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ATLANTA - July 3, 2016 - Heading into his last race before making his Olympic debut, Jared Ward has come to the right place at the right time.
“The weather in Rio will, with a pretty good certainty, be 75 degrees and 70 percent humidity, which is oddly similar to what we’ll probably have early Monday morning,” said Ward, one of the top Americans in the field for Monday’s AJC Peachtree Road Race. “So it should be a good simulator.”
The forecast, as of 2 p.m. Sunday, was for temperatures in the mid-70s and humidity between 70 and 80 percent at the start of the elite men’s race.
But Ward, 27, has another reason to be excited about running here for the first time: It’s the 25th anniversary of his coach’s 1991 victory.
“When you’re a road runner in the United States, there are a handful of races that you just gotta do, and Peachtree is one of them,” said Ward. “Any time you have the chance to vie for a title at a big race it’s an incredible opportunity, and when there’s some additional sentiment for something like my coach, it’s certainly something we’ll get excited about and get after. “
Ward’s coach is Ed Eyestone, a two-time Olympic marathoner (1988, 1992) who won the AJC Peachtree Road Race exactly 25 years ago. Until Christo Landry took the honors in 2014, Eyestone reigned as the last American man to win the race.
Coming off a month’s layoff due to injury, Eyestone—whose third-place time (28:07) in 1986 still makes him the second-fastest American in history here—wasn’t feeling especially confident, especially knowing that among his rivals would be Mexico’s Alejandro Cruz and Kenya’s Steve Kogo. He vividly recalls trying to stay with the lead pack as long as possible, and then being able to pull ahead on a downhill after turning toward Piedmont Park, build on his momentum in the last 400 meters. His time of 28:32 gave him a five-second victory over Cruz.
“It was obviously a big moment in my road-racing career, because the Peachtree Road Race was one of those jewels out there that I had not yet conquered,” said Eyestone, now 55.
A big moment in Eyestone’s coaching career came at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in February, where Ward ran 2:13:00 to claim a spot on his first Olympic team—indeed, on the first national team of his career. On Saturday, in the hours before flying straight to Atlanta, Ward received his Team USA uniform.
And this time he will get to wear it. In 2007, as a Team USA alternate for the Pan Am Junior Games— coincidentally held in Rio that year—Ward was fitted for gear in case he was called upon to compete.
“I remember standing in front of the mirror in this USA kit, and I said, ‘Someday, I’m going to get my kit,’” said Ward, who still lives in Provo, UT after his career at BYU, where he was first coached by Eyestone. “And really, I thought my kit would be a cross country kit. Any team would have sufficed; I would have been happy. And then the first one was the Olympic one. [Back then] the Olympic team was always a dream, but it was never a goal.”
In a gamble that paid off, Ward bypassed the 2015 IAAF World Championships, for which he qualified he qualified by winning the 2015 USA Marathon title, when Eyestone suggested they focus instead of training for the Olympic Marathon Trials. “I was like, ‘No, I made a world team! This was my goal!’ Fortunately, it worked out.”
Already paying homage to his coach by sporting a mustache identical the one Eyestone wore in his racing days, Ward’s plan is to further honor him with a strong anniversary performance at Peachtree. It will be only the third 10K of his career, but there will be no holding back.
“The race will be a success if I can just go out and compete hard,” said Ward. “So much of being prepared for Rio is just being race ready in your head. If I get out there and run a hard race and put it on the line and compete, I’ll feel good. But I’d really like to get out there and compete with the guys in the front of the pack.
“Plus have fun. You want to have fun on the Fourth of July.”
About Atlanta Track Club
Atlanta Track Club is a nonprofit committed to creating an active and healthy Atlanta. Through running and walking, Atlanta Track Club motivates, inspires and engages the community to enjoy a healthier lifestyle. With more than 24,000 members, Atlanta Track Club is the second largest running organization in the United States. In addition to the AJC Peachtree Road Race (peachtreeroadrace.org) – the largest 10K running event in the world, the Publix Georgia Marathon, Atlanta 10 Miler and Thanksgiving Day Half Marathon, Atlanta Track Club directs more than 30 events per year. Through the support of its members and volunteers, Atlanta Track Club also maintains a number of community initiatives including organizing and promoting the Kilometer Kids youth running program to metro Atlanta youth, honoring high school cross country and track and field athletes through Atlanta Track Club’s All-Metro Banquets and supporting the Grady Bicycle EMT program. For more information on Atlanta Track Club, visit atlantatrackclub.org.
About the AJC Peachtree Road Race
The AJC Peachtree Road Race is a 10K event that takes place every Fourth of July in Atlanta, Georgia. The first Peachtree was held in 1970 and featured 110 finishers. The AJC Peachtree Road Race is now the largest 10K running event in the world with 60,000 participants. The AJC Peachtree Road Race is perhaps most famous for the coveted AJC Peachtree Road Race T-shirt, which is handed out to all the event finishers. For more information on the AJC Peachtree Road Race visit peachtreeroadrace.org or AJC.com/peachtree.
About The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is the leading source – both in print and online – of news, information and advertising for metropolitan Atlanta, reaching a total print and online audience of 1.7 million people each week. Every month, nearly 6.4 million unique visitors access the newspaper's websites, including AJC.com, myAJC.com and accessAtlanta.com. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is part of Cox Media Group, a publishing, digital media and broadcasting subsidiary of Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises.