Series29 Jun 2015

Personal bests – Nick Symmonds


Nick Symmonds winning at the 2015 US Championships (© Getty Images)

USA’s world 800m silver medallist Nick Symmonds won his sixth national title over two laps of the track on Sunday to qualify for his fifth consecutive IAAF World Championships.

He is one of the most popular and erudite athletes on the international circuit. Here, Symmonds offers his take on some of the best things in his life.

My best friend in athletics

Will Leer (US 1500m runner). He's a good guy, very smart which makes for great conversation both on and off the track. He's a great fan of the sport, follows what is going on and he is a very positive guy. I've known him longer than anyone in professional athletics and I've been racing and training with him since 2000.

My greatest achievement

Winning my world 800m silver medal, I think this is the defining moment of my career, although I think the 2008 US trials (Nick won in 1:44.10) is my most satisfying race to date.

As far as my biggest achievement it was Moscow. It was my fourth major outdoor championship final and I knew it was probably going to be my best shot at winning a medal. What was going through my head that night was 'don't waste this opportunity.' It wasn't 'hang on for dear life' which has sometimes been my mantra in the past. I knew if I seized the opportunity, I'd walk away with a medal.

The difference between winning a medal and not winning a medal in a World Championships final is so different. Eight guys run the final and three of them get to run around the track on a celebratory lap of honour while the other five basically get dragged off the track. Having been dragged off the track several times before, getting the chance to jog around the track with an American flag on my shoulders was a much better feeling.

My greatest disappointment

It was running a personal best of 1:42.95 in the 2012 London Olympic final and not winning a medal. It still stinks to be honest. As an athlete who tries to bring his best product to the biggest stage, I have nothing but pride for what I accomplished that night. I took near a full second off my personal best in the biggest event of my entire career, but to run a 1:42.95 and not end up with a medal is so hard to swallow.

My greatest rival

Duane Solomon (US athlete who finished fourth in the 2012 Olympic 800m final in 1:42.82 with Symmonds fifth). The reason I love racing Duane and why we have such a great rivalry is because we approach it from such different backgrounds.

I'm a stocky white kid from Idaho, who trains more like a miler. Duane is a tall, lean African-American who trains like a sprinter and despite our incredible physical differences, and differences in upbringing and background, we run the 800m within less than a tenth-of-a-second of each other.

He's often 10 or 20 metres ahead of me at the quarter (400m split) and I'll try to reel him in. It makes for a cat-and-mouse game and the fans can identify with either Duane or myself. The energy that the fans bring to the track when Duane and I race gets us both excited and pushes our performance level up a notch or two.

The greatest athlete I have ever seen

Ashton Eaton. He's a good friend of mine and I've watched him develop as an athlete first hand in Eugene. I saw him come in as a goofy kid and watched what his coach Harry Marra has done and now Ashton has become the greatest athlete in the world. 

I have so much admiration and respect for him. I know he does it the right way. Ashton's success almost brings tears to my face because I know he's such a humble guy, a great worker and such a great competitor.

My greatest indulgence

In-N-Out Burger. I love a good cheeseburger. I joked once after setting a big PB down in Southern California that every time I get a personal best, I'm going to celebrate with an In-N-Out Burger!

It is maybe not the best thing for an athlete to eat but I can't say no to them. It is a terrible indulgence. It is a toasted bun with two patties, two pieces of cheese and sauteed onion all melted together.

My greatest weakness

Beer. I'm like most working guys in that at the end of a long day I want to kick my feet up and have a couple of beers with my friends. For me, it is more of a social thing, I love going out with my buddies to sit down and have a beer and talk about your day. I really like the social aspect.

My best piece of kit

My half-tights. I hate shorty shorts. I have these big quads that look so silly in the little short shorts. I just think half-tights are a magical piece of clothing.

The best venue

Zurich. It just has a great atmosphere with the fans banging on the advertising hoardings, but I think the reason the fans have so much fun with that meet is that the organisers allow booze and gambling.

It is just like an American football game in that if you have $20 on your favourite athlete and a pint in your hand, that makes the experience so much better. I've said before, if you want a successful track meet, allow booze and gambling.

My best achievement outside of athletics

My biochemistry degree. It took me four years to complete and I had to fight to the finish. I'm the kind of guy who when I start something I like to finish it. It was a very rigorous degree and I didn't think I'd ever be using it. I guess I'm really proud of my perseverance and being able to see it through to the end.

Steve Landells for the IAAF