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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.


Giants vs. Padres

Jeff Samardzija (8-12, 4.67) vs. Jhoulys Chacin (11-9, 4.10)

Time: 7:10 p.m.


Radio: 680 AM

“Mostly the surprise was how I won,” Conley said. “She stayed on me for so long and I know she has great closing speed. I was hoping I could break her. She was just relentless and stuck and stuck … when she made her move, it was kind of that critical moment.”

Hasay pulled into the lead with 200 meters to go. But with a little more than 110 meters to run, the television announcer uttered what all who were watching could plainly see: “Conley’s not finished!” Conley found another gear and blazed by Hasay with a little less than 100 meters to go.

By the time she crossed the finish line, she was 10 meters ahead and still putting space on the deflated Hasay.

I asked Drew Wartenburg, Conley’s coach and husband, what qualities she has that make her so good, so consistent.

“Tenacity is definitely one,” he said. “It’s a willingness to keep coming, if you will. And over time, balancing that tenacity with measured effort.

Kim loves to compete and that is another thing that can’t be taught.”

That was obvious even at an early age, Sell said.

“She loves to race. She was born to race,” she said. “She doesn’t get really stressed about it. She gets really, really excited to get on the track.”


In 2015, she became U.S. champ again when she won the U.S. Half Marathon Championships in Houston.

It seems if it’s longer than a 100-meter dash, Conley is fast. Heck, I’ve never seen her run the 100-meter dash, she’s probably fast in that, too.

Conley has attained the Olympic standard in both the 5,000 meters and the 10,000 meters but in recent days has put her focus on the longer distance for a potential trip to Rio.

“I feel good about both but ultimately coming off the success of the 10,000 in 2014 and liking the result in Pacific Pursuit, I’m just really excited to compete (in the 10,000),” she said.

The inaugural Pacific 10,000 Pursuit in December included racer Sara Hall (neé Bei), Conley’s teammate back at Montgomery. Conley blew away the Olympic standard time by 17 seconds.

That race marked Conley’s real return to fast times after a rough 2015 that was hindered by a foot injury that then affected her gait.

She took the spring season off from competition and tried to let her body heal.

“When I pulled the plug on the season, it was with support and outside guidance,” Conley said. “I think if I had been left to my own devices, I might have stubbornly tried to trudge through it.”

I asked Conley how she spent her newly acquired down time. Reading? Learning to play the guitar? Quilting?

She chuckled. She studied race film. Anything to get better.

“I went through the major races that I had run, analyzing them and assessing how I could have approached them differently,” she said.

“I think it kind of comes with being a professional runner. If running is your job and you can’t run, it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, what do I do?’ ”

So even a setback like an injury can be worked, molded and tweaked into something that makes Conley faster, that makes her a better racer.

It also reaffirmed Conley’s love of racing, her appreciation for her journey.

“When you are running healthy and feeling good again, it’s almost amazing, to feel as good as I was feeling,” she said.

She used the word perspective. She also used the word gratitude.

“To make that full transition back to health and not feel I really missed a beat, there is a lot of gratitude towards that,” she said.

“I think it was a reminder that it isn’t a given to be able to go out and do what you love every day,” Wartenburg said.

Sell, who has been watching Conley grow as a competitor for years, said she has the internal makeup to keep getting better.

“She’s patient. She knows that all things take a lot of time,” Sell said.

“She doesn’t freak out knowing that she’ll have to work for years for what she wants.”

Conley has worked for years. What she wants is another shot at the Olympics.

This time, when Conley toes the line at the Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Ore., next month, no one will say they didn’t see her coming.

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