By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved, used with permission.
SACRAMENTO (26-Jun) -- There's no place Kim Conley would've rather won her first national title than here at Hornet Stadium. In front of hundreds of family, friends, and supporters, the 28-year-old California native surged in the final 200 meters of the women's 10,000m, re-taking the lead and propelling herself to an emotional victory.
Crossing the line in 32:02.07, Conley raised her hands high to the heavens, a look of astonishment coming across her face. Conley's reaction was priceless, perhaps even more emotional than her response after qualifying for the 2012 Olympic team in the 5000m.
"It is so meaningful, I can't even begin to describe it," said Conley, a resident of West Sacramento. "To win my first title here, with the Sacramento Running Association here and the whole Sacramento running community, it's just perfect."
From the get-go, it was clear that the Hornet Stadium crowd was on Conley's side. Having attended the University of California, Davis --some four miles west of here-- and lived in the area ever since, Conley was racing in her own backyard. With each lap, cheers rained down on the New Balance sponsored athlete.
Through halfway in 16:26, Conley was part of a front group that included fellow Olympian Amy Hastings, Jordan Hasay, Emma Bates, and Juliet Bottorff. Hastings, fresh off a 32:33 personal best at the Oakley Mini 10-K in New York City, gradually picked the pace up over the next two kilometers, injecting consistent laps in the 77 second range that would drop Bates and Bottorff.
As the clock struck 24 minutes and fewer than seven laps remained, it was Conley taking the race into her own hands. Moving into the lead, a cheer rose through the aluminum bleachers along the homestretch.
Although the support was audible with every step, Conley focused internally, repeating the word "courage" over and over. It would take courage for her to fend off Hasay, the only athlete to stick right on Conley's shoulder with a mile to go.
Etched on Conley's face was a look of determination, the will to win evident in her clenched jaw. Arms moving like pistons, Conley knew her moment to shine was now. Running a penultimate lap of 72.7 seconds, Conley was all-in.
"I just kept saying one word over and over and that was courage," recalled Conley. "It's a dangerous place to be in the front, especially with someone who is the likes of Jordan. But I was just reminding myself to be courageous."
Down the backstretch with roughly 210 meters to go, Hasay moved into the lead, briefly gaping Conley by three steps. The Sacramento faithful believed Conley had one last gear to give. So did Drew Wartenburg, Conley's coach since her days at UC Davis.
"Kim's been there before [in a last lap battle]," Wartenburg told Race Results Weekly. "I think now, several years into this level of running, [she] has that piece of mind somewhere in there to say 'if I get passed I can still come back.'"
That she did, using momentum to propel her into the lead down the homestretch.
Finishing first, Conley celebrated in style. Following her exuberant facial expression, Conley turned to the stands and waved, blowing kisses to all those who have believed in her. Her final lap was clocked at 65.2 seconds.
"I wanted to win a national title for so many years now," she said, describing a couple missed opportunities including the USA Cross Country Championships and USA Outdoor Track Championships last year. "I feel like it's been a long time coming and I just wanted to do it so bad here in Sacramento."
With her never-give-up attitude, Conley left quite an impression on Billy Mills, the 1964 Olympic gold medalist at 10,000m who was in attendance today.
"She's a diamond in the rough on a global level. I think she has the ability to take the victory on a global level," said Mills, speaking to a small group of media members. "She has the potential. She has the potential to do it, big things."
Placing second was Hasay in 32:03.28, followed by Hastings in 32:18.81. Bottorff would secure fourth in 32:40.61, with Rachel Ward (32:49.45) and Bates (32:51.49) rounding out the top six.
FAVORITES ADVANCE, MONTANO SURPRISES ALL IN 800m PRELIMS
Laura Roesler, the NCAA Champion both indoors and outdoors, led all qualifiers in the first round of the women's 800m, timing 2:01.64. A majority of the pre-race favorites advanced to the semi-finals, including IAAF World Championships bronze medalist Brenda Martinez (2:01.83) and IAAF World Indoor champion Chanelle Price (2:01.97). Also qualifying for Friday's semi-final were Maggie Vessey and Ajee' Wilson. Not moving on was Phoebe Wright.
Surprising everyone was five-time national champion Alysia Montano, who competed while 34 weeks pregnant. Finishing last in 2:32.13, the mother-to-be earned a standing ovation from the afternoon crowd.
"More than anything I wanted to be here, and feeling that fire, to be on the track and to race," said Montano, who will appear on the television program 'Good Morning America' on Friday. "What a better avenue than to do it at USA Nationals. I have a qualifying time as USA champion; I feel like I deserve to be here."
FRANEK, COBURN WIN STEEPLECHASE HEATS
After taking last summer off from competing, Oregon Track Club Elite's Bridget Franek returned to the national championships to win the opening heat of the 3000m steeplechase in 9:39.56. Franek went to the pole after Stephanie Garcia and reigning champion Nicole Bush did a majority of the front running.
Emma Coburn, seeking her third national crown, won the second section over early leader Ashley Higginson, 9:39.26 to 9:40.26. If Coburn wins Saturday's final, she will surpass training partner Jenny Simpson's total of two titles, moving into second on the all-time winning list at these championships only behind Elizabeth Jackson (four titles).
PHOTO: Coach Drew Wartenburg and athlete Kim Conley after Conley won the USA 10,000m title in Sacramento on June 26, 2014 (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly)