Symmonds set for World Championships

SALEM, ORE. (By Matt Monaghan, Statesman Journal) -- Nick Symmonds is no longer that unknown runner who showed up to the 2006 U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

Ever since that day, when Symmonds stunned observers and track aficionados by finishing second in the 800 meters, the seven-time NCAA Division III champion from Willamette University has become one of the rising stars in U.S. track and field.

And if that wasn't dramatic enough, he really outdid himself in June at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene when he came from behind in the final 100 meters of the 800 to beat the defending Olympic gold medalist.

His time (1 minute, 44.54 seconds) was the second fastest run on U.S. soil this year.

Now, Symmonds has his sights set on one of track and field's biggest stages -- the World Championships in Osaka, Japan, which started today.

"The whole last year I had to tell myself I belong there racing with the best," said Symmonds by phone before leaving for Japan.

"I'm not going out to Worlds as some wild card. I belong out there just as much as anyone else."

Symmonds' first race isn't until Aug. 30 when he begins running in heats. The semifinals are on Aug. 31 and the finals on Sept. 2.

Symmonds' personal-best time of 1:44.54 is the 10th fastest run in the world in 2007, making him a contender to reach the finals.

The best time this year is a 1.43.74 by Mbulaeni Mulaudzi of South Africa.

"I know I belong in the semis and, you know, when you're at an elite level, everyone is separated by just hundreds of a second, so anyone can win," said Symmonds of his chances in Japan.

Symmonds has been in Eugene training -- running about 55 miles per week, he said -- and physically feels good.

He spent four weeks in Europe this summer running in international competitions that were designed to prepare him for the World Championships.

In five 800 races, Symmonds won once, at Liege, Belgium, with a 1:46.

He also finished third at Madrid, Spain, fifth in Germany and ran twice more in Italy.

"I knew all my competitors," Symmonds said of racing against world class runners. "Every day I step on the line I'm racing against someone from a different part of the world."

But Symmonds is starting to gain some recognition of his own, mentioning that a stranger approached him while in Europe and pegged him as the guy who ran down the Olympic gold medalist at Prefontaine.

"For the most part people are really starting to appreciate that I'm here to stay. I think last year they thought I was a flash in the pan," Symmonds added.

Symmonds' stiffest American competition will come from Khadevis Robinson, who beat Symmonds at the 2007 U.S. Outdoor Championships.

But Symmonds beat Robinson in Eugene and knows anything can happen in one race.

"I look at it as there's 30 some competitors out there, and no one this year has put up a 42 or really low 43. The apple is waiting to be picked."

There are five other athletes competing in Japan with Oregon ties.

Galen Rupp of Oregon will run the 10,000 meters. Nikole McEwen, a Newport High School graduate will compete in the pole vault.

Adam Goucher, a Portland resident, will run in the 1,500, and his sister, Kara, also of Portland, will run in the women's 10,000.

Thomas Brooks, who competes professionally with Oregon Track Club in Eugene, will be in the 3,000 steeplechase field.

Reprinted with permission of the Statesman Journal

Former Willamette runner Nick Symmonds will represent the United States in the 800-meter run at the World Champinoships in Osaka, Japan

Former Willamette runner Nick Symmonds will represent the United States in the 800-meter run at the World Champinoships in Osaka, Japan