Jon Gugala wrote today’s column on Alysia Montano, Nick Symmonds, two of our premier 800 meter runners. Montano is running like a women possessed with a mission-to medal in London. Symmonds is making the right moves, and looks to be holding back for the 800 meter final.
Here is how Jon Gugala observes these fine runners.
by JON GUGALA
June 24, 2012
There are some athletes that, when compared with their peers, make competition look like something they condescend to. They are just that good.
So it is with Nick Symmonds and Alysia Montano.
Both athletes have floated atop their 800-meter domestic rivals for years, Symmonds for the last Olympic cycle–the length of a U.S. presidency–and Montano, with national championship wins in 2010 and 2011.
Both, in their preliminary heats and semifinals of the 2012 Olympic team trials, looked without question that they were unpressed, unstrained, unconcerned.
They enter Monday’s 800-meter final as the clear favorites. As they should.
Symmonds, in both his rounds, spent so much time looking back over his shoulders at the six to seven other men straining behind him in the final 100 meters that it’s a wonder Nike doesn’t come up with some kind of rearview mirror apparatus to preserve his neck.
Even in Symmonds’ semifinal appearance, taking second to grimacing Oregon Track Club Elite teammate Tyler Mulder, never has an athlete made a runner-up finish look so dominant.
And though post-race Symmonds demurred on the ease in which he qualified for his seventh consecutive outdoor final, he did let slip, “I think Monday’s going to be fun. I feel like I’ve got a lot left.”
There is always the Next Big Thing. As Symmonds has said previously, each year another NCAA champ is fresh off graduation and touted to take down the old guard. But while UC-Irvine alum Charles Jock and UCSB’s Ryan Martin are both in Monday’s final, neither have shown the shape of Symmonds as he moves through rounds.
And of veterans Khadevis Robinson and Duane Solomon–both also advancing–they will be hard-pressed to respond to Symmonds’ coup de grace, as they have previously (Robinson in this year’s Prefontaine Classic; Solomon for his entire career).
After Symmonds’ semi, he was cadged by one reporter to say, “Hi, my name’s Nick Symmonds and I was born to be great.” It rang false.
It rang false because it was redundant. Symmonds had already said it in his heat.
In her semi on Saturday Montano blitzed a 55-point opening 400-meters–a world-class first split–reaching 600-meters with a two second lead.
Montano is so dominant, so dangerous, so destructive that her competitors’ strategy (in her round, last year’s runner-up Maggie Vessey and third-place finisher Alice Schmidt) is to just let her go.
“I was in Daegu last year [host city of the 2011 IAAF World Championships, in which she finished fourth] and the rounds aren’t slow. My strategy is to feel it out, do it how you do it, and then just shut down the last 200,” Montano said.
“That’s exactly what I did, and it feels great.”
Montano would advance to the final with a round-leading 2:00.25 heat win.
Maybe when we’re talking trials, the real race is at the Olympics, and all that matters is a top-three finish. And that is important, all-consuming even; the trials may not be the time for heroics but to simply guarantee your ticket to the Big Dance.
But for Montano and Symmonds, theirs is la primier. For them, there is no place other than one.