Montgomery High grad Conley runs amazing race, bound for Olympics


By MICHAELCOIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Brimming with confidence for an Olympic bid, Empire great Kim Conley ran down the competition Thursday at Eugene, Ore., for the final spot in the U.S. women’s 5,000-meter trio bound for London.

“I thought it was over and then I just couldn’t give up on the dream,” a beaming Conley said in an NBC interview.
Chin and chest out, arms flung back, Conley lunged into the Olympics with a crowd-stirring finish. Well back in fifth heading into the final straightaway, Conley made her move, eventually surging past Abbey D’Agostino and then edging a staggering Julia Lucas in a photo finish. The three crossed the line in a span of .19 of a second.

Happy for a podium spot, Conley then looked up at the clock — the time in the biggest race of her life met the Olympic qualifying standard.

“At that point, I was just thinking ‘finish in the top three for the sake of finishing in the top three,’” Conley said. “I still can’t believe it.”
Needing to go under 15:20, Conley went 15:19.79 — more than 5 seconds better than the former Montgomery High and UC Davis standout’s best mark in the 5,000 meters.

Making Team USA appeared a long shot for the young professional, yet Conley, 26, had been gaining on the nation’s top female distance runners.

“I had my work cut out for me. But all the preparation had me in a really good place,” Conley said before the race.

Reaching the Olympic Trials final — at landmark Hayward Field on the Oregon University campus — was a high point in a steady run of milestones. In little more than a year, Conley:
Ran a personal best in the 5,000 meters, just off the Olympic qualifying time.
Led Team USA in the 5,000 meters at the Pan American Games.
Placed on the podium at the USA 5K and USA 10K Championship road races.
Finished third overall running for Team USA at the North American, Central American, and Caribbean Cross Country Championships.

Racing strong in all disciplines has been Conley’s goal under the guidance of UC Davis cross country coach Drew Wartenburg.
“Kim’s emergence on the national distance-running scene has shown steady development in the three years since she last donned an Aggie singlet,” Wartenburg said. “The past two years have been dedicated toward developing the full range of her race distances on the track, and the 5000m stands as the event of choice for this Olympic year.”

Running strong in the 5,000 meters at the national championships a year ago, also at Oregon, motivated Conley to structure workouts and races aiming for the Olympic Trials. Despite hitting the line in a then personal best of 15:38.13, she wanted more after finishing 10th.

“That kind of gave me a glimpse of what it would take,” Conley said.
A taste of international competition at the Pan Am Games, in October at Guadalajara, Mexico, stoked Conley’s Olympic aspirations. She finished seventh.

Conley moved into the ranks of Olympic contenders in finishing near the top of an elite national race in April.
Competing in the 5,000 meters at Mt. SAC, the famed Southern California track, Conley stayed with leader and American record holder Molly Huddle much of the race. Conley ran another personal best — 15:24.89 — to finish sixth overall and less than nine seconds behind the winner Huddle.

Sponsors took notice. Conley went pro with a grant from SRA Elite, in Sacramento, and is a New Balance runner.

The biggest race of Conley’s life before Thursday's 5,000 trials final was the qualifying heat she ran Monday. Conley was third, eighth overall.

One step shy of the Olympics, Conley still was behind a handful of the nation’s best women distance runners.

“Coming into the race I had total confidence,” Conley said. “I just think that anything can happen.”

Including the Olympics.