Aug. 7, 2012
LONDON, England - UC Davis alumnus and current volunteer assistant coach Kim Conley realized her dream of racing on the world stage on Tuesday morning, setting a personal best in the women's 5,000-meter run at the 2012 London Games at Olympic Stadium.
Conley, whose stirring finish for third place at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in June provided one of that event's most memorable moments, was timed in 15 minutes, 14.48 seconds before a packed stadium crowd. She finished 12th in her preliminary heat - the second of two on Tuesday morning - and did not qualify for Friday's final.
"Kim can say she walked off the Olympic track with a personal-best this morning," said Drew Wartenburg, the Aggies' director of cross country and track and field who also coaches Conley. "Right now it is disappointing not to have qualified for the final, but when the dust settles, the balance sheet for this entire experience is filled with overwhelming positives."
Conley was among the race leaders for most of the race, staying with the lead pack of 12 runners who separated themselves with two laps to go. Fellow American Molly Huddle and Japan's Hitomi Niiya were at the front of the group throughout the heat. However, nine runners broke away on the bell lap, racing for a top-five finish and a guaranteed spot in the final. The top five runners in each heat advanced along with the next five fastest times overall.
While the first heat - won by Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopa in 14:58.48 - produced five qualifiers under 15 minutes, the second heat - which had no one under 15 minutes - advanced nine competitors including Huddle who had a season-best time of 15:02.26. Gelete Burka of Ethiopa won the second heat in 15:01.44 leading seven runners across the line who finished less than two seconds apart. Less than five seconds separated the top nine runners.
Conley's rise to the Olympics resulted from an amazing comeback at the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., where she surged from an estimated 20-25 meters back on the final stretch to lean at the finish line and earn the third and final Olympics berth. Her time of 15:19.79 was a career best and gave her the necessary Olympics "A" qualifying standard by barely two-tenths of a second.
While Conley didn't qualify for the Olympics final, she did lower her time another five seconds on Tuesday morning while racing among the world's best. Seven competitors in Conley's race produced career-best times.
Conley finished her outstanding UC Davis career in 2009 as one of the cross country and track and field programs' top distance runners. She's continued as a member of the coaching staff but has focused much of 2012 to reaching the Olympics. Since graduating three years ago, Conley has cut more than a minute off her best 5,000-meter time.
"Before coming to London, talk centered on the fact that simply making the team in this Olympic cycle has moved the whole window of perspective up four years beyond what we truly anticipated," Wartenburg said. "As we turn our sights to the possibilities that await, both on and off the track, the future is extremely bright for Kim."
Conley was one of two Aggie alum and current volunteer assistants to compete in London, joining swimmer Scott Weltz who finished fifth in the 200-meter breaststroke. Incoming UC Davis student Carrie Johnson is also in London, competing in the kayak single (K1) 500-meters. She qualified on Tuesday for the semifinals before being eliminated after finishing sixth in her heat.