Former BYU cross country athlete and national champion marathoner Jared Ward will leave on Wednesday for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to compete in the marathon on August 21.
Ward qualified to be one of three members of the USA marathon team in February after finishing in third place with a time of 2:13.00 in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials Marathon. He finished just behind 2012 Olympic silver medalist Galen Rupp and marathon veteran Meb Keflezighi, who finished the race in 2:11.12 and 2:12.20, respectively. Ward said that it still feels unreal to garner the title “Olympian.” But, he is grateful for the opportunity to live out a dream and represent the U.S. on an international stage.
“As we’ve gotten closer to the games, it’s started to feel more real," Ward said. "But still, in so many ways, it’s surreal. (Becoming an Olympian) was certainly a dream, but I don’t think it was any kind of goal I set that I thought was realistic until about year and a half ago, when I ran a breakthrough marathon and I began to think I might have a chance at making the Olympic team. Then, I felt that setting the goal to make the team was realistic.”
Though Ward didn’t realize the potential he had to become an Olympian until 18 months ago, with his goal met, he believes he can have an impact in the race and give himself a chance to help his team medal in his race, which takes place on the final day of the Olympic games.
“I want to put myself in a position to capitalize on an opportunity to end up on the podium, should one present itself,” he said. “I don’t look at it like I am in a position to go out and run all these other athletes into the ground and put myself on the podium. But, I certainly want to be in a good position late in the race if people are struggling. I want to be in a position where, if it is one of those years, if a 2:11 or 2:12 marathon can get on the podium, I want to the be the guy to get that spot.”
Ward’s coach, BYU track and field and cross country head coach Ed Eyestone, competed in the 1988 and 1992 Olympic marathons in Seoul, Korea, and Barcelona, Spain, respectively. He finished in 29th place in 1988 and 13th place in 1992. Coach Eyestone continues to coach Ward; he will travel with him to Rio and remain for the duration of the games. Ward said that he looks to his coach in this time of preparation, Eyestone having once been where Ward is currently.
“I rely on Coach Eyestone quite a bit,” Ward said. “He’s been a huge benefit to me, just in terms of his grounded preparation. Coach never comes in with this mentality that we’re going to do something that we’ve never done before; he keeps things very close to home and normal for me, which I have been grateful for in these past few crazy months. He gives me confidence to know that I do have someone who has been there, done that, in terms of what I am trying to do and he can show me the ropes.”
Ward’s wife, Erica, and two children, Paul and Ellie, will not make the trip to Rio with Ward, but will be cheering on their husband and father from Utah.
“I think that there will be some family and neighborhood gathering, watching and supporting with my wife and the kids,” Ward said. “I don’t know what it’ll be like to be here, but I imagine that sometimes I’ll see the camera in front of me and wonder what it’s like back and home, and I’ll wonder what my wife is thinking.”
In addition to being an Olympian and professional athlete, Ward is also an adjunct statistics professor at BYU who teaches but is taking the spring and summer off to train for the Olympics. As his training and preparation time begins to wind down, Ward looks forward to turning his hard work into a solid performance on the big stage and in a special environment.
“I am most looking forward to the race itself,” Ward said. “All the other stuff makes me kind of nervous: the hype and the media and all of the other athletes. But it is going to be a great experience, to meet some of these people and be around the athletes that I have looked up to and admired my whole life. And to experience the buzz that everyone talks about for four years in between these games. I hope that I can manage that well and be able to race well, because that is really what I am looking forward to most.”