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Nick Symmonds, Alysia Montano Win 800m Finals

  • By Mario Fraioli
  • Published Jun. 25, 2012
Nick Symmonds raises his arms in triumph after winning the men's 800-meter final. Photo: Steve Godwin/Competitor

Men’s and women’s steeplechase and 5,000-meter prelims also got underway on Monday night. 

EUGENE, Ore. — Alysia Montano went for it from the gun, Nick Symmonds came from behind, but on Monday night both athletes walked away from chilly and damp Hayward Field as Olympic Trials champions in the 800 meters.

Montano, in her customary fashion, set a hot pace from the crack of the starter’s pistol, blazing her opening lap unchallenged in just over 55 seconds. She began to tie up ever so slightly around the penultimate turn with 200 meters to go, but regained her form on the final straightaway to hold off the rest of the eight-woman field to win in 1 minute, 59.08 seconds.

“Today was amazing,” Montano said after the race. “A lot of us were OK with the rain because if we got on the podium it’s how it would be in London. I’ve been doing a lot of strength conditioning and I just went out in the same fashion I normally do and it worked for me. My first 600 I wanted to simulate what it’d be like on the world stage. My coach and I wanted to use this as practice.”

Geena Gall of the Oregon Track Club crossed second in 1:59.24, while Alice Schmidt took third in 1:59.46 to make her second Olympic team. The top five women in the race all ran between 1:59 and 2:00.

“I imagined coming off the last curve and sprinting to the finish line,” Gall said afterward. “I knew Alysia was going to make first but this is my first Olympic team and I can’t wait to go to London with these girls next to me.”

In the men’s final–the last event of the evening–Symmonds, the reigning national champion, sat in fifth place after a sub-50 second opening lap from Charles Jock. The heavy favorite, Symmonds began moving up heading into the backstretch of the final lap behind the supportive roar of his adopted hometown crowd. After passing the fading Jock, Symmonds attacked the final turn, bolting past eventual third-place finisher Duane Solomon into the lead, one he didn’t relinquish all the way to the finish line to win in 1:43.92.

“I’m really proud of myself,” Symmonds said after the race. “The community has really embraced me. It’s a testament to the community. I have really made this my home. They give me a huge shot of adrenaline, which gives me a great advantage.”

Thirty-five-year-old Khadevis Robinson, fourth in this event at the 2008 Olympic Trials, rallied to finish second in 1:44.64 to qualify for his second Olympic team. Duane Solomon, one of only two entrants to not have the Olympic “A” standard going into the race, finished third in a personal best 1:44.65, punching his ticket to London.

“It was all about making the team,” said Robinson, who last ran in the Olympics in 2004. “I got fourth in 2008 and I thought, ‘This is my time to win.’ I’m happy to make the team and it’s a blessing to make the team.”

VIDEO: Khadevis Robinson On Nick Symmonds’ “Secrets”

Earlier in the evening, the preliminary rounds of the men’s and women’s steeplechase events and 5,000 meters took place. In each of those events, the first six finishers in each of two heats (plus the next 4 fastest times overall) advanced to the finals to be held later this week.

In the first heat of the women’s steeplechase, it was a 1-2 finish for the University of Colorado, as teammates Emma Coburn and Shalaya Kipp crossed the finish line in 9:43.19 and 9:46.17, respectively. Mason Cathey took third in 9:47.32.

“My teammate is my biggest competitor, but we are happy to be here and hope we can both make the team,” Coburn said after the race.

There were no big surprises in the second heat, as the Oregon Track Club’s Bridget Franek led a tight group across the line in 9:44.05. Sara Hall, last year’s Pan American Games champion in this event, crossed second in 9:44.55, while Ashley Higginson took third in 9:45.21.

“It was a smooth race. I felt like it was a pretty controlled effort; I was definitely thinking about Friday,” Franek said afterward.

The women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase final is scheduled for Friday at 4:45 PM.

In the two men’s heats, all the favorites advanced to Thursday’s final at 6:30 PM. Evan Jager took the first heat in 8:30.60. He was followed closely by Princeton’s Donald Cabral in 8:30.64 and Craig Forys in 8:30.85. Heat two was won by Dan Huling in 8:29.00. Ben Bruce of McMillan Elite in Flagstaff, Ariz., was second in 8:29.11 and Kyle Acorn took third in 8:29.27.

“It was good,” said Jager, who will be one of the favorites in the final. “The plan was to go out in the first third of the pack and stay out of trouble. I wanted to have a clear sight of where I was running. I felt really great.”

The men’s and women’s 5,000 prelims, as expected, turned into tactical affairs. The first heat of women went out at a crawl before Renee Metivier Baillie threw in a huge surge around the mile mark to speed up the pace. She was eventually gobbled up by the pack and spit out the back as Abbey D’Agostino led six across the finish line between 15:41.14 and 15:48.16. Lisa Uhl, who made the Olympic team in the 10,000 meters on Friday night, moved on to this Thursday’s final by finishing sixth in the heat.

“The strategy was to stay up there and be a part of the top six the entire time and I just did it,” D’Agostino said. “It was great, so fingers crossed and I plan on doing the same thing.”

Heat 2 went out a little quicker than the first through the first two laps before slowing back down again halfway through as American record holder Molly Huddle and newly minted 10,000m Olympian Amy Hastings did most of the mid-race work. Business began to pick up over the final three laps as Huddle, Elizabeth Maloy and Kim Conley began forcing the pace. Hastings was unable to hang and eventually finished ninth, failing to qualify for Thursday’s final. Maloy won the heat in 15:46.00, while Lauren Fleshman, seventh at the world championships last summer but hampered recently by injury, snuck into the final by finishing sixth in 15:51.53.

“I made it. I can’t believe it,” Fleshman said. “I can’t believe the crowd. I’ve never had that kind of support.”

The news of the men’s 5,000 heats was who didn’t make the final. Alan Webb, the American record holder in the mile who appealed last week to gain entry into 5,000 (he did not attain an “A” qualifying standard this season), finished last in the first heat, running 14:01.25. Andrew Bumbalough and Galen Rupp crossed the finish line first and second, running 13:46.80 and 13:46.82, respectively. In the second heat, favorites Lopez Lomong and Bernard Lagat took the top two spots in 13:42.81 and 13:42.83. Nine of 11 entrants in the second heat qualified for Thursday’s finals — the top six automatically and the next four on time.

“Obviously I have the ‘A’ standard and I’m here to make the team,” Bumbalough said after his race. “I want to finish the best I can and get the highest possible and make that trip to London.”

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Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli is a senior editor at Competitor magazine. A cross-country All-American at Stonehill College in 2003, he now coaches the Prado Women's Racing Team in San Diego and was the men's marathon coach for Costa Rica's 2012 Olympic team. His first book, The Official Rock 'n' Roll Guide To Marathon & Half-Marathon Training (VeloPress, 2013) is available in bookstores, running shops and online.

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