Kevin Eastler was on the verge of retirement. Now he’s a can’t-miss Olympic prospect – again.

Two years after realizing his childhood dream of competing in the Summer Games, Eastler, 29, suddenly shows no signs of hanging up the sneakers that his 100-mile-a-week training regimen forces him to replace twice a month.

The Farmington native recently reclaimed his title as America’s top racewalker. Eastler was named the Capt. Ron Zinn Memorial Racewalker of the Year.

Eastler, a graduate of Mt. Blue High School and Air Force Academy, also won the honor in 2003. He backed it up the next summer by finishing 21st in the Olympic 20-kilometer race in Athens.

“It’s a great honor. Basically, it says you’re the best racewalker in the country,” Eastler said. “I’m happy to receive it.”

Zinn was the top U.S. racewalker in the 1960s. He placed sixth in the 1964 Tokyo Games before serving in Vietnam, where he died in July 1965.

“He sacrificed his life for his country even though he was an extremely talented athlete,” Eastler said. “It means a lot that the award is named after him.”

With a record-smashing year under his belt and the national 50-kilometer championship looming next month, Eastler is back on target to continue juggling his own military career with his training for the 2008 Olympiad in Beijing.

Eastler is an Air Force Captain and member of the 566th Information Operations Squadron. He works in the aerospace data facility at Buckley Air Force Base and lives with his wife and 2-year-old daughter in Aurora, Colo.

“I wasn’t sure that I was going to continue competing at this level,” Eastler said. “The unit that I’m in now has been very supportive. My commander at the time I was making the decision (to come back) was also a track athlete. He and a few of my teammates talked me back into training.”

Nine months away from the sport renewed Eastler’s energy and fueled one of the finest seasons of his career.

Eastler christened 2006 with a national record in the 30-kilometer racewalk. He scorched the standard by more than a minute, completing the course in Chula Vista, Calif., in 2 hours, 12 minutes, 53 seconds.

Two more national titles followed. Eastler took home the 20-kilometer championship in June and the one-hour crown in October. He also became the first American racewalker ever selected International Association of Athletics Federations athlete of the month.

Repeat Olympic aspirations will receive an endurance test when Eastler heads back to Chula Vista for the national 50K event in January. He returned home Sunday after a 10-day training stint in Germany.

“I finished with my longest workout ever at 40 kilometers,” Eastler. “This is my first 50K. My training is going well. I feel like I’m well prepared. It’s a lot different. You have to go out more conservatively and hopefully maintain that pace throughout the race.”

Olympic racewalking distances are 20 and 50 kilometers. The distance of Eastler’s upcoming race is roughly equivalent to five miles longer than a marathon.

His goal is to cross the wire underneath the IAAF Olympic qualifying plateau of four hours.

“That standard would be good for two years,” said Eastler. “I would still have to go to the Olympic trials and finish. We’ll have to see how it goes. There is always the possibility that it will be horrible and I won’t want to do another 50-kilometer race in my life.”

Eastler beat the Olympic cut-off in the 20K this year. He hopes to repeat that feat in 2007 and provisionally qualify for Beijing at the shorter distance, although Eastler said he probably would choose one Olympic event instead of competing in both.

Racewalking is perhaps the least publicized and most misunderstood of all Olympic track and field events. When recognized, it is usually because of the awkward stride required of its competitors.

It is both physically and mentally taxing, however. Eastler, who took up the sport when he was 9, averaged less than seven minutes per mile at this year’s 20-kilometer national championship.

He won’t turn 30 until next October. That age bracket is considered prime time in Eastler’s sport.

“There are younger exceptions, but for a racewalker or a marathoner, late 20s and early 30s are when your endurance is usually at its peak,” he said. “I definitely feel my endurance increasing from year to year.”

Enough to reach the podium in Beijing? Time will tell.

“I finished 21st, which might not sound great to most people, but I knew it was a good performance. So I sort of checked off that box in my mind as far as my goals in life,” Eastler said. “What I didn’t want to do was come back and put in a half-hearted effort just to make the team. I want to make the team and have a chance to win a medal. I was satisfied with my performance in Athens, but I feel like I can do better.”

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