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Anthony Sandoval
DAVID EPSTEIN
August 02, 2010
America's best marathoner in 1980 lost his chance at Olympic gold because of the Moscow boycott, but he's done pretty well in the long run as a physician in his native New Mexico
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August 02, 2010

Anthony Sandoval

America's best marathoner in 1980 lost his chance at Olympic gold because of the Moscow boycott, but he's done pretty well in the long run as a physician in his native New Mexico

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These days the only migration is toward his office. On a typical day Sandoval sees a constant stream of patients, many of whom drive an hour or more from such cities as Dulce, which is an underhanded stone's throw from Colorado. He flips casually between English and formal Spanish with his patients ("Hello! ¿Cómo están?"), and like a good coach, always leaves on a positive ("You have to stop smoking a pack a day. But your cholesterol looks great!"). Several of America's poorest counties are in northern New Mexico, but nobody who comes to Sandoval's office, insured or not, is turned away. From one patient whom Sandoval has guided through recovery from a heart attack, he asks only $5 a month. He could move his practice to Albuquerque and increase his income 50%. But, he says, "this is home. And it's a service that needs to be provided."

There is an old Spanish saying: Viejo es el viento, pero todavía sopla. Old is the wind, but it still blows.

Running remains a huge part of Sandoval's life. He has helped with track meets at Los Alamos High while his kids have passed through, and the years seem not to have deadened his competitive streak. Just ask his oldest child, Magdalena, who was an outstanding distance runner at Oregon but couldn't hold off Dad on the anchor leg of the Los Alamos Triathlon a few years ago. He gave her a cheerful "How's it going?" on his way by. Running is such a current in the Sandoval family that a chart tracking each family member's face-plants on the local trails is posted near the kitchen table.

And Sandoval's pulse still races when he watches video of the critical moments of the 1980 trials in Buffalo: In mile 22 Sandoval runs a 4:44 to take the lead from Benji Durden and then blows the race open with a 4:48 in mile 23. "Pretty nice stride," he whispers. Unless you ask who builds the sturdiest fences in Truchas, where he and Mary own 200 acres, talking about that winning stride is the only time you'll hear Sandoval brag. And this is where the most heart-wrenching Can you imagine? comes in. "Can you imagine, in terms of the kids, if I was a gold medalist?" Sandoval says. "Man, would they be proud."

Sandoval's first Olympic miss was at the 1976 marathon trials, when, on only the training he'd been doing for college track, he finished fourth, one spot off the team. In '84 he placed sixth, and in '88, deeply immersed in his medical career, Sandoval barely trained and finished 27th. For his last shot, in '92, he got serious again and was in great shape, only to rupture his Achilles tendon in mile eight. "I think sometimes he wishes he'd taken more time off from medicine to train," says Mary.

The winner of the 1980 Olympic marathon was East Germany's Waldemar Cierpinski. In 1998 documents emerged that implicated a number of East German athletes in the nation's systematic doping program, Cierpinski among them. "He wasn't overly dominant," says Sandoval. "I would've loved to be on the line with him."

But even if Sandoval was destined to go medalless, it's the lost racing that he mourns. The moments between the gun and the Olympic finishing line that are utterly irreplaceable. "All you want to do is find out what you can do," says Shorter.

Remarkably fit and with a lifetime of altitude training in New Mexico, Sandoval still has some race left in him. He's thinking of trying master's competitions once Teresa, his youngest, graduates from high school in three years. Not that any age-group race will ever replace the one that got away.

"I never got to run as hard as I can," Sandoval says. "I ran hard, but I never got in that position to run as fast as I could." Can you imagine if he had?

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