The Sacramento resident won the 10,000m U.S. championship in front of her home fans Thursday night.
The boulevard of broken dreams known as the homestretch is where Kim Conley has put together some of her finest moments.
In a move that mirrored her last-second lean to qualify for U.S. team at the Olympic Trials in 2012, Conley captured her first national title Thursday night in front of a sparse but partisan hometown crowd at Sacramento State’s Hornet Stadium with a final foot-all-the-way-down-on-the-gas flurry to pass a pressing Jordan Hasay just strides before the tape. The last-minute move capped an exciting 65-second final circuit and further added to Conley’s growing reputation as one of the sport’s savviest—and gutsiest—racers.
“I guess in an ideal world I could have dropped her earlier but I definitely was leaving a little something in the tank knowing that she’s obviously strong and a tough athlete and has a great finish,” Conley said after the race. “So I knew that I needed a little something extra but I also kind of kind of planned on the home crowd to carry me. Coming off that final turn, hearing them there was just amazing.”
After moving to the front and pulling away from eventual third-place finisher Amy Hastings with less than two miles to go, a confident Conley led with Hasay stuck firmly on her shoulder for the next six laps before the former two-time NCAA champion from Oregon made a strong bid to the lead with only 300 meters remaining. As Hasay opened up a small gap on the backstretch heading into the penultimate turn, Conley kept her cool and continued to fight, waiting until the homestretch to turn on the afterburners and make her dream of winning a national championship in front of her hometown fans a reality.
RELATED: Conley, Rupp Win 10,000m Titles
“Kim has been battled tested,” said her coach Drew Wartenburg, who has guided Conley’s training since her collegiate days at nearby UC Davis. “She’s been in that position of getting passed and then having to fight back. It’s not easy on the heart but over time we’ve gotten to a place where she’s more comfortable keeping her head in it and fighting. Fortunately, that fight and a little bit of the home crowd on the home stretch helped carry her across.”
Racing in Sacramento, the city she calls home, Conley drew strength from the dozens of family, friends and fans that were on the edge of their seats screaming her name for the entirety of the 25-lap race. A 5000-meter specialist, she also benefited from dropping down to race the 800 meters and the mile this past indoor season, giving her the confidence that she had another gear when she needed it.
Being a non-world championship or Olympic year, Conley is dabbling in the longer distance this summer to work on her strength, as well as to give herself another option when the Olympic Trials roll back around in 2016. Wartenburg says they’ve consciously been working on her range as an athlete, as well as her racing skills, saying, “she’s really been able to build herself into somebody with a good repertoire. Kim’s a good instinctual racer and she loves to compete, but in a race like this, of this length, staying patient as she did and then deciding when the decisive moment was to go to the front and take the race into her own hands was what made the difference for her tonight.”
On Thursday night, that patience paid off heading into the homestretch, where Conley once again had one of her finest moments in a place were many races are won or lost at the last second and dreams are either realized or shattered.
“I just kept saying one word over and over again in my head and that was courage,” Conley said. “Because that’s a dangerous place to be in the front with someone who has the leg speed of Jordan. But I was just reminding myself to be courageous and to know that if I could still be with her with 120 to go then I would just use my heart to get me to the line. To win my first national title here is so meaningful I can’t even begin to describe it.”