2013 World Outdoor Track & Field Championships / Moscow Notebook, Nick Symmonds' Medal Quest by Dave Hunter

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Nick Symmonds, Moscow 2013, photo by PhotoRun.net

Dave Hunter interviewed Nick Symmonds for this story. Hunter's excitement over this column was palpable. Nick Symmonds is one of our favorite athletes for many reasons. One, he is from a Div 3 university, and as Coach Bob Sevene once said, "we don't get kids from Div. 3 winning many national titles". 

2013 World Outdoor Track & Field Championships / Moscow Notebook

Nick Symmonds' Medal Quest

August 11, 2013

After running s shrewd semi-final race which qualified him for Tuesday's 800 meter final, an effusive Nick Symmonds is clearly enjoying himself while holding court in in the Mixed Zone.  "I am just so ecstatic the way it is shaping up," an enthused Symmonds offers.  "Today I felt really smooth going through the gears there.  There were times - especially within the first lap - where I was like 'let's get going - come on - we're wasting this opportunity.'"  

The eight qualifiers will have 48 hours to rest and prepare for the 800 final.  But Symmonds can hardly contain himself.  He sounds ready go right now.  "I feel that I'm ready to run 1:43 - maybe dip under 1:43 if need be.  That's what we're going to find out on Tuesday."

Earlier this summer in Des Moines - shortly after Duane Solomon and Brandon Johnson joined Symmonds as USA's 800 trio for Moscow - a certain brotherhood among this middle Dave_Hunter_Right_On_Track.pngdistance threesome was born.  Each spoke openly of the distinct possibility that all three Americans could well make the 800 final at the world championships.  And they nearly pulled it off - with only Johnson missing the final by .04 seconds.  

Symmonds speaks with genuine admiration and respect for both of his 800 meter teammates.  "I knew it [Johnson's valiant near miss to make the final] was going to be really close," Symmonds explains of Johnson's 1:44.89 - the fastest non-qualifier in WC history.  "That's a tough break because he was right there.  He ran a very courageous race to take the lead when he did.  And I really thought he was going to get through.  He's going to make a lot more of these finals.  And I really think he will be in one two years from now."

And a decade of two-lap combat versus his old nemesis Solomon has only strengthened the bond between these two 800 meter warriors.  "I am also really ecstatic that Duane {Solomon] is in the final," confides the 5-time national 800 champion.  "It provides a certain amount of comfort to know that he is there.  I've been racing him for ten years.  I know exactly how he's going to run.  He knows exactly how I'm going to run.  You all know how we're going to run this.  That's the fun of the cat and mouse game between him and myself."

Confident in his current fitness level, the sharp way he is presently racing, and his comfortable relationship with the media, Symmonds allowed himself to wax on about one of his grander plans:  his three-year glide path to an ambitious Olympic Trials 800/1500 double.  "I think I know how to race the 8," understates Symmonds.  "As for the 15, that 3:34 [1500m PB] gives me a lot of confidence.  When you're toeing the line against a guy like Centrowitz, you'd like to have a 3:31-3:32 PB next to your name.  But again in championship 1500 running, you very rarely have to run that fast.  I think a 1:42-type guy in a tactical 1500 can be lethal.  So I look forward to the opportunity to run championship 15's in the future as well."

Inevitably, Symmonds' banter with the media turns to championship medals.  Without question, Nick Symmonds has assembled one of the most impressive 800 meter resumes in U.S. history:  5 outdoor 800 national titles; two Olympic competitions capped with a personal best 1:42.95 5th place finish in London; and now 4 appearances in the world championships.  When you look at Symmonds body of work, only one item is missing: a world championship or Olympic medal.  And Symmonds is comfortable in discussing candidly this missing piece which would make his career mosaic complete.   "As I've shown, I can make finals.  This is my 4th global final in a row," he explains.  "I need to prove I can win a medal in this darn event.  And this is my best year to do it, I think."    

He may well be right.  Tuesday's 800 final looks to be an excellent opportunity for Symmonds to finally capture that coveted medal.  "I think I have had the easiest path to the finals.  1:46.9 and 1:45.0 is a nice easy way to get through.  And I've been able to save most of that last gear for that last race," Symmonds offers.  Contrary to what many may think, one of the great 800 kickers in the game would like to see a fast pace in the final.  "A 49 second first lap lines it up nice," Symmonds explains.  "I don't have to run out in lane two.  It's the shortest path along the rail.  It strings out nicely.  And it takes the kick out of some of these other guys' legs." Claiming a spirited pace wouldn't faze him, Symmonds adds, "I can kick off of 49.  Some guys can't.  Ideally, 49 / 1:16 are exactly the splits that I'd like to see.  And I think those are the splits that Duane would like to see."

When pressed as to whether he would take the lead early if the final's opening pace dawdled, Symmonds draws broad laughter from the media by unhesitatingly retorting, "Absolutely not!"  "No, I will, I will," he offers as the media quiets.    "I'd rather not have to.  And I don't think I will have to until the final 100," Symmonds forecasts.  "As one of the faster guys in the race, I just want it to be honest.  Let's just see who can run the fastest 800.  If Duane's not going to lead it, I'll lead it.  I'm sure some other guys would like to lead it.  There will be 2, 3 or 4 guys there with a 100 to go.  I still feel confident in my ability to kick off a slow pace. I think this is going to make for a very honest 800 and a very exciting 800 for the fans."

There is no denying there is a provincial component to the crowd support at these world championships.  It is human nature to cheer on your countrymen and countrywomen.  But these knowledgeable spectators are also quick to acknowledge a superlative performance regardless of nationality.  And if Nick Symmonds can finally solve the puzzle and find a way to put together the type of 800 final performance that will allow him to climb the podium, it would not only produce wide-spread appreciation of an international nature.  It would also result in one hell of a joyful post-race press conference.  

~Dave Hunter

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