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Despite Setbacks, Symmonds Ready To Defend Title

He hopes to harness the magic of Hayward Field once again.

Nick Symmonds is hoping to bounce back at the U.S. Outdoor Championships this weekend. Photo:

He hopes to harness the magic of Hayward Field once again.

Written by: David Monti

(c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

EUGENE, Oregon — The track at Hayward Field on the campus of the University of Oregon here has always held a special magic for Nick Symmonds.  It’s the venue where he won his first national outdoor 800m title in 2008, showing an explosive sprint in the final 100 meters of the Olympic Trials.  The following year, he won the two-lap contest at the Prefontaine Classic and again at the national championships.  He set his 1000m personal best here last year, also at the Prefontaine meeting.

But 18 days ago at this year’s Prefontaine Classic, Symmonds faltered.  While Sudan’s Abubaker Kaki ran a meet record 1:43.68 to get the win, Symmonds struggled in the final 150 meters to stay in contact with the field.  As his rivals began their final sprints for home, Symmonds couldn’t find his usually reliable kick.  He crossed the finish line last in 1:46.78, and the normally talkative Symmonds only granted an 8-second audience with the media before strutting away quickly to the recovery area.

“I’m healthy, I’m just so raw,” Symmonds said that day.  “I haven’t done any speed work, but that’s no excuse: I should be able to run better than that.  I’ve got three weeks to hopefully sharpen up a little bit.”

Speaking exclusively with Race Results Weekly here today, Symmonds said that he had made good use of those weeks and was ready to win his fourth straight USA 800m title here at the U.S. Outdoor Championships this weekend, an accomplishment which would earn him a berth on Team USA for the IAAF World Championships in Athletics in Daegu, Korea, in August.

“Pre was a bit of a surprise because I was trying to race like I was in 1:44 shape,” said Symmonds, sporting Nike wrap-around sunglasses and a two-day beard.  “But, I hadn’t done any speed, or speed/endurance.  I wasn’t in shape to go out quite that hard.  It caught up with me in the last 100 meters.”

Coach Mark Rowland, who trains Symmonds with the Nike Oregon Track Club Elite squad here, analyzed the situation and put his star athlete to work.

“We’ve done a lot of speed/endurance over the last few weeks, and now I think I’m where I need to be to make this team,” Symmonds said.

Symmonds, 27, faces a more difficult competitive landscape for his discipline compared to just one year ago, as a younger generation of American men have stepped up their game.  At the recent NCAA Division I Outdoor Championships in Des Moines, Ia., Robby Andrews of the University of Virginia and Charles Jock of the University of California at Irvine both broke 1:45 finishing 1-2.  Third place Elijah Greer, an outgoing University of Oregon sophomore, ran 1:45.06 for third, and Penn State’s Casimir Loxsom was just 25/100ths back.  Moreover, Symmonds’s Oregon Track Club teammate Tyler Mulder ran 1:44.83 behind UCLA senior Cory Primm (1:44.71/USA leader) at the Occidental High Performance Meet in Los Angeles on May 21.  Indeed, 14 American men have run sub-1:46 this outdoor season, including Symmonds’s veteran rival, Khadevis Robinson, who ran 1:45.09 to win the Samsung Diamond League meet in Rome on May 26.  Symmonds knows that he’s going to have to run hard here this weekend to win, or even make the podium.

“Last year you could make the team maybe not peaking for this race,” said Symmonds.  He continued, “In the course of nine months, the men’s 800 in the U.S. has changed dramatically, and now it’s one of our stronger events.  So, I’ll have to bring a really, really solid product this weekend to make that team.”

Symmonds and Rowland are betting that an extended program of endurance training during the winter and spring will give them an edge here.  Symmonds spent the entire month of April training at altitude in Flagstaff, Ariz., and did long runs up to 14 miles.

“The idea was just get really, really strong and use that strength to carry you through the summer,” Symmonds offered.  “Most 800-meter runners wouldn’t do much more than 10 miles, but I was doing 14-milers this winter.  I’d just be shaking my head saying, ‘I can’t believe I’m running an hour and 45 minutes right now.'”  He added: “It was brutal.  It was not easy.  There were some days in Flagstaff I’d come home and I’d literally crawl across the room to get to my bottle of water.  It was hard to even stand up.”

Before the Prefontaine disappointment, the signs were all positive that this approach was working.  He ran a 1500m personal best at the Occidental meet, and a strong 1200m leg in a distance medley relay at the Oregon Twilight Meet here on May 6.  Symmonds is proud of those efforts.

“We spent nine months training for the 1500 and I ran a two-second PR,” Symmonds said of his 3:38.18 run at the Occidental meet.  “And the idea is that strength will convert to the third round and allow me to run a little bit better in the third round at both USA’s and World’s.  We’re trying something different this year.  If it doesn’t work, lesson learned before 2012.”

If Symmonds makes the team –which under normal circumstances requires a top-3 finish at the national championships– he plans to head for France where he will train at high altitude in Font Romeau in the Pyrenees.  He would then race at the Diamond League meetings in Monaco (22-Jul) and London (05-Aug) before heading for Korea.

At the 2009 IAAF World Championships in Berlin, Symmonds made the final and was in medal contention as he rounded the final turn.  But in the last 20 meters, he faded from second to sixth.   The memory of that race helps motivate him now.

“The men’s 800 is crazy,” Symmonds concluded.  “You never know what will happen.  I mean, Nils Schumann beat Wilson Kipketer in 2000 for the Olympic gold.  All you talk about is making finals, because once we’re in the final, anything can happen.”

*   *   *   *   *   *

The USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships opens here tomorrow and will conclude on Sunday.  The meet, which serves as the binding team trial for USA athletes for the IAAF World Championships in Athletics, will be televised as follows (all times Eastern):

ESPN2, June 24 11:00 pm-1:00 am

(ESPN2 Re-air, June 25 1:00 -3:00 pm)

Universal Sports, June 25 3:00-4:30 pm

NBC, June 25 5:00-6:00 pm

Universal Sports, June 26 3:00-4:00 pm

NBC, June 26 5:00-6:00 pm