Coronado’s Andreas Gustafsson can thank a potassium fix for his first Olympic Trials title as an American citizen — and possible taste of his first Summer Games.
About 25 miles into his 31-mile race walk Saturday in Santee, the 38-year-old former Swedish star thought he was going to pass out.
“I wasn’t feeling good at all,” he said after winning the 50K race in 4 hours, 12 minutes and 11 seconds. “I started to pedestrian walk for a bit. And then I ate three bananas within three miles or something.”
That revived Gustafsson enough to hold off defending national champ Matt Forgues (a Hilltop Middle School teacher while training in Chula Vista) and El Cajon’s Nick Christie (who vomited around 30K and fell off his torrid leading pace).
Coached by his father, Bo, the 1984 Olympic silver medalist in the 50K walk, Gustafsson was cheered by his wife, Molly, and two young sons as he averaged 8:08 miles starting in foggy mid-40s conditions and ending in clear-sky 70s near Santee Trolley Square.
He won $10,000 for his efforts. More important, he earned World Athletics (formerly IAAF) rankings points needed to make the Olympic team in case he doesn’t record an automatic qualifying time under 3:50. (His all-time best is 3:50:47 from 2012.)
“I’m super happy,” he said. “I think I’ll get in by the rankings within the next few months.”
Married to a U.S. citizen in 2015, Gustafsson has lived in the States since age 15, when his mother married an American. (In 2015, he drew a two-year ban for using the blood-boosting hormone EPO.)
The professional pilot passed Christie around 35K, and “I wasn’t really going to give him a chance. … I really kind of made a move. I knew all along that he wasn’t going to hold it. I was mostly worried about Matt.”
Christie, a former high school hurdler and pole vaulter, said the 50K was more a formality — and a chance for a payday. (He earned $6,000.)
“The 50K is not really my thing,” he said. “I think this will be the last one I do.”
With a focus on making the Tokyo team in the 20K race walk, Christie, 28, also will walk at the Feb. 8 Millrose Games in New York (a mile) and try to defend his national 3K walk title at the national indoor championships Feb. 14 in Albuquerque.
Joining him at the Armory track in New York City (at Millrose) will be Christie’s girlfriend, Robyn Stevens of Vacaville.
Stevens won the women’s national 50K title in 4:37:31, which would have made her fourth in the men’s race.
Unlike a year ago, when she prevailed despite finishing and learning she had a lap to go (shedding Old Glory and heading out for a final 1.25-kilometer* circuit), Stevens had triple-redundant lap counters Saturday.
But it was no walk in the park Saturday.
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Former Santee resident Carmen Jackinsky of Aloha, Oregon, mugs for camera on the way to a 6:56:57 finish in the 50K. Photo by Ken Stone
Andreas Gustafsson smiles at spectators as he nears final lap of 50K. Photo by Ken Stone
Molly Gustafsson yells for her husband, Andreas, as he takes one of his final laps in the 50K. Photo by Ken Stone
Rachel Seaman of Imperial Beach and Emmanuel “Natos” Corvera of San Diego won their respective 20K titles. Photo by Ken Stone
Matt Forgues exults after finishing second in the Olympic Trials 50K walk in Santee. Photo by Ken Stone
Matt Forgues stops his watch as he finished the 31-mile effort in 4:14:44. Photo by Ken Stone
Matt Forgues nears finish as runner-up in the 50K walk at the Olympic Trials in Santee. Photo by Ken Stone
Three-time Olympian John Nunn congratulates Andreas Gustafsson, who waited three years after becoming a U.S. citizen in 2015 to compete as an American. Photo by Ken Stone
Andreas Gustafsson signals victory in Olympic Trials 50K walk in Santee. Photo by Ken Stone
Andreas Gustafsson is greeted by Olympian and 2016 Olympic Trials winner John Nunn at finish of 2020 50K. Photo by Ken Stone
Andreas Gustafsson salutes family and friends as he nears finish line and Olympic Trials 50K title. Photo by Ken Stone
Spectators cheer Andreas Gustafsson as he nears finish line and Olympic Trials 50K title. Photo by Ken Stone
Nick Christie passes elapsed time clock during the sweltering portion of the race. Photo by Ken Stone
Patrick Henry High School cheerleaders react to first woman to finish the 2020 Olympic Trials 50K walk. Photo by Ken Stone
Race winner Robyn Stevens approaches finish tape — dropped before she could breach it. Photo by Ken Stone
Yards away from the finish, Robyn Stevens gets a hand from a fan at Olympic Trials 50K walk. Photo by Ken Stone
Pablo Gomez is helped after finish line. He was fifth man overall but won the 45-49 age group. Photo by Ken Stone
With bib No. 1, Nick Christie of El Cajon finishes perhaps his final 50K in 4:27:29. Photo by Ken Stone
Olympic Trials runner-up Matt Forgues is emotional after race. Photo by Ken Stone
Matt Forgues is embraced by Manuel Martinez, his spouse of a year. Photo by Ken Stone
Stephanie Casey finishes her 50K race at Santee. Photo by Ken Stone
Race winner Robyn Stevens celebrated Olympic Trials title with her parents. Photo by Ken Stone
Olympian Willie Banks, new member of the World Athletics governing council, came to observe the Olympic Trials. Photo by Ken Stone
Medical official Chuck Woolsey is ready with the race-recall pistol in case anyone jumped the gun. Photo by Ken Stone
Amid temperatures in the 40s and foggy conditions, the men’s 50K race walkers set off a little after 7 a.m. Photo by Ken Stone
Nick Christie of El Cajon led Andreas Gustafsson for more than half the race before falling ill. Photo by Ken Stone
DePaul University neuroscience professor Pablo Gomez, 48, of Evanston, Illinois, kept his arms warm for a 7 a.m. start. Photo by Ken Stone
Andreas Gustafsson passes Patrick Henry High School cheerleaders on the way to winning $10,000 and Olympic Trials 50K title. Photo by Ken Stone
No. 13 Steve Harper, 69, of Helena, Montana, chases Andreas Gustafsson (on a different) lap at 50K Olympic Trials. Photo by Ken Stone
Gary McDonald’s starter gun flashes as women and masters 50K walkers commence race. Photo by Ken Stone
A combined women’s and masters 50K race went off at 7:20 a.m. at Santee Trolley Square. Photo by Ken Stone
Teresa Vaill, 57, of Gainesville, Florida, was the oldest track and field Olympian in history at age 41 when she competed in 2004. Photo by Ken Stone
Eventual race winner Andreas Gustafsson appears to walk alone on closed-off Town Center Parkway in Santee. Photo by Ken Stone
An Indian-themed poster was signed by students of Matt Forgues at Hillcrest Middle School in Chula Vista. Photo by Ken Stone
Stephanie Casey had her refreshments and inspiration readied at table on Santee course. Photo by Ken Stone
Robyn Stevens, 36, of Vacaville shows upper-body strength needed for 31-mile walk. Photo by Ken Stone
Nathan Vanderwall, 27, of Grandville, Michigan, squeezes out hydration during Olympic Trials 50K walk. Photo by Ken Stone
Andres Gustafsson takes a drink break in stride during the foggy portion of 50K race walk. Photo by Ken Stone
Ivy Zamudio of Santa Maria cheers her father, Adrian, at Olympic Trials 50K walk. Photo by Ken Stone
Adrian Zamudio, 44, of Santa Maria was cheered by his sign-holding daughter Ivy, 8, at drink station. Photo by Ken Stone
Masters world record holder Darlene Backlund, 74, of Palm Springs smiled around the 31-mile course. Photo by Ken Stone
World-class masters walker Jolene Steigerwalt of Rancho Bernardo rode a bike around the 1.25-mile course to collect infraction cards from judges. Photo by Ken Stone
Robyn Stevens passes poster signed by Hilltop Middle School students in Chula Vista to cheer their teacher “Mr. Matt” Forgues, an American Indian. Photo by Ken Stone
Joanna Yu of Canada passes a lap sign for men. The women did the same 50K distance but started 20 minutes later. Photo by Ken Stone
Patrick Henry High School cheerleaders encourage Dave Talcott, 59, of Oswego, New York. Photo by Ken Stone
Phillip Dunn interviews fellow racewalk Olympian John Nunn, the 2016 winner, at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials. Photo by Ken Stone
Three-time Olympian Phillip Dunn announced the race for more five hours. Photo by Ken Stone
Andres Gonzalez-Aquino, 17, of Tijuana takes the 10K invitational race in Santee, clocking 47:10. Photo by Ken Stone
Coach Salvador Velazco-Gil hugs Andres Gonzalez-Aquino after 10K victory in Santee. Photo by Ken Stone
Oscar Gonzalez hugs his high school son, Andres, after he won the invitational 10K race at Santee. Photo by Ken Stone
Promoter Dan Cruz of San Diego carries USATF-branded backstop at Olympic Trials 50K walk. Photo by Ken Stone
Promoter Dan Cruz of San Diego moves USATF-branded backstop at Olympic Trials 50K walk. Photo by Ken Stone
Melissa Bosserman, 36, of Oregon City, Oregon, shows effort of 50K while Nick Christie trails on a different lap. Photo by Ken Stone
Defending national 50K champion Robyn Stevens warms up before race in Santee that started in sub-50 temps. Photo by Ken Stone
Matt Forgues poses with friends, Old Glory and a gay-pride flag after runner-up finish in Olympic Trials 50K walk. Photo by Ken Stone
Nick Christie displays Old Glory won with a third-place finish at the Olympic Trials 50K walk. Photo by Ken Stone
One of Andreas Gustafsson’s sons warms up winner podium minutes before Olympic Trials awards ceremony. Photo by Ken Stone
As his wife and a son watch from below left, Andreas Gustafsson climbs top of podium (with some effort) for 50K awards ceremony. Photo by Ken Stone
Nick Christie gives a smooch to his Olympic Trials-winning girlfriend Robyn Stevens in Santee. Photo by Ken Stone
Husband-and-wife walkers Dave Talcott, 59, and Erin Taylor-Talcott, 41, celebrate his seventh-place finish in 5:06:52 and hers in a runner-up 4:47:01. Photo by Ken Stone
Katie Burnett, 26, of Bellevue, Washington, shows pride in her third-place 50K finish in 4:53:26. Photo by Ken Stone
Matthew Forgues of Boothbay, Maine — now training in Chula Vista — celebrates runner-up finish in Olympic Trials 50K walk in Santee. Photo by Ken Stone
“My body started to cramp up a little bit at about 25K, so then I just decided to go for the win” rather than an Olympic qualifying time, she said.
Like Christie, Stevens says the Tokyo 20K walk is her emphasis. But if the Swedish-based Court for the Arbitration of Sport orders Olympic organizers to add the 50K walk for women, she says she’d like to double (the 20K comes before the grueling 50K).
She’ll compete for the U.S. team in May at a world race-walk meet in in Minsk, Belarus, where she’s looking for a good 20K time.
Stevens said she told her beau nothing as Christie passed her on the course.
“I didn’t want to distract him,” she said. “But I was really proud of him. He was on a sub-4-hour pace.”
Besides the 50K, other races were held — including a 10K won by a 17-year-old Tijuanan (Andres Gonzalez-Aquino) and a 20K won by 2012 Canadian Olympian Rachel Seaman of Imperial Beach (married to two-time U.S. Olympian and local coach Tim Seaman).
Seaman, 34, said the Santee walk wasn’t meant to be a super-hard effort
“I’ll do my first real race in March,” she said. “I’m on a good track” to qualify for Tokyo in the 20K.
She credited her daughters, 6 and 2, for her recent success, saying: “It’s been good for me to balance motherhood with my training” after once being too focused on training “to my detriment. I needed some balance.”
With three-time Olympian Phillip Dunn as announcer, the event attracted U.S. Olympic walkers from 1992 to 2016, including 2016 Olympic Trials champion John Nunn, whose last major race was in 2017.
Now 42, Army staff Sgt. Nunn graduates next week from physician’s assistant school in Colorado Springs. After officer training, he’ll be assigned in June to Fort Irwin National Training Center, “a nondeployable location,” north of Barstow. He’ll be promoted to a first lieutenant.
“I thought I’d really miss race walking,” he said, “but I had an almost 20-year career. So it’s nice to be able to come and not really feel I’m envious.”
Besides, he tried race walking at the beginning of clinical rotations in February, “and I was so sore for a couple days.”
How does he stay in shape now?
“I just run,” he says.
*An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to 1.25-mile laps.