It’s almost as if Kim Conley was born to be an Olympian.
Not because of natural athletic gifts or because of a surfeit of grit — she’s got that in spades — but because her body and her body of work as an athlete have seemed perfectly in tune with the Olympic cycle. When the Olympics roll around every four years, Conley, 30, seems to be at her best.
This year is no different. But still, she laughed when I floated the theory.
“I’ve noticed it too, but I’ve never said it out loud,” the Montgomery High and UC Davis alum said.
“All I can say about that is I have always loved the Olympics, before I ever had an aspiration to be an Olympian myself,” she said. “I have always just really, really been captured and enthralled by the Olympic spirit.”
Anyone who saw Conley make the 2012 Olympic team by the thinnest of margins four years ago might argue that Conley embodies the Olympic spirit. Entering the Olympic Trials, Conley had not attained the required standard time in the 5,000-meter race. She needed to run both a significant personal best and finish in the top three to make the team.
What she did that day was come from behind in the most dramatic fashion, leaning at the line for third place and attaining the standard of 15:20 by .21 second. It was five seconds faster than she had ever run that distance.
“In 2012, it was just this huge dream come true and very exciting,” she said. “It completely expanded my horizon on the sport and where I viewed myself in the sport. It opened my eyes to being a professional runner.
But eye openers can go both ways.
Conley made that team but she didn’t make a splash in London.
“I PR’d in London and was so far from making the finals,” she said. “It was humbling but it made me so hungry.”
Humbled and hungry — not the typical words one uses when they are the most accomplished female Olympian from this area ever, according to local track authority Jim Crowhurst.
Healdsburg’s Ralph Rose is the most accomplished male track athlete, earning three golds, two silver and one bronze in three Olympic Games starting in 1904.
But in the past century? Conley is cream of the crop.
“I don’t know of any other athlete who has even come close in track and field to accomplishing what she has accomplished,” said Val Sell, Conley’s former coach at Montgomery and current super fan.
And she’s only getting better.
Better than that, she’s getting faster at the right times.
The Olympic race in London that left her wanting more? That was five seconds faster than she’d ever run before.
In 2014, she beat her personal best times in every distance from the 800 meters to the 10,000 meters. And in the USA Track and Field Championships in Sacramento that year, Conley battled with 16-time All American Jordan Hasay to become U.S. champ.
Conley’s win was the first national title by a Redwood Empire athlete in running since Ron Whitney won the 400 hurdles in 1967, according to Crowhurst.
But Conley knew she had it in her. It wasn’t the fact that she won that surprised her, it was how the battle between she and Hasay unfolded. The duo were so fast, they lapped competitors on the course.