EUGENE – Nick Symmonds is nothing if not a showman, and the flamboyant runner did not disappoint his fans, winning his sixth U.S. title in the 800 meters in 1:44.53 before 10,746 on the final day of the U.S. Championships at Historic Hayward Field.
As the former Willamette University star reached the finish line, just ahead of Erik Sowinski and Symmonds’ training partner, Cas Loxsom, he threw up his arms, and flexed his biceps. It was no coincidence his double bicep move revealed Run Gum tats, the name of the company Symmonds co-owns with friend and mentor Sam Lapray.
Once again, Symmonds had to come from way behind to win. Duane Solomon delivered on his promise to set a ferocious pace, hitting the 200 mark in 24 seconds and the 400 in just under 50 seconds.
Everyone but Symmonds was right on Solomon’s heels from the start. Symmonds trailed the pack by more than five meters early, but he and the Hayward crowd knew what was coming.
On the backstretch of the second lap, Symmonds flew by three runners and put himself in good position. Then, coming off the final curve, he began started to reel in the leaders. With 50 meters to go, Symmonds took the lead and coasted in.
After Symmonds passed him, Solomon suddenly slowed to a jog and then fell to the track. After crouching on the track for over a minute, he got up and crossed the line.
With the win, Symmonds qualifies to compete at Beijing in the IAAF World Championships in late August. This will be Symmonds’ seventh outdoor world or Olympic U.S. team. He won a silver medal in the 800 in the 2013 World Championships in Moscow.
“I’ve got to say Duane went out really hard,” Symmonds said. “(Solomon) did exactly what he said he’d do. He took it to the twilight zone.
“All morning I was like, ‘prepare yourself for the fight.’ You’ve got to be willing to be up close to the action, and at 150 meters into the race, I’m like you are not doing that. I was five meters off the pace and had to start moving and get into contact. With 300 meters to go it was just a matter of picking people off. I always say if I’m on the leader’s shoulder yet with 110 meters to go I like my chances.”
Symmonds said the finish line celebration was planned.
“Then it was how do I celebrate this and you guys know I like to throw the arms up and even got the Run Gum tats out there,” he told a throng of media after the race. “It was good for me and it was good for Sam (Lapray) and it was good for this community.”
According to Symmonds, five cents of every pack of Run Gum that is sold goes to help sponsor athletes. He said that 20 athletes at this meet had received sponsorship from his company.
Symmonds is known in track circles for his efforts to change – or, failing that, to at least stretch – the rules restricting athlete sponsorship. At one point, he held an auction for potential sponsors to buy a temporary tattoo placement on his body. He said that he wasn’t sure of all the current regulations that will be in place at the Worlds, but promised to get his “legal team” checking into it.
“I’ve got my big Brooks Running logo on, I’ve got more than a couple of Run Gum tats on, . . . I’ve always been one to interpret rules differently than other people. I’m working on a couple of things so bear with me. I’ve got seven weeks to work on it and see what we can get away with.”
Symmonds also revealed that in 2014 he was thinking of retiring from track when he was injured and unable to train or compete. His sponsorship deal with Nike was up, and Symmonds was not happy with what Nike was offering him in a new deal.
“I was 30 and my body was broken,” Symmonds said. “I was injured, and I have never suffered an injury like that before. I just thought I was too old to keep running at this level.
“Last year I watched this meet from my couch and was contemplating retirement,” he said. “And Brooks Running said, ‘we support you through all of this,’ and Coach Sam (Lapray) said, ‘You’re not done.’ Coach Danny Mackey said, ‘I can get you back on that podium,’ and here we are.”
Symmonds was asked if this victory was a vindication for his changing sponsors, relocating to Seattle, and helping to form a new team, the Brooks Beasts.
“You know what? For me it wasn’t an option. I built up OTC (Oregon Track Club Elite) from scratch with Coach Gags (Frank Gagliano) and then Coach (Mark) Rowland for seven years. This was my home. I own four businesses here. I created Run Gum here. I own two houses here. I wanted to spend the rest of my life in Eugene. But, at the end of the day, I am a professional athlete, and I have to go where the teams need me. I guess Nike didn’t need me anymore and Brooks said ‘we need you.’ It was a hard transition for me last year.
“When I woke up about November of 2014, I said what a great opportunity to work with guys like Cas Loxsom, who is the future of 800 meter running, to work with Coach Mackey, to work with Brooks Running. All of a sudden, instead of feeling like I lost something, I gained something – this new opportunity to build a team from scratch. And if anyone knows how to build a team it’s someone who has already done it . . . and now I get to go to Beijing with my training partner. I think the next couple of months are going to be really fun.”
Newly reinvigorated in his career, Symmonds said that he relishes the opportunity to compete at the World Championships in August.
“I don’t want to go out to Beijing and just be another runner. I want to go out to Beijing and win a medal for my country.”