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Family first, but Olympics next for U.S. marathon hopeful Jared Ward?

Regardless of how he finishes, Jared Ward won't have a lack of family support Saturday in Atlanta. Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

On the night before the New York City Marathon this past November, the Ward family room in a midtown Manhattan hotel was overrun. Jared Ward, husband to Erica, and their four kids all crammed together. On the surface, this wasn't an ideal arrangement for Jared, who was looking for his first finish at this event, one of the six biggest marathons in the world.

Coach Ed Eyestone hung around for a while, but it was a bit too much, even for the head coach of the track and field program at Brigham Young University, where he oversees Ward's training.

"Well, it's not what I would advise for the night before a big race," Eyestone said when recalling the scene of kiddie chaos. "But that's his home. He is treating these major events like any other and I think that puts him mentally in a better place."

That's where he'll have to be Saturday in Atlanta, where Ward is among the favorites to make the three-man marathon team at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, set for a hilly course that loops through Atlanta.

Ward, 31, has a lot on his plate. He lives in Provo, Utah, where he trains and teaches, as a statistics professor (and coaches, alongside Eyestone) at BYU.

"Short-term focus and a day-to-day mindset is how we get by," Ward said of his family approach during an interview with ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Ward knows only one speed: fast. But in a modern, marathon-running world, his secret is not trying to squint too far ahead while also never looking over his shoulder. Both when racing and in everyday life, too.

"[Fellow runner] Ryan Hall wrote a book called 'Run the Mile You're In' and as long as we're in the mile we're in as a family, we're fine," Ward said of his home life. "My wife and I decided a long time ago that we don't put important things on hold right now, for things that seem more urgent at the moment but that are less important. I think that has brought a lot of perspective."

The long days, the crowded house (and hotel rooms) and the perspective that there are more important things than qualifying for a second Olympics (Ward placed sixth in Rio in 2016) have helped transform Jared from an upstart surprise when he qualified at the Los Angeles trials four years ago to one of the favorites Saturday.

He's under the experienced watch of Eyestone and trains alongside fellow elite competitor Connor McMillan in Utah. In the past year, Ward has turned in a career-best 2:09:25 (Boston last April, finishing eighth) as well as his sixth-place finish in New York.

"If there's one word that describes him, it's probably 'consistency,'" said Eyestone, a two-time Olympic marathoner. "In family, training, scholarship, all of those things. Jared embodies that in all the aspects of his life. He's got a real evenness that I think comes in handy in these pressurized situations."

Said Erica: "The hardest thing is keeping perspective. Nothing is too crazy or hard if you take it one small step at a time. We do a pretty good job at that and it reminds us that if you step back, nothing is extremely hard about this. Not unless you let it be."

Erica admits that in the lead-up to Atlanta she has, however, seen Jared more on edge than usual. He's taken the first half of the semester off from teaching, and Jared said this winter has been an especially tough one on his kids' health, the four of them getting sick often.

Yet the all-hands-on-deck operation didn't cease, not even with an Olympic berth dangling in front of the family.

"It can be daunting," Ward said. "If I let my mind wander, it goes, 'I can't keep losing sleep,' and my anxiety goes up. But it's more of an approach of, 'We have to get through this night and get up tomorrow morning and train, then I can nap.' That's how I handle those things."

Jared and Erica Ward spoke candidly of their in-the-moment approach, while daughters Julia, 3, and Magnolia, 1, chimed in on speakerphone. Their older kids, Paul, 7, and Ellie, 5, will also make the trek to Atlanta this weekend.

The family is booked for a cruise starting Monday morning, Olympic qualification or not.

Eyestone said he sees Ward as one of the "Big Four" to race in Atlanta, with Rio bronze medalist Galen Rupp as a heavy favorite, along with Leonard Korir and Scott Fauble and Ward himself as the only men in the field to run a sub-2:10 marathon.

Ward, however, is the slowest among those four. Though he still believes one of those three Tokyo spots will be his.

"I'm a statistics guy," he said. "I can't not look at things that way. I'm pegging the odds on myself. I'm a favorite to make the team. At the Olympic trials, it's one race on one day. Olympic years aren't just about the best people making the team; it's about who has a good race on the right day. It's a high-stakes selection system. It's going to take a good race on the right day. Being a favorite is all relative."

Before Ward can get too far ahead of himself, he flashes back to Los Angeles and the starting line of the trials race that day. He poignantly remembers his competitors having scared, nervous looks on their faces.

"Yes, this is what we train to get to for four years," Ward said. "But you have to let that go. It's sounds simple, but perspective and ability to focus on things that are important right now. That's all you can do."

Erica and the kids are set to sleep in a shared hotel room in Atlanta, too. Ward even bets one of the kids will end up in bed with him.

His face on Saturday at high noon at the starting line?

"Calm, confident and excited," Ward said. "I'm healthy and fit. And have the opportunity -- a real opportunity -- to do something I can look back at be proud of."

It'd be the first time he'd turned to look back at anything in a while.