feel good," he says, but in the meantime he has missed months of hard training. "I have no idea how I'll do here," he said before the race.
For two miles he gamely hung on to California's Danny Gonzales (Arizona's Jim Klein fell off pace at the start of the second lap). But over the last half-mile Gonzales pulled away, giving teammate Danny Grimes an eight-second head start on Pilkington.
Pilkington, an Ogden school teacher and a 2:16 marathoner, closed to within four seconds of Grimes, which was probably too much too soon. "I got a little over-anxious," said Pilkington. Just as Gonzales had done, Grimes pulled away over the last half-mile, giving Aldridge a 60-yard lead on Eyestone.
Mind you, Aldridge is no slouch. He's run 13:30 for 5,000 meters on the track. Still, Eyestone would say, "I thought I had a chance to catch him, if I could cut into his lead on the first lap." He carefully stalked Aldridge, gaining on him gradually, almost imperceptibly. With still a half-mile to go at the end of the first lap, Eyestone was five seconds back, but then he made a veteran move. Rather than follow the slight S-curve of the road just before the homestand, Eyestone took a straight-line course and Aldridge didn't; suddenly, Eyestone was three seconds back, then two, then, hearing the crowd of 1,500 or so spectators cheering for him, he was by him.
"I guess I'm a bit of a ham," said Eyestone. "I hoped to pass him on the second lap, but the crowd was right behind us. That helped a lot. When I caught (Aldridge), I was tempted to hang behind him, but I could see he was struggling."
Eyestone, who covered his 2.6-mile leg in 12:50, didn't look back until the final turn of the second lap and by then his two rivals were nowhere in sight. (The official total times for each team were 39:32.3, 40:20.7 and 40:43.5, respectively.) For Eyestone and his teammates, the win was worth $3,000 ($1,000 apiece), plus appearance fees. Arizona claimed $2,000 and California $1,000.
There was no time to celebrate, though. Cummings and Pilkington boarded a plane Saturday afternoon for the Boulder race. Eyestone was to join them today. Bigger races loom ahead. Cummings still hopes to make the Olympic team at 10,000 meters, but he must make up for lost training.