800m runner Nick Symmonds is on a quest for gold in London.By Ollie Burruss
Name: Nick Symmonds
Sport/Event: Track & field 800 meters
Hometown: Boise, ID
Current Residence: Springfield, OR
Years competing: 14
How did you get started in your sport?
I'd grown up playing soccer and I was a late bloomer physically, so when I was 14 years old I was five feet tall, 95 pounds, and the soccer coach took one look at me and said he couldn't play me, I'd get killed, go run a season of cross country. So I did that and it just went from there. I started running track spring of my sophomore year.
What are some notable highs from your career?
Winning the 2008 Olympic trials is highlight of my career. Competing in the Bird's Nest [the Olympic stadium that holds 90,000 people] in Beijing was also a highlight. So were the opening ceremonies.
What is the lowest point you've experienced? How did you bounce back?
Any injury I've ever had has been the lowest point. As far as races go, the Daegu World Championships in 2011 is the lowest point. I failed to win a medal. I finished fifth and was ranked third. It was the first time i've ever failed to run to my ranking.
Bouncing back was tough. In the fall I didn't want to train at all. As it got closer and closer to 2012, I got the juices back. I remember on January 1st I looked at my watch and it said 2012 and I got a huge surge of motivation.
What are your goals, both short term and long term?
Win the 2012 Olympic Trials. After my personal record in the 1500m [at the Occidental High Performance meet in May 2012) and my third place finish at Pre [the Prefontaine Classic in June 2012], I feel very confident.
If I take care of business at the trials, I want to go out and make the finals in London. It's the men's 800m, so making the final is tough. After that I want a medal. Then I need to start courting sponsors to support me while I train for the 2016 Games.
What surprises have you experienced in your career?
I had a feeling that the travel was going to be extensive and pretty cool, but until you've been to thirty different countries, you can't understand how amazing that aspect is. It can get a little bit much living out of a suitcase for three months, though. But then I'm comparing passport stamps with someone and it makes for some cool stories. I've raced in thirty different countries and on four different continents.
What's the coolest place you've ever competed?
The 2008 Games was the coolest experience. In terms of incredible countries, it's hard to beat Australia - I love way of life down there, the culture, the food, the beaches.
What brought you to Oregon?
I came to Oregon to attend Willamette University, a Division III school in Salem. I wasn't planning on being a pro track and field athlete, I wanted to be a doctor. I come from three generations of surgeons, so I wanted to do that. I knew I wanted to run, but wanted somewhere with a good science program. I looked all up and down I-5, but really liked the team, the campus, the program, and the coach at Willamette. The coach told me that at a lot of Division I schools you have to be an athlete-student, but at Willamette I could be a student-athlete. I even had some Division I coaches tell me that I couldn't run and be pre-med. At Willamette, I ran and I got my degree in biochemistry. My senior yea, things were going well enough that I decided to go pro and try to become an Olympian. I graduated in 2006, with two years to train for the 2008 Olympics.
Did you ever think about leaving Oregon?
For me, it was about finding the coach I wanted to work with than anything else. I talked to some people I trust around the sport, asked who I should work with, and the unanimous vote was for Frank Gagliano (Gags) who was down in Palo Alto, California at the time. Gags said he was planning on relocating to Eugene to form the Oregon Track Club elite team, so it was perfect. I was part of the inaugural OTC elite team. I'm the only original member still competing for the team.
What is your favorite thing about Oregon athletically?
I like all the trails. I can get out of the door and on to Pre's Trail in under a minute. There's an extensive trail system all over the place. Eugene is a quiet, sleepy college town, but I need that to train well. In a major metropolitan area, it would be harder to minimize distractions from training.
When you're not training or competing, what do you like to do?
Eugene is good because I'm really passionate about the outdoors. I'm an eagle scout. I love hiking, fishing, hunting, surfing, kayaking, all of it. Eugene has a lot of different options. The other day I was in my whitewater kayak on the coast riding waves. I can go ski at Bachelor. The fishing around here is unbeatable.
The only thing that can be frustrating is the social life. There aren't a lot of young professionals in Eugene. There are lots of college kids, but everyone leaves to get jobs elsewhere.
Hobbies? Favorite restaurant? Favorite hangout?
My favorite restaurant is Bai Khao, this tiny Thai place down the street from me. If you drove down the street you'd miss it, but it's the best Thai place in the area. I always talk about it because it's family run, a great part of the community, and they keep me well fed.
You're at the forefront of the movement to open sponsorship opportunities up to Olympic athletes. What motivated your involvement in that fight?
Just being in a sport for six years and seeing how many ad dollars go through governing bodies and how little goes to the athletes.
Do you find that this effort has affected your running?
Yeah, it took a lot out of me in the fall of 2011 to fight that battle. It was my primary focus in the fall. I try not to talk about it this time of year because it makes me so mad to think about it.
Do you find good support in Oregon?
Really the reason I've made my base in the Eugene area is that it's Track Town and the people here really love athletics. With the Oregon Track Club, massage therapists, doctors, just people out on the trails there really is a huge support system
If any readers were interested in supporting you, how would they go about doing that?