Runner Nick Symmonds not shy about speaking up to fix track
Outspoken middle-distance runner Nick Symmonds tricks himself into believing that doping isn't going on in his event. Otherwise, he couldn't climb out of bed every morning to train.
''I stick my head in the sand and pretend it's not happening,'' the American 800-meter standout said in a phone interview. ''It's a filthy, dirty sport - the cheaters are always going to be two steps ahead of the testers. It's never a level playing field.
''Anyone who stands on the starting line at an Olympic final and thinks they're racing against a clean field is delusional.''
Symmonds doesn't shy away from voicing his opinion on track's inequities or from keeping pressure on those responsible for making decisions in a sport that's engulfed by doping scandals with the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro rapidly approaching.
He boycotted the world track and field championships in Beijing last summer to make a point about the relationship between athletes, sponsors and national bodies. Soon, he's headed to court as he takes on USA Track and Field, along with the United States Olympic Committee, over the type of sponsors that can be displayed on uniforms and other clothing at the Olympic Trials in July.
''Track needs a total re-haul,'' he said. ''It's broken beyond repair at the moment.''
Symmonds didn't compete two weeks ago at the world indoor championships in Portland, Oregon - he stopped racing indoors - but appreciated track's governing body excluding the Russians over doping charges. The International Association of Athletics Federations could decide in late May or early June if Russia's track and field program has done enough to repair its anti-doping measures and can be reinstated for the Rio Games.
''Now that they're trying to catch them, I feel better,'' said Symmonds, a two-time Olympian who lives in Seattle and is currently squeezing in some high-altitude workouts in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as he recovers from a torn left calf. ''But it's still a long, long way from cleaning up the sport.''
Sebastian Coe, the president of track's governing body, has a simple message for clean athletes: Help the IAAF catch the cheaters.
''These days have got to be over, where clean athletes sit there and say, `There's no system,''' Coe said. ''Don't sit there with a vow of silence and then (speak up) when that athlete tests positive, because you could've actually sped up this process for us.''
Keeping his thoughts to himself has never been an issue with Symmonds.
On his Twitter account earlier this week, he wrote: ''Billions of dollars in ad revenue and athletes are paid $0 directly. Olympians are indentured servants of the IOC.'' He posted a link to a story with the headline, ''NBC on track to shatter Olympics ad sales record.''
Last summer after making the world team, Symmonds took a hardline stance over what he called a restrictive, unclear policy written by USATF regarding exactly when American athletes are required to wear team-sponsored Nike gear while in Beijing. Symmonds is sponsored by a rival shoe company, Brooks, and wanted it clearly spelled out what constitutes a team function.
With no resolution, he stayed home for the world championships. He watched the 800-meter final and felt he could have won a medal.
''But I haven't regretted it for 2 seconds,'' said the 32-year-old Symmonds, who dedicated his silver medal at the 2013 world championships in Moscow to his gay and lesbian friends as a show of support amid Russia's anti-gay legislation.
Now, Symmonds and a company he co-founded, Run Gum, are in the middle of a lawsuit with USATF and the USOC, attempting to break a monopoly by certain sponsors. In part, the suit states: ''USATF, the USOC, and their co-conspirators cannot curtail competition by picking and choosing eligible market participants and excluding the rest.''
The USATF had no comment on the lawsuit. The USOC filed a motion to dismiss the case, which will be heard in about two weeks.
On his website, Symmonds describes himself as not only an Olympian but an Eagle Scout and a professional adventurer. He recently went fishing on the Willamette River in Oregon, posting photos of the sturgeon he caught before releasing them back into the water.
''If you love em, let them go,'' he wrote.
Symmonds won't let track off the hook so easy.
''Of course, doping is the most immediate concern,'' Symmonds said. ''For the long term, I want to know how (Coe) is going to revitalize the sport, how you repackage it and make it palatable to a 21st century audience. Right now, nobody wants to watch track and field.''