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Nick Symmonds is one of the fastest middle-distance track and field athletes in America, specializing in the 800m and 1500m distances. He won seven NCAA Division III titles in outdoor track. In 2007, he won the 800m race at the Prefontaine Classic. On June 30, 2008, Symmonds won the 800m event at the U.S. Olympic Trials that took place in Eugene, Oregon. He finished in 1:44.10 and qualified for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
Symmonds grew up in Boise, Idaho, and was educated at Willamette University, which is located in Salem, Oregon.
Recently Symmonds has made the news by auctioning off a part of his body on eBay as a place for businesses to advertise their brand with temporary logo placement. Symmonds created a campaign through his very popular blog posts at Flotrack.org titled, I'm Tired of the USATF and IAAF Crippling our Sport and OwnYourSkin. He also created a facebook group, which boasts well over 6,000 members.
Symmonds argues that the international governing body of track and field, the International Association of Athletics Federation's (IAAF) rules around athlete sponsorship are draconian and dated. The American governing body, the USATF following the IAAF's rulebook have also been steadfast. That is until recently, where Symmonds indirectly scored a victory for the athletes, hence his successful auction bid on eBay.
Symmonds took time out of his busy schedule to discuss training, racing and his protest to support his fellow athletes.
Christopher Kelsall: The 800m must be the deepest of all track and field events. You have run 1:43.76, which at some major events would end up getting you a medal, but can just as easily be not good enough to get out of the semis; the allure of the 800m to you, is it about its competitiveness?
Nick Symmonds: I find the 800m so alluring because it is an unforgiving event. There is absolutely no room for error. Often, it is not necessarily the fittest person that wins the race, but the person with the best tactics. This can be frustrating on the world level where a fraction of a second separates the top 20 competitors. However, if you are anyone other than the favorite, you have to love the fact that anything can happen and anyone on the starting line has a fair shot of winning the race.
CK: One of your goals is to improve in the 1500m. How much faster than 3:38.18 do you feel you are capable of?
NS: I do enjoy the challenges of running the 1500m; it is so much different than the 800m. I have said before that I feel the biggest jump in athletics is from the 800m to the 1500m because it is the jump where most athletes go from running positive splits to aiming for negative splits. Last year I ran my PB of 3:38.18 off of 800m training. I feel that with a slight shift in training I am capable of running under 3:35.
CK: I would assume that training for the two events is almost exactly the same. Is it just a matter of getting into more events at that distance? Will we see you racing the 1500m more in the near?
NS: The way that we are coached here at the OTC (Oregon Track Club), the training is quite different. For me to really reach my true potential in the 1500m, I would need to increase my base mileage by about 20%. I would need to lose some weight in order to have a slightly more efficient stride at 1500m pace and would lose some of my explosiveness. I feel that there will be a time in my career to do this, but definitely not until after the 2012 Olympic season.
CK: Twenty percent more during base mileage would be how much weekly mileage?
NS: When I am really training hard I try to hit around 70 miles-per-week. To really reach my potential at 1500m, I think I would need to find a way to get up to around 80-85 miles-per-week.
CK: I noticed on one of your training schedules, everything looked as expected until we came to Friday, where your PM workout was “Hunting or Fishing”. Have you read about Rod Dixon’s wild hog hunt after a long run? He has won medals!
NS: I have not yet read Rod Dixon’s wild hog hunt after a long run, but will be doing so asap! Sounds very interesting. I think its important for athletes to have a way to unwind from the sport. I know that at the end of a long week of training I just feel so burnt out sometimes. I feel tired of running and tired of talking about track and field. The way I press the refresh button is to get out into nature. Hunting, fishing, hiking, surfing; all of these things remind me that I’m more than just an athlete trained to run around in circles. When I am out in nature I am reminded that I run because I love to and that if I were to ever fall out of love with it, I still have so many other things to do that make me happy. Usually, an afternoon on the water or in the hills is enough to give me renewed focus and get back to training hard.
CK: When fishing in Boise are you on the river near South Fork fly fishing for rainbow trout or steelhead?
NS: Wow! Great question. Why are you telling people about the South Fork?! That river is a little secret that the people of Boise don’t want to get out. I love that stretch of water and enjoy trout fishing there. After spending the last ten years in Oregon I have really started to like steelhead fishing as well and have fished rivers all over this state for them. However, I have yet to try for Steelhead in Idaho.
CK: Have you taken to the ocean at all and gone for salmon or cod?
NS: Yes! I used to live with a guy who was a professional fisherman that specialized in salt water fly fishing. Every couple of week he and I would take the boat out and catch sea bass, ling cod, tuna, salmon, whatever was running.
CK: Would you suggest that fishing is therapuetic from the stresses of training and racing?
NS: For me it is. For others, they might see it as a waste of a day or as something quite stressful. I know that when I am on the water I almost never think about athletics and I find that therapeutic. It is one of the only places where I can totally turn my mind off of the subject.
CK: Can you share with the readers who Hanson Dodge Creative is?
NS: Hanson Dodge Creative is the newest sponsor of athletics! More specifically, it is a marketing company based in Milwaukee that specializes in connecting the biggest brands in North America with the active lifestyle market place. The company’s founders and employees have a desire to see the world become a more active place. I share these feelings and try to inspire people to get out and enjoy nature through my running and my outdoor adventures.
CK: What prompted you to auction off temporary tattoo space (left shoulder) on eBay?
NS: Another great question. I guess I just felt really taken advantage of when I read through the IAAF rule book and saw that I didn’t even get to decide what does and does not go on my own body. I can understand the governing bodies wanting to control what goes on the bibs and jerseys, but to tell me what I can do with my own skin offends me deeply. I guess I just wanted to tell the IAAF that no matter how they write their rules, ultimately I #OwnMySkin. I also wanted to bring attention to how absurd some of their rules really are. Other sports like tennis, golf, surfing, bull riding, and NASCAR and thriving by offering shared advertising space on the athletes. I wanted to show that there are lots of companies that would love to pump money into the sport of athletics if they were just given a chance to. If two square inches of a relatively small name athlete can go for $11,100, just imagine how much money could flow into the sport if the regulation were loosened even a little bit!
CK: I would argue the point about your name being small. Your accomplishments are a hair’s breadth from the very top.
NS: I am certainly proud of all that I have accomplished, but until I have a World (IAAF World Track and Field Championships) or Olympic medal around my neck, I will always feel like a second tier athlete. Also, if you consider that having a medal makes an athlete more marketable, then the $11,100 I gained from the auction as a non-medalist shows you that someone like Bernard Lagat or Allison Felix would probably stand to make exponentially more.