Prone to deeper reflection, her daddy sees his comeback effort as a chance to impart a valuable lesson to his children.
"What really is number one in our lives is our family," he says. "A big reason for doing this, going back to hard training and focused effort, is to have the kids experience someone close to them making a plan and working hard and diligently at it. I want them to know that you just don't go out and have great success. You have to do your homework before that."
Sandoval has had to bone up in a hurry. Until he started training in earnest last summer, he hadn't done any serious running since 1984. He started his training by running 30 miles a week. Madonna runs more than that. She also has more company. Before the '80 trials Sandoval trained in Los Alamos with Jeff Wells, John Lodwick, Kevin McCarey and Lionel Ortega, all members then of the elite Athletics West running club. This time around, Sandoval runs alone or with the "Varmints," a merry band of local runners whose enthusiasm is no match for Sandoval's leg speed. "They are wonderful," says Sandoval, after leading the Varmints through a noon session of half-mile repeats on the track. The Varmints would respond in kind if they weren't busily sucking air from between their knees.
Before the track workout Sandoval spends an hour explaining the wonders of the digestive system to Miguel's second-grade class at Mountain Elementary School. To impress upon his charges the scope of the intestine, Sandoval tells how he and his father once removed the intestines of a butchered cow and stretched them to their full length. "We walked, and we walked, and we walked until we were across the field, practically," says Sandoval, his eyes wide. This causes a minor uproar.
Steve Spence, whose 2:12:17 best makes him one of the favorites in Columbus, is polite about Sandoval's hopes. "Chances are, at 20 miles there will be some surprises up there," says Spence, who was 14 when Sandoval ran in the 76 trials. "If I were to see him still up there at 20 miles, I would consider that a surprise. I wouldn't rule it out, but I don't expect it, either."
Those who know Sandoval well aren't so sure. They cite his drive and talent. They cite the marathon's vagaries and the power of a 16-year dream. They cite precedent: Portugal's Carlos Lopes was 37 when he won the 1984 Olympic marathon. They pause. They cough. They begin to gush. Among his friends Sandoval inspires a devotion that gives their objectivity two tads of taint.
"Anthony is a rare individual, extremely gifted both physically and intellectually," says former teammate Wells. "If that weren't enough, he's also a super guy. He may not have a recent track record, but I still think he'll be the most gifted athlete at the trials. It would not surprise me at all if he made the team."
Wells majors in faith: He is now a pastor in The Woodlands, a Houston suburb. But others also give Sandoval a chance.
"The odds are against him, but he has a shot," says Marshall Clark, who coached Sandoval at Stanford University in the mid-'70s. "It's been a long time since he's competed, and I worry about that. Still, we're talking about a very exceptional person who knows this is his last chance." Clark hangs on valiantly, then his last shred, of objectivity dissolves. "God," he says. "Wouldn't it be a fairy-tale ending if he pulled this off?"
Sandoval has no idea how he will fare at the trials. He hasn't run a marathon of distinction since he clocked 2:12:42 at the 1984 trials. He has run only one marathon since 1988, a desultory 2:23 at last October's Twin Cities Marathon. Still, Sandoval is characteristically upbeat. His years of sporadic training, he says, have kept him fresh and injury-free. Mentally, he believes he is as strong as anyone. With proper preparation and a bit of luck, he says, he can still run fast, possibly faster than he has ever run.