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EYESTONE SCAMPERS TO BIG WIN

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That smile. Did anything say more than that smile? Ed Eyestone, Steve Plasencia and Paul Pilkington were blazing through the start of Saturday's Deseret News 10,000-meter road race at a seemingly wreckless pace when they spotted the clock at the first mile marker: 4:04. Too fast? Eyestone simply turned to Plasencia and smiled.

"Wow! Good first mile," he said, grinning.Plasencia didn't respond.

"I knew right then that Ed had him," said Bob Wood, Eyestone's agent.

And so he did. The race was decided quickly a half-mile later, when Eyestone abruptly broke away from Pilkington and Plasencia. He was still pulling away when he reached the finish line in Liberty Park. His time: 27:44. Only Eyestone himself has run faster on this course.

Pilkington, Eyestone's friend and training partner, was second with a personal-record time of 28:31, and Plasencia was a distant third in 28:55. The top three places were worth $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000, respectively.

"Ed hammered us so hard," said Pilkington. "He took the steam out of Steve. He knew what he had to do, and he did it."

For Eyestone, Saturday's race was a measure of relief and reaffirmation. Sure he has made two Olympic teams and ranked as America's top road racer for most of the past eight years, but he had began to doubt himself after several poor outings this year.

"I was concerned," he said. "I don't care how good you are. When you're flat, you can't help but wonder what's wrong. This was a good boost for my confidence. It tells me I'm all right."

Saturday's race was a good test. Plasencia is also a two-time U.S. Olympian, and he had beaten Eyestone in two of three meetings this year. With domestic track races hard to come by this time of year, he came to the Deseret News to continue his preparations for next month's World Track and Field Championships, in which he'll compete in the 10,000.

Plasencia flew from his home in Eugene, Ore., to Salt Lake City on Friday uncertain of just what sort of race he was getting into. Eyestone and Pilkington invited him to join them for a drive over the race course, and Plasencia quickly noted the steady downhill slope of the first four miles. While downhills make for fast times, they also make for sore legs.

"Why haven't you run this race since 1986?" Plasencia asked Eyestone.

"Because it really ripped up my legs," he said. "I couldn't do much for 10 days."

"Oh. Really?" Plasencia said, concern showing in his voice.

A light went off in Eyestone's head: "That was the first time I thought he might want to be careful because of the World Championships."

Eyestone suspected that Plasencia was wary of expending an effort that might waste his legs this close to the world championships. "We talked about strategy," said Pilkington. "Ed said he was going to go out as hard as he ever has."

It's a strategy with which Eyestone has grown accustomed out of necessity. Lacking speed for a finishing kick, he is usually forced to push the pace of the middle miles to shake kickers such as Plasencia.

"It takes guts to run like that, because you know it's going to hurt," says Pilkington. "But Ed has a great ability to run through pain."

Eyestone, Plasencia and Pilkington separated themselves from the field of some 2,000 runners about a half-mile into the race, blasting through the early downhill sections of the course with abandon. At about 11/2 miles, on another downhill along 1300 East, Eyestone found himself forging a slight lead.

Eyestone ripped through two miles in 8:30 while the early pace and altitude worked on Plasencia. At three miles, Pilkington began to pull away from Plasencia.

"The first mile was too fast," said Plasencia. "Plus, there was the altitude. I didn't know how much to respect the altitude. I respect it a lot more now . . . They did the smart thing to go out fast."

Even Eyestone felt the strain of the early pace - "At 5,000 meters, I thought, Whoa, I've still got another 5K to go." - but his lead kept widening. He looked over his shoulder once at 3 1/2 miles and again when he turned onto 800 South for the final mile to the park.

"That probably cost me the (course) record," he said. "You can't help but relax when you see that you have that kind of lead."

As Eyestone neared Liberty Park, someone called out his time: 27:27. Realizing he was within striking distance of his own course record of 27:39, he picked up the pace, but by then it was too late.

"You've got to give Steve credit," said Eyestone. "The last thing he wanted was to jeopardize his legs for the World Championships."

That notwithstanding, Utah's duo of Eyestone and Pilkington was formidable on Saturday. Look for both of them to run a major marathon this fall.

"Ed was hungry," said Wood. "After the way he ran two weeks ago, if he had lost to Steve on his home turf, it wouldn't have been fun. He wanted this."