Nick Symmonds rocked the track & field fans in US when as a Divsion III athlete, he came on the scene and started shaking up the 800 meter world. Dick Patrick wrote his column on the 800 meter race, and Nick Symmonds, who is a solid chance to reach his goal of a medal in London.
Symmonds took his fifth US title in a row, with his OT title. KD Robinson, rid himself of the demons from 2008, running a perfect race for KD. Duane Solomon made his team, as he and coach Johnny Gray made their dreams a reality.
But, in this 800 meters, Nick Symmonds hit goal 1, now, on to London, where Nick should be in the battle for medals. Here, Dick Patrick gives you a view into Symmonds racing brain and his race in Eugene.
By Dick Patrick
June 25, 2012
Nick Symmonds surprised himself in April after coming off altitude training in Flagstaff, Ariz., and running a 1:43.9 800 leg at the Penn Relays. It was the earliest in the season the half miler had ever broken 1:44, and the London Olympics were four months away.
“I started panicking for a minute: ‘Am I peaking too early?” Symmonds said.
So he did what any modern runner would do. He called his sports psychologist, Jeff Troesch, who’s based in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
“He said why don’t you not worry about that,” Symmonds said. “Why don’t you say maybe you don’t even know what you’re capable of yet. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s really good. I just came off altitude. I hadn’t done any sharpening work. Maybe I don’t know.'”
Symmonds will get to find out if he can achieve his goal of an Olympic medal after winning the 800 Monday at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials. His fifth consecutive national title came in typical Symmonds style, running from behind and thrilling the Hayward Field fans who have adopted the Idaho native who now lives in nearby Springfield and trains in Eugene.
Symmonds worked his way from the back of the pack to sixth as Charles Jock took the field through a scorching first lap of 49.86 seconds. After picking off a couple of runners on the back stretch, Symmonds drew even with leader Duane Solomon with 100 left.
He pulled away for the win in 1:43.92, his first sub-1:44 at Hayward. Khadevis Robinson, 35, took second (1:44.64) and Solomon hung on for third (1:44.65), achieving both a personal best and the necessary Olympic A time standard.
Now Symmonds’ attention turns to becoming the first U.S. Olympic medalist since Johnny Gray, now Solomon’s coach, earned a bronze medal at the ’92 Games. Symmonds has been getting closer to an international medal after being eliminated in the semifinals at the 2008 Beijing Games. He was sixth at the 2009 world championships and fifth last year.
“That semifinal is so unforgiving,” said of the three-round format at major international meets. “You’ve just got to get to it; then you’ve got to run a perfect race. There’s going to be 24 (semifinalists) toeing the line to make the final. Most of those guys all belong. Unfortunately, you can only take eight.
“There’s a lot of luck into it, a lot of timing. But once you’ve made the finals, anybody has a shot at the medal. My preparation this year has gone phenomenally. I’ve just got to not doubt myself and believe in my abilities to stick with the east Africans.”
Symmonds, who won seven NCAA Division III titles at Williamette University in Salem, Ore., thinks he’s just reaching his peak years: “In college I ran six months of the year and goofed around the other six months. I didn’t train that hard in high school. I played ice hockey in the winter, hiked in the summer. Whereas a lot of athletes train hard in high school and college, I feel I’m on a delay. At 28, 29, 30, these are going to be my best years.”
Symmonds trains plenty hard now. He feels more confident in his kick thanks to twice weekly gym/weight sessions with University of Oregon strength coach Jim Radcliffe. “When I’m coming down the home stretch, if you look at my races in ’07 and ’08, my form would break down a little bit,” he said. “Now I’m actually strong enough to hold my form for 790-some meters.”
Leading up to the Trials, Symmonds quieted one of his crusades – for athletes to be able to have more freedom in displaying sponsors on uniforms. He auctioned off a temporary tattoo on his left shoulder for $11,100, though he has to cover the logo for a Wisconsin-based marketing company for this meet and most others. He created a stir by publicizing his attempt to get celebrity Paris Hilton to be his date during the Trials.
During the Trials, he’s been all running. “There needs to be a certain balance between fun and business,” he said. “Compartmentalizing is something I’ve had to work on even to this day. If I feel myself out of balance at all, I’ll call (Troesch). Using him as a sounding board and being able to talk to him has really helped me find that balance.
“When I was in Australia (during the winter), I didn’t have that balance and I ran some abysmal races. I couldn’t break 1:48. I came back and said I need to start having fun with the sport again. That’s what the last three months have been about and it’s paid off.”
When he goes to London, should Symmonds go for a run in Hyde Park, he won’t be besieged by well wishers as he was Sunday while running at Pre’s Trial. The London Olympic Stadium crowd won’t be cheering loudly when he is introduced or when he reaches the leader’s shoulder on the home stretch. All those advantages helped in Eugene.
“This crowd doesn’t want to see me just make the team,” Symmonds said. “They want to see me win. It allows me to race with a little more aggression. I know I need to be on the leader’s shoulder with 100 to go or I don’t have a chance to do that. I know if I’ picking people off as soon as I get onto the leader’s shoulders, they’re going to rise to their feet and go crazy. That’s the Track Town community. It’s just such an advantage.”