ATHENS, Greece – Kevin Eastler didn’t come to the 2004 Summer Olympics favored to win a medal.
Just qualifying for the Athens Games in the 20-kilometer race walk was the fulfillment of a dream for the 26-year-old Farmington native.
Eastler got his chance to compete early Friday morning and finished a respectable 21st in his specialty with a time of 1 hour, 25 minutes and 20 seconds. That was just behind teammate Tim Seaman of Chula Vista, Calif., the top American finisher in 20th place with a 1:25:17 clocking.
Both Eastler and Seaman left Olympic Stadium at the start of the race slowly, in part because of the day’s warm, sunny conditions, and they gradually moved up through the field as other competitors faded late in the race.
“It was a great race,” said Eastler, now an Air Force captain who lives in Aurora, Colo. “Tim Seaman and I started off very conservative. We were at the back of the pack for the first couple of kilometers. We had to do it at the Olympics. We know they would start fast, and on a hot day, that would affect people.
“We just moved up so many places – it played right into our hands. I’m happy with the result. Given the conditions, I’m pleased. I know we put in a full effort.”
Eastler’s time was well off his personal best for the 12.4-mile distance of 1:22:25 set at the 2003 World Championships in Paris, but was better than the 1:28:49 he turned in during the U.S. Olympic Trials in Sacramento in mid-July.
Both Seaman and Eastler topped the previous best time by an American in the Olympic 20-kilometer race walk, 1:25:42 by Marco Evoniuk en route to a seventh-place finish at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles.
“We just had a brilliant plan,” said Seaman. “Kevin and I were the last out of the stadium. I’m sure at first people thought it was typical Americans, leave the stadium last and finish last. We knew people would go out so hard, they were going to crash. We didn’t crash – we came back 10 seconds faster than we went out. That’s not crashing.”
A third American in the race, John Nunn of San Diego, finished 26th in 1:27:21.
Ivano Brugnetti of Italy won the gold in 1:19:40, while Francisco Javier Fernandez of Spain took the silver in 1:19:45 and Nathan Deakes of Australia earned the bronze in 1:20:02.