My father once told me, ” If you believe your own bullsh#t, then you are really in trouble”. Sports has its own subterfuge. But, to be an elite athlete in track and field, one must live in the world of reality, day after day. One is only as good as their last competition.
DES MOINES, IOWA, USA (22-Jun) — Heading into Sunday’s 800m final here at the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, Nick Symmonds has prepared for whatever scenario may unfold. After all, the 29 year-old is seeking to extend his national title winning streak to six years.
But what was on Symmonds’s mind immediately following his victory in Saturday’s preliminary round wasn’t his own.22 victory. It was the depth of those who made the final: nine men broke .50 in the semi-finals.
“There’s eight really, really good guys in this final,” said Symmonds, drenched in water after competing in close to 90-degree (32C) temperatures. In his preliminary round, Symmonds moved to the front with 400 meters remaining, an unusual tactic for the two-time Olympian known for his come-from-behind finishing style.
“If someone goes out in 48 (seconds), I’m not going to be near the front. If it’s a 51, 52, 53 type race, I have to be near the front ’cause all these guys have wheels,” he said.
Reacting to the site of nine men running under.5 –New Jersey/New York Track Club member Brian Gagnon being the odd man out of the final– Symmonds wasn’t surprised. He said it was to be expected.
“America, who put two people in the finals last year at the Olympics, should always have eight guys with the ‘A’ standard, [even] 16 guys with the standard, fighting for a spot on the team,” Symmonds said. “I’ll say I don’t think you’ll see times like this, as deep at least,[though].”
He continued, clearly passionate about America’s depth in the event: “We got a damn good crew and we’re going to send three really good guys to Moscow this year.”
As for himself, Symmonds expects to go faster in the final –even quicker than his season best set here yesterday.
“Now it’s all about recovery and who can recover the best and feel the best,” he said. “Historically I’ve always come back with a -mid to -high to win my titles. I think that’s what it’s going to take .”
To run under, Symmonds may just have to dig down into his bag of tricks. The best quote of the Championships thus far came when Symmonds –a Nike sponsored athlete– compared himself to Tiger Woods, the American golfer who is ranked number one in the world and owns 14 major titles.
“I always liked watching Tiger Woods play golf because they said he has more tricks in his bag with his clubs than anybody else does. He can hit a three iron ten different ways. And I’ve always wanted to be the kind of runner, in an 800m especially, that can win any way you throw it. If we go out in 24 (seconds), if we go out in 28, if it’s fast, if it’s slow, if I’m buried, if I’m boxed or if I’m free, I want to be able to win any different way. I think my Division III background [at Willamette University] gave me a lot of chance to practice those skills. I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve been able to pull off these wins the last five years is that I’ve found a way to get to the front somehow no matter how it’s played,” he said. “I aspire to have that kind of variety in my game.”
Though he won’t be wearing the traditionalTiger red in the final (as the golfer does when entering the last day of competition), Symmonds will have on the same competitive mentality. With his dark green Oregon Track Club Elite vest comes a confidence that shines at Championship time.
Asked if he considers himself the Tiger Woods of American middle-distance running, he responded positively.
“Maybe Tiger of the U.S. 800 meters for a very brief time.”
“Without the affairs,” he added.