EUGENE – No worries for Nick Symmonds.
Coming from behind once again in the homestretch, Nick Symmonds defied the doubters and qualified for the 800 meter final at the U.S. Track & Field Championships.
Symmonds was last after 200 meters, seventh with 400 meters to go, and sixth with 150 to go. But, just as he has done in so many races before, most notably in the 2008 Olympic Trials, he accelerated with seeming ease in the last 100 meters and moved past four runners to finish third in 1:45.95, his fastest time of the year. The top four in the race qualified for Sunday afternoon’s final.
“I really would have liked to have been in third or fourth with 200 (meters) to go, but I would have had to go to lane four to do it,” Symmonds said. “I had it in my legs today, so it was (be) patient and I was able to come pretty strong down the homestretch. And I got my world qualifier so it was nice going into the finals with a 1:45 under my belt.”
Symmonds, a five-time U.S. champion, who won the silver medal at the last World Championships, is the most accomplished 800 runner in the field at these championships. He has never finished lower than second in his eight appearances in the nationals meet.
Yet, because he did not compete in 2014 and has had lackluster results to date in 2015, Symmonds was picked to finish ninth by Track & Field News.
“Well, I just beat that (prediction) then, so that’s a good start. I’ve always said I do better when I come into championships because I handle the (preliminary) rounds well. I don’t train for the 800 – I train to run three rounds of the 800. It’s all about getting to Sunday.”
2014 was a year of change for the 31-year-old Symmonds. The former Willamette standout changed sponsors, going from Nike to Brooks, changed residence, moving from Springfield to Seattle, wrote a book (“Life Outside the Oval Office”) and had to sit out the entire year with an injury. He said he was encouraged by the crowd’s warm ovation for him before the race.
“I love it. Leaving OTC (Oregon Track Club) Elite was really hard for me . . . It was tough and there was a long mourning period . . . but I needed that change. Seattle’s been great for me. New teammates, new workouts, new places to train, I just feel invigorated now. It was nice to come back and have the crowd welcome me home. That means a lot to me.”
When Symmonds goes for his sixth U.S. title on Sunday, he will have to contend with Duane Solomon, who has been his major rival over the last three years. Solomon and Symmonds are second and third, respectively, on the all-time U.S. list in the 800 meters, and along with Johnny Gray, are the only Americans ever to run under 1:43 in the 800.
Solomon won the first semifinal on Friday evening, and, afterwards, promised to make Sunday’s 1:57 p.m. final a fast race. Symmonds said he was fine with that.
“Good! Yeah, there’s only two guys that have run 1:42 (who are) in this race and that’s me and Duane. If he wants to do the work, I’ll come and try to find him in the last 100 meters.
“I’ve made every single (national) team I’ve tried out for, and I sure as hell don’t want to break that streak on Sunday.