BERLIN - A major deluge hit Olympic Stadium in Berlin an hour before Nick Symmonds was scheduled to run his semi-final heat of the 800 meters. It must have been a good omen.
Symmonds avoided a major collision, and went on to win his heat in impressive fashion in a time of 1:45.96. With his first place finish, Symmonds automatically qualified for the finals which will be held on Sunday evening here.
The former Willamette standout and Springfield resident becomes the first American to make the 800 final at the World Championships since 1997, when Rich Kenah and Mark Everett made the final, and Kenah won the bronze medal.
The collision took place on the first lap as the runners, bunched in a tight pack, were rounding the second turn about 250 meters into the race. Symmonds, who had started slowly as he usually does, was trailing the pack by a couple of meters.
Abubaker Kaki of Sudan, one of the favorites, was leading when his ankle was accidently clipped by a runner behind him, Bram Som of the Netherlands, which caused Kaki to lose his balance. As he went down, he took Som with him, and a third runner, Marcin Lewandowski of Poland also fell.
Symmonds alertly side-stepped all three fallen runners, and, as he did, saw a gap in the pack and shot through it to the lead. As it turned out, that was the key move of the race. Once Symmonds had the lead, he never gave it up, running hard to the line ahead of Jackson Mumbwa Kivuva of Kenya. "That doesn't happen that often and when it does you've got to try to take advantage of it," said Symmonds after the race. "I tried to athletically get around them and shoot that gap and keep my cool for 500 meters. As an amateur, I might have hesitated and hesitation will kill you in a race like the 800."
Appeals were filed on behalf of all three runners who fell, and Lewandowski and Som were reinstated and will run in the final. Kaki was evidently not reinstated, but no official explanation had been given as of
Symmonds was feeling confident heading into Sunday's final."I feel fantastic right now. It's anybody's race in the 800 - we've seen it a hundred times. With my tactics and my experience now, I think I can be one of the guys up there in the hunt.