Dr. Anthony Sandoval never knew just how far running would take him.
A cardiologist working out of Los Alamos, Sandoval is a Truchas native who was the leading contender for the Olympics marathon gold medal in 1980. It was a medal for which he never got to compete as President Jimmy Carter withheld U.S. participation to protest the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.
Still, Sandoval had a lengthy running career that saw him rack up individual and team championships in high school cross-country for Los Alamos High School, as well distance gold medals in track for the Hilltoppers.
Sandoval also competed for Stanford University, where he earned his undergrad degree in mechanical engineering while also studying a pre-med course.
For his exploits on the track and in cross-country, Sandoval was elected to the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame for the class of 2017 and will be inducted Sunday in a class that also includes longtime New Mexico Highlands cross-country coach Dr. Ron Maestas.
Sandoval said his selection came as a surprise.
“It somewhat did,” he said. “One of my first reactions was ‘Oh, someone remembers.’ Because I’ve been so immersed in my world in medicine, and my practice and my life, being a multi-career person and with six kids, practicing cardiology, and keeping up with farming and ranching that’s done with my family, I was a little bit taken aback that somebody would remember me when thinking about outstanding athletes when it comes to New Mexico.”
Sandoval didn’t even take up running competitively until his freshman year at Los Alamos.
“It gave me the opportunity to actually go out for a sport,” he said. “I had to wait for my dad after school to get me anyway, so I thought I might as well go out for something. I was too small for football, not tall enough for basketball.”
During a sports assembly the first week of school, coaches were recruiting athletes for their sports and cross-country sounded intriguing.
“I didn’t know if it was something that you had a baton for, or what the theme of cross-country was,” Sandoval said with a chuckle. “Turns out you just run. I tried it and I ended up being a one of the top runners around. Right away, I had good success.”
When he graduated from Los Alamos four years later in the spring of 1972, he was a two-time state cross-country champion and twice won the 2-mile run in track.
He attended Stanford on an academic scholarship, but it was understood that he would compete in both cross-country and track.
In his first trials as a freshman at Palo Alto, Calif., the day after arriving, he ran a school record in cross-country.
He later went on to compete in the PAC-8 championships, finishing fifth and competing against legendary Oregon runner Steve Prefontaine.
His other highlights at Stanford were being the school’s scholar-athlete of the year and athlete of the year in the PAC-8 as a senior, when he won the 10K, beating three world-class Kenyans for the title.
He continued training while undergoing his medical education at the University of Colorado, completing his internship and residency there before establishing his specialty as a cardiologist at the University of Utah.
In 1976, he finished fourth in the Olympic marathon trials and was the first alternate before winning the trials in 1980. In 1984, he was again fourth and the top alternate. He competed in two more Olympic trials, but had to drop out of his final attempt in 1992 midway through the race with a partially ruptured Achilles tendon.
Sandoval attributes his success to his family upbringing.
“No. 1, growing up in Truchas, and in the family I grew up in, if you did something, you worked at it and did it right and did it well,” he said. “I had the perseverance to be a distance runner that way. That was part of the make up. My physiological aspects, I was slight of body structure, slight in build and I had a smooth running style, and that gave me a leg up in all endurance events. Add those two together and it means you are going to do fairly well in long distance.”
Those were also traits he passed along to his children as each were state champions either individually or as a team member of the Hilltoppers.
“I’ve lived my running life,” Sandoval said. “And vicariously with their lives.”