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Symmonds puts on a show in 800 at Olympic trials

By Helene Elliott, Los Angeles Times –

EUGENE, Ore. — Ah, the fringe benefits of being an elite track and field athlete.

Free gear, access to physical therapists and sports psychologists, and a great social life for Nick Symmonds, London-bound as the 800-meter champion at the U.S. Olympic trials.

“One of the reasons I love track and field is it’s a platform that has allowed me to travel the world and go on incredible dates,” he said, alluding to his highly publicized lunch with gossip-column favorite Paris Hilton.

But when it matters, Symmonds has shown he can take care of business.

His time of 1 minute 43.92 seconds at rainy, chilly Hayward Field was the fastest ever by an American on that hallowed track. Running smoothly and powerfully, fueled by roars from the crowd in his adopted hometown, he steadily picked off rivals to beat Khadevis Robinson of Santa Monica, Calif. — a two-time Olympian at age 35 after running a 1:44.64 — and USC alumnus Duane Solomon Jr., who finished in 1:44.65.

Charles Jock, an NCAA champion at UC Irvine, was the early leader but faded to eighth in 1:49.02.

“I can’t even explain the relief,” said Symmonds, who has lived in Oregon since 2006. “You spend years training for these, literally an 11-month cycle to try and get ready for one of these events. I throw up my arms, I put out my tongue, you can’t even describe it.”

Solomon’s overriding emotion after making his first Olympic team was gratitude. “I feel so blessed right now and to have these guys beside me, I look at these guys and hope to one day be in their shoes,” he said.

Their race capped a day of dreary weather broken up by a few intriguing performances. Alysia Montano, a former standout at California, led the women’s 800 wire to wire to win in 1:59.08, ahead of Geena Gall (1:59.24) and Alice Schmidt (1:59.46). Montano’s experience was a distinct contrast to the 2008 trials, when she aggravated a foot injury and left in a wheelchair.

“I remember looking up at the sky thinking I had let my dreams go, they had passed me by,” she said. The injury “helped me get really, really tough. It makes this so much better, so much sweeter.”

Both preliminary heats of the men’s 5,000 had dramatic finishes, as Lopez Lomong, the 2008 U.S. Olympic flag-bearer and two-time national 1,500-meter champion, edged Bernard Lagat, twice an Olympic medalist in the 1,500. Lomong won their heat in 13:42.81, with Lagat at 13:42.83. In the other heat, Andrew Bumbalough (13:46.80) edged 10,000-meter trials champion Galen Rupp (13:46.82). The final will be contested Thursday. Former mile phenom Alan Webb didn’t advance.

“I’m very happy about the race. It’s a good start,” said Lomong, who graduated from Northern Arizona University in December.

World high jump champion Jesse Williams, formerly of USC, finished fourth but made the London team because third-place finisher Nick Ross hasn’t reached the Olympic “A” standard of 7-7. Jamie Nieto, fourth in the 2004 Olympics, won Monday on the basis of fewer misses. He cleared 2.28 meters (7-5 3/4), as did Erik Kynard Jr., and Ross.

Triple jump winner Amanda Smock will be the only U.S. woman in the event because no one else in the field had reached the Olympic standard. A similar situation occurred in the javelin throw, in which winner Sam Humphreys didn’t get the standard. Craig Kinsley, Sean Furey and Cyrus Hostetler, who ranked third to fifth but had the standard, got Olympic berths.

Allyson Felix, locked in a still-unresolved dead heat with Jeneba Tarmoh for the third 100-meter spot, issued a statement thanking fans for support “in dealing with this unprecedented situation.” She said she won’t discuss the matter further so she can focus on the 200. Qualifying begins Thursday.

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