Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Talking Trials: So Nick Symmonds walks into a bar...

Nick Symmonds takes his fifth national 800 title in a row, while
 Duane Solomon celebrates making his first Olympic team
(Photo: TrackAndFieldPhoto)
This is the fifth installment of "Talking Trials." There will be more to come every day during the 2012 USA Olympic Track and Field Trials from Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus in Eugene, OR. Full results for the trials are here.

Sunday at Hayward Field was a distance fan's dream. The day started off with the steeplechase prelims, then would have the 5000 prelims and the 800 finals. It was around 60 degrees, with some light rain, but no one seemed to notice once the first gun went off.

Emma Coburn looked incredible in the first heat of the steeple. She uses so little energy in getting over the 30" barriers that it looks like she's running a different race than the rest of the field. She's a virtual lock to make the team in Friday's final, but the race for second and third will be a dog fight, as there are at least seven other women whose credentials show they've got a shot. The Men's steeple showed how close everyone will be Thursday night's final. The only notable competitor that didn't make it through was Steve Slattery, yet top seeded Billy Nelson was the last one to get into the final on time.

Emma Coburn makes it look easy
(photo: TrackAndFieldPhoto)
The women's 5000's had some shakeups, as the first heat went out at 17:20 pace through the first 1000 meters (3:28) and then ground it down going 3:10, 3:05, 3:03 and then closing in 2:55 for the lead pack of Abbey D'Agostino, Julie Culley, Julia Lucas, Emily Infeld and Deborah Maier. Expect Thursday's final to have a similar feel. In the second heat Liz Maloy, Molly Huddle and Kim Conley showed their fitness in separating at the end. But the highlight of the prelims was Lauren Fleshman's gutsy last 100 meters to automatically qualify for the finals. She's been running 10 miles a week for months and really put everything on the line to get to this final. I wouldn't say she'll contend, but she's proven to be pretty darn tough, so we'll see.

The men's 5000 heats answered one big question. Was Alan Webb ready to contend? The answer to that was a definitive no. He looked tight the whole race and once he couldn't hang on, really went backwards, finishing last in his heat. He'll now end his run to make the team by scratching the 1500 and will try and get healthy and retool his approach. Who did look good? In the first heat, Galen Rupp and Andrew Bumbalough both did. Bumby made it a little exciting by accelerating down the homestretch to out lean Rupp at the line. I don't think Rupp liked it as he refused the handshake after the race. In the second heat, Bernard Lagat and Lopez Lomong looked like the class of the field with Ben True and NC State's Ryan Hill also looking excellent down the stretch. The easy money would be on Lagat, Lomong and Rupp to make the team, but you never know what's going to happen in an Olympic Trials final.

The 800's were both excellent and the ladies took the stage first. As usual, Alysia Montano took it out. She didn't have quite as much in the tank to dominate the field, but had enough to hold them off and take the national title. With 10 meters to go, it looked like Molly Beckwith would be second. That wouldn't be the case as a hard charging Geena Gall would pass her for second and former Tar Heel Alice Schmidt would nip Beckwith at the line for third. With all the former heels in town, it was great to see Schmidt make the squad.

Historic Hayward Field would explode for the Men's 800 as Nick Symmonds looked to take his fifth consecutive national title. Similar to 2008, the University of Oregon had some skin in the game, with Elijah Greer lining up and getting the loudest ovation of all the competitors (including Symmonds). The gun would go off and Charles Jock would bolt to the front, running 49.86 for the first 400. After he would slow, Duane Solomon would take over, as he said afterwards "the whole plan was to follow Jock and pick him off." Symmonds bided his time. As they hit the last 100, Symmonds would rocket ahead and take the title, with Khadevis Robinson coming on strong to pass Solomon at the line for second. Solomon would hang on for third and was the most emotional of the bunch as he cried tears of joy on national television.

Afterwards, I asked KD if after getting kicked down (by Christian Smith) in 2008 to miss making the team would lead to his change in race tactics, as he was once a notorious frontrunner, and is now more of a wait and go from 300 out guy. He said it was more that he was hurt in '08, than a matter of tactic. Either way, he's changed; and for the better as his last two seasons have been phenomenal (watch the video of the question and KD's response here).

It was New Balance night at Duck Town and they had
"baseball cards" made of all their athletes (with gum)
(taken with instagram)
The party got started soon after the press conference was over, and man, it was a good one. Shortly after gathering the troops and heading to the Wild Duck Cafe, none other than Duane Solomon would walk in with his coach and hold court at a booth all night. It kept getting better from there. Plenty of athletes that would be done competing would arrive one by one. One thing overlooked today in the Men's 800 final was the fact that Mark Wieczorek would run a big PR and would finish in 1:45.62, just .02 off the Olympic A Standard. Yet, he is sponsor-less. He showed up rocking his signature striped v-neck and headband, along with his two sisters that were wearing virtually the same thing.

Not long after, I was having a conversation with fellow writer, Jon Gugala, when some guy wearing an OTC singlet stormed in and gave him a big bear hug. Who the heck? It was indeed Mr. Nick Symmonds; still in his race gear, ok, he had pants on. This wouldn't be a quick pop in. Symmonds stayed the duration of the night and talked to everyone, took pictures with everyone and then near closing time, watched himself make his second straight Olympic Team with the fans by his side. Track is different like this. Things like this happen because it's a tight knit spot. It was a night for all involved to remember. It was a night I'll never forget.

Check out the video of Symmonds watching Symmonds:

More photos from Day Four at Hayward: 

KD thanks the fans after the 800
Make top three and get your name etched in glass
Wild Duck Cafe aka Duck Town
Nick Symmonds greets the fans
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