In London, the U.S. came thisclose to winning a medal in the men’s 800 meters at the Olympics for the first time since 1992.
Duane Solomon and Nick Symmonds ran personal bests in the 2012 Olympic final and finished fourth and fifth, respectively. It was one of the greatest overall Olympic races ever run — from first place all the way down to eighth. Kenya’s David Rudisha won in a world record, and seven of the eight men set personal bests.
“Duane and I were literally tenths of seconds off a medal,” Symmonds said in a phone interview from Moscow. “We both kind of still feel the sting of that. Even though we ran fast. It certainly haunts me a little bit that I didn’t bring a medal home last year. The only thing that picked me up from that disappointment was Moscow was a year away and that I could redeem myself. ”
The end of a 16-year drought is on the line in Moscow, a fact Symmonds is well aware of. The U.S. hasn’t grabbed a medal in the men’s 800 at a World Championships since Rich Kenah‘s bronze in 1997, and it’s never won a silver or a gold in the two-lap race.
That will likely change Tuesday, when Solomon and Symmonds run in the final in Moscow (1:10 p.m. Eastern time, Universal Sports). Yes, Solomon and Symmonds are running well this year, but the bigger factor is who won’t be competing at Luzhniki Stadium.
Rudisha and Olympic silver medalist Nijel Amos of Botswana are out with injuries, and Kenyan bronze medalist Timothy Kitum simply wasn’t good enough to make the worlds team this year. Solomon and Symmonds are the top returnees from London in the eight-man final field.
Not only are medals there for the taking, but the gold is also totally up for grabs. The oustpoken Symmonds, who dated Paris Hilton and run a beer mile, says making the Moscow podium will not feel watered-down despite who’s missing.
“This sport is about so many more things than just running fast times and being defending champion,” Symmonds said. “It’s also about durability. Rudisha’s an incredible talent, and I may never come close to his world record, but in this case maybe I’m a bit more durable than he is.”
The U.S. champion Solomon, 28, owns the fastest time in the world this year (1 minute, 43.27 seconds). Symmonds, 29, is the fourth fastest man this year (1:43.67).
The Americans could be considered clear gold-silver favorites if not for the presence of Ethiopian Mohammed Aman, who placed sixth at the Olympics and owns the second- and third-fastest times of 2013.
Any medal would represent a landmark for Solomon and Symmonds, who both failed to advance out of the first round in their world championship debuts in 2007. Symmonds went on to make the worlds final in 2009 and 2011, finishing sixth then fifth. A greater leap may be in order this year.
“Some years when you have a guy like Rudisha, you say we’re kind of fighting for silver and bronze,” Symmonds said. “This year, everybody’s got their eye on the gold.”