Just seven people and 800 meters separate Nick Symmonds from a gold medal. Symmonds runs this Thursday afternoon in London at 1:00 Mountain Time in the men’s 800 final. But his career began in Boise.
Tom Shanahan stands on the track at Bishop Kelly High School. He’s now the activities director at the private Catholic school in Boise. But he used be the head cross country and head track coach. He coached Nick Symmonds in both sports. He remembers when he first realized that Symmonds was more than just a good high school athlete. It was an early season meet at Bishop Kelly in Symmonds’ junior year. He was slated to run the 400, not his best race. He liked them a little longer.
“He was running against 400 meter specialists. And he ran them down in the home stretch,” Shanahan says. “And I think that was one of my favorite races ever to watch. Not in his chosen race, but he was able to beat the specialty guys at their own race.”
Shanahan, says by the end of his junior year Symmonds was already the best in the state. And as a senior Shanahan remembers Symmonds breaking two Idaho records at the state finals, first the 800 then the mile. Finally Shanahan recalls Symmonds came back to anchor the four by four relay.
“And we were probably 20 or 30 meters down. And Nick, he just hated to loose, he’d do whatever it would take to win. And he got us to win that four by four as well. And right after that he came over and he gave me the biggest hug and I said hey buddy, you’re just getting started. You’re already national class.”
Shanahan says Symmonds wasn’t a runner when he came to Bishop Kelly. He played soccer and hockey, until Symmonds’ mom, who teaches at the school, intervened.
“She came to me and said you know something, I think he’s got something, you should go take a look at him. He’s out playing soccer right now,” he recalls. “So I went out, and I said alright, we’re going to just make a deal. We’re going to try it for two weeks. No strings attached, if you don’t like it, no problem. He came out, did some training, and I think he ran one race, and did better than he thought he was going to do, and we hooked him on it.”
Symmonds went on to run in college and now at 28 years old he’s in his second Olympics. But today’s race is as close as he’s come to a medal.
Shanahan is hoping for rain. Symmonds has trained for several years now in western Oregon and Shanahan thinks a drizzle in London might give him an edge.