SACRAMENTO ?— The night before the race, Kim Conley asked her running coach, Drew Wartenburg, if he was comfortable with the women's 10,000 meters being settled in the final lap. Nope. He wasn't, not with such a fast field at the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships.
Sure enough, the 10K turned into a thrilling two-woman duel Thursday night at Hornet Stadium, on the Sacramento State campus. But Wartenburg's discomfort soon turned to euphoria as Conley outraced Jordan Hasay to the finish line.
Conley has already called herself an Olympian. Now she's a national champion.
"We don't draw it up that way," Wartenburg said afterward. "But Kim's been there before. I think being now several years into this level of running she has that peace of mind somewhere in there to say, 'If I get passed, if I go into a little bit of a hole late, I can still come back.' "
Conley, who attended Montgomery High before running at UC Davis, ran third for much of the race, joined a group of five women who started to separate from the pack after 15 laps and moved to the front on lap 19, with Hasay and Amy Hastings sticking with her. Conley and Hasay started to pull away from Hastings on lap 21.
And on the 25th and final lap, with victory seemingly within Conley's grasp, Hasay passed her on the backstretch.
"At that point I was nervous, with 300 to go when Jordan made a really hard move," Conley said. "And last summer in Stockholm she told me about this workout she did where she ended her workout with a 57(-second) quarter (mile), and I've never even broken 60 in my life. You don't like to know those things. But when I was still in contact with 100 to go, I knew then that I could do it."
Conley regained the lead at the top of the homestretch and wound up winning by a few feet at 32:02.07.
It was a courageous performance reminiscent of the 2012 Olympic Trials, when Conley rallied to finish third and eclipse the necessary performance standard in the 5,000 meters. That result sent her to London for the Summer Games. Conley spent the last indoor season excelling at distances ranging from 800 to 3,000 meters.
Thursday's victory gives her confidence that she can choose between the 5,000 and 10,000 at the IAAF World Championships next year, and the Brazil Olympics in 2016.
She was especially pleased with her closing kick, something she has been working on lately.
Conley was the clear crowd favorite here, with loved ones from Santa Rosa joining friends and teammates from Davis and Sacramento, where she now lives.
"There were people all over the track yelling for me," Conley said. "I knew where certain people were, and so I was kind of aware throughout the race, like, 'Yep, there they are. There they are.' Especially that last lap, just hearing the roar of the crowd really made it easier."
Earlier in the day, Ukiah High alum Lauren Wallace qualified for Friday's semifinal in the women's 800 meters.