Olympic Profile: Nick Symmonds
The 800-meter run features a masochistic blend of sprinter’s speed, chess player’s tactics, and endurance runner’s stamina.
Run from a standing start, the 800m staggers runners in all eight lanes over the first 100 meters around the first turn. Once through the turn, runners converge to the innermost lane(s) and plot a race strategy designed to blow out the field with a final kick, wear down the field with an early rabbit-pace, or surprise the competition with an unexpected frontward surge.
The race lasts only two laps with no margin for error; start too fast and you’ll fade or conserve too much energy and you’ll have too large a gap to close.
Start, decide, race, finish. Only the sagacious, set, and swift sportsperson survives- Introducing Nick Symmonds.
As in Nick Symmonds, the 5-time defending Team USA and 2012 Olympic Trials 800m champion. He’s hungry for Olympic gold and reflects,
I never thought I’d make it this far. I just made my second Olympic team. I competed in the ’08 Games I failed to make the finals there. I got a renewed passion for the sport after that. I have been training for the last four years with the intention of making the London team with the intention for bringing home a medal.
See Nick discuss his preparations for London, running for the Oregon Track Club Elite, and managing his career like a business in the video here:
We talked in depth with Nick about the 800. Because the event unfolds so quickly,
The 800 is an unforgiving event; it’s an extended sprint. It’s the shortest distance where you don’t stay in your lane. It gets crazy there is a lot of pushing and shoving. The difference between first and dead least can be as small as a quarter second. It’s a thinking man’s game; you have to be quick on your feet.
Nick is quick, and according to his USATF bio he has an 800 PR time of 1:43.76. Perhaps more importantly, this 2006 Willamette University graduate, with a biochemistry degree, is sharp and quick-minded. In our video, Nick discusses not only running the 800 but also managing his professional career as a business including famously auctioning off a spot on his shoulder for a temporary tattoo for a corporate sponsor. The winner, Hanson-Dodge Creative, now sits for one year on Nick’s shoulder.
Like his OTC predecessor, Steve Prefontaine, Nick is no stranger to controversy in dealing with the governing authorities of track and field. He formed Nick Symmonds LLC to market himself, secure sponsors, and garner an ROI on his career. However, the two governing authorities, IAAF and USATF, place strict rules on athlete advertising and sponsors in all areas of events. Watch Nick race in IAAF or IOC governed races and you’ll see a conspicuous patch over his shoulder masking the Hanson-Dodge tattoo. No patch equals disqualification – (Nick elaborates in the video).
You can discern from his acumen that Nick is a cerebral athlete. We asked him about his strategy of running the 800 – Since each race is different, tactics mean that a race could be won many seconds off world record pace; he has a plan for each type of race.
Here’s the baseline,
You can prepare for two or three scenarios and constantly make little shifts throughout the race. My style is similar to the best 800m runners historically with a plus 2 second differential. If you look at all the world records, they were run at 2 second differential [This means the second lap is run two seconds slower than the first]. I like to spread that peanut butter evenly; meter out my energy and run that 800 as fast as possible and not rig up coming down the homestretch. Sometimes I have to force myself to get out a little harder, but more often than not I can kick effectively from 300, 200 meters out.
That’s a surprise to this onlooker. When you watch a Symmonds race, he often ends up mid-pack for the first lap, then pulls away on the backstretch. You hear the commentators talk about his breakaway speed; it looks like he negative splits the two laps. His secret? “Everybody thinks I’m closing so much faster, I’m decelerating just not as fast as my competitors.”
What will it take to medal in London?
[The men’s 800m] could be won in a world record time as fast as 1:40 or won in a medaling time as slow as 1:47 you never know how it’s going to play out. If it’s an honest race, I think a 1:43 is a reasonable time. I’ve run a 1:43 every year for the last five years. I think that is a realistic goal going into the finals.
Nick’s dream race (around turn four) looks like this
An ideal race is a fast race lined up on the rail, I can pass people on the outside of lane one. Sometimes I have to make room for myself. My goal is to be on the leader’s shoulder with 100 to go. No matter who it is. Then you’re off to the races. As long as I have a lane more often than not I can outkick people on that last 100.
We’re looking forward to watching you kick it in the men’s 800m on August 6, 7, and 9 in London.
Good luck Nick!
Image via nicksymmonds.com