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Posted: June 25, 2009  :

(RRW) Athletics: Symmonds Enters Championships Savoring Home Track Advantage

From David Monti

© 2009 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

EUGENE (25-Jun) -- Unshaven, his light brown hair only loosely coiffed, reigning USA 800m champion Nick Symmonds was the picture of relaxation at yesterday's kick-off press conference for the USA Outdoor Championships which begin here today. Symmonds, who lives and trains here with the Nike-sponsored Oregon Track Club Elite, enters the meet with both the confidence of a defending champion, and the added advantage of running on the track where he regularly trains and has achieved the best performances of his career.

"It's really important that the U.S. Championships are here," said Symmonds with his characteristic rapid-fire delivery. "I can feel the confidence that comes with that and the lift the crowd gives you."

Symmonds is a huge crowd favorite here, a status he has earned both on and off the track. At the 2007 Prefontaine Classic, Symmonds got by Yuriy Borzakovskiy, Khadevis Robinson and Gary Reed in just the last ten meters of the 800m to get the win in 1:44.54, a meet record. The crowd at Hayward Field went wild.

"It's the most incredible feeling in the world," Symmonds told NBC Sports immediately after that race. "I've never found that gear before. I've never found it."

But at last year's Trials, Symmonds found that gear again, with a heart-stopping stretch run to win what many felt was the best final of the Trials, stopping the clock in a personal best 1:44.10 and nailing down his first Olympic team berth. The excitement surrounding the race was heightened by the fact that University of Oregon sophomore Andrew Wheating finished second (he was in last place with 200m to go) and Symmonds's Oregon Track Club teammate Christian Smith got third by diving to the finish line ahead of Khadevis Robinson. It was the "team Eugene" sweep to the fans.

Symmonds calls on those memories every time he races, but especially here. "I sleep in my own bed, I eat my own meals, I do the same warm-up loop I do every day," he explained. "When you're just doing the same warm-up routine as you do everyday your body responds."

That Symmonds will make the team by finishing in the top-3 here is hardly in doubt. He is one of only four Americans who possess the IAAF "A" qualifying standard of 1:45.40 for the World Championships, but only three are entered in the meet (Khadevis Robinson and Andrew Wheating are the other two). The fourth, former University of Texas Star Jacob Hernandez, is sidelined with a hamstring injury.

But winning the title here is another matter because of the presence of 2007 world 1500m and 5000m champion, Bernard Lagat, who will also be contesting the 800m. Under USA Track & Field rules, Lagat must compete in this meet in order to exercise his right to run in the IAAF World Championships where he has automatic entry as the reigning world champion. However, he is free to contest any discipline here for which he is qualified. Symmonds knows that Lagat, who has an 800m personal best of 1:46.00 from 2003, is a formidable racer at any distance. It is unknown, however, if Lagat will compete in the final even if he advances through the rounds.

"Any distance he wants he can do well at," Symmonds observed. "I know he's going to run the first round; I'm not sure if he'll do the finals." "I loved working with Coach Gags," Symmonds said. "what I didn't expect is that I would have such a smooth transition to my new coach, Mark Rowland. He added: "That was another great thing about Gags. Ultimately, he said he trusts Rowland so I need to trust him as well."

Tonight's meet will close with the men's and women's 10,000m finals. Twenty-eight men and 22 women will take to the track, and the men's race is particularly competitive. Galen Rupp, who won all five NCAA distance titles during the 2008/2009 season, will run his last race wearing the colors of the University of Oregon (he'll turn pro immediately following the meet and will likely represent Nike). He, along with Tim Nelson, have the second-fastest seed times of 27:36.99 behind only defending champion Abdi Abdirahman (27:16.99). Abdirahman, Nelson, Rupp, and Jorge Torres are the only athletes possessing the IAAF "A" standard of 27:47.00 who are competing (steeplechaser Anthony Famiglietti also has it). Only two women, Shalane Flanagan (30:22.22) and Amy Begley (31:43.60) have the "A" standard of 31:45.00 in the women's race.

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