Surging Symmonds on fast track in 800

Updated: June 20, 2007, 3:28 AM ET
Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- The 800 meters is the forgotten race in the United States. Nick Symmonds is on a fast track from obscurity to change that.

With his victory in the 800 at the Prefontaine Classic in early June, and his first-place showing at the U.S. Indoor meet, Symmonds' life of anonymity is nearing an end.

"It (success) is certainly coming quicker than I expected," said Symmonds, who will aim at another notch in his climb this week at the U.S. track and field championships.

Success was nothing new for him, just not at this level.

The 23-year-old Symmonds was a seven-time NCAA Division III champion at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., winning the 800 all four years and the 1,500 three times. He had a streak where he hadn't lost an 800 final until last year at the U.S. championships, where he came in second. The streak started his sophomore year in high school, but he can't remember the actual number. He's lost count.

The buzz about Symmonds intensified after he ran down Olympic gold medalist Yuri Borzakovskiy at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., on June 10. Symmonds passed the Russian with a furious kick in the final few meters and set a personal-best record time of 1 minute, 44.54 seconds.

"I don't think he expected anyone to outkick him. He was pretty surprised," Symmonds said. "I got across the line and all I wanted to do was hug an Olympic gold medalist."

Symmonds has pushed everything aside to try to make the Olympic team. He's put his medical school ambitions on hold and simplified his life. He's moved into a house in Springfield, Oregon, that backs up to running trails, cooks his own meals, rarely goes out and is in bed every night by 10 p.m.

While other competitors are in downtown hotels this week, Symmonds is staying in a secluded area outside the city.

"Cutting out all these distractions and (devoting) 100 percent of my attention to running, there's no reason I can't be one of the best in the world," he said.

Just like he envisioned as a 9-year-old growing up in Boise, Idaho. Only, he didn't see his future necessarily being in track. Watching the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona on television, he just wanted to be an Olympian. He didn't care in which sport.

"I just wondered what could I possible be good enough (in)," he said. "I played soccer and ice hockey. I never, ever, thought I had a chance to make it in track and field."

A good showing in the 800 this week could earn him a spot at the world championships in Osaka, Japan, in late August. But his real goals lie beyond that.

"It (would be) icing on the cake," he said of going to Japan. "We're focusing on the Olympics and having a long career and being on top for a long time."

Symmonds is passionate about the 800. He's put the 1,500 on the back burner because, "I don't have that passion for the mile like I have for the (800)."

He's on a crusade to make the 800 as popular as the 400 or the 1,500.

"I want to wake people up and say, 'Hey, that 800 is a pretty cool event," Symmonds said. "I'm trying to inspire some kids out there.

"I think the 800 is the weakest event in America right now. ... But we've got a lot of really young, talented guys."

Himself included.

Over Christmas, Symmonds went to Barcelona to see his sister, who was studying in Spain. He visited the Olympic venue where the 1992 Games were held and was awed by the track.

"It refueled that fire," Symmonds said. "It gave me big momentum going into Indoors. I want to keep riding that momentum."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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