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MEEKER — Ever since he became a serious runner, Billy Nelson dreamed of competing in the Olympics. But he figured his best chance of making the U.S. Olympic team would likely be 2012.
He realized his goal a little early.
Like, by about four years.
Nelson, son of Bill Nelson, a supervisor with Summit Industries in Meeker, turned in a stirring performance in the 3,000-meter steeplechase July 12 at the Olympic trials at Eugene, Ore., to qualify for the U.S. team.
Going into the trials, Nelson knew he had to accomplish two things: He had to beat or match the Olympic A Standard time of 8 minutes and 24 seconds, and he had to finish in the top three.
He did both.
Nelson, a former runner for Colorado University, ran a personal-best time of 8:21.47, and he came from as far back as sixth place to finish second.
With those two accomplishments, he earned a trip to this year’s Games in Beijing, China.
“He talked about going to the Olympics in ‘08,” said his father. “But he figured it would be 2012 when he went.”
Of course, his father, who was at the Olympic trials to cheer on his son, couldn’t be happier.
“I was a proud papa, I’m not going to lie,” Bill Nelson said. “This is something we’ve been waiting for for years.”
Billy Nelson, who grew up in California, had failed to meet the Olympic Standard time during the preliminary race at the U.S. trials. So, the pressure was on for the finals. And Billy came through with his best performance ever.
Watching the race, Bill Nelson knew his son had what it would take to run a qualifying time.
“I knew he would be in the top three, because of the gap they (the leaders) had in the field,” Nelson said. “And when he headed down the stretch, the last 75 meters, I knew he had the time (to qualify for the Olympics).”
Strategy played an important role in Billy Nelson’s performance in the finals at the Olympic trials. That’s something he learned from his dad, who used to train racehorses.
“That was (Billy’s) first deal, he wanted to ride racehorses,” his father said. “Then he got into running. But there are similarities (between horse racing and distance running) as far as pace and different running styles. Some people can’t handle coming from behind. One of (Billy’s) big assets is he has a real good kick.”
He showed it at the Olympic trials.
With five laps to go, Billy Nelson was in fifth place. Then, with two laps remaining, Nelson moved up to fourth. He kicked it into high gear in the final 100 meters, holding off a challenger for second place.
“Three thousand meters is a long ways, you have a lot of time to settle in,” Bill Nelson said. “You have to know when to make your move. You have to know when to use (your kick). We discuss a lot of his tactics.”
Billy Nelson has completed his college eligibility, but after the Olympics he will move from Boulder to Eugene to start running professionally for Nike.
Bill Nelson hopes his son — who can be hard on himself — will enjoy his Olympic experience.
“Like I always tell the guys at work, Billy is probably his own worst critic,” his dad said. “If he can come out and run an 8:17, then he will really hit the mark he has for himself. I look for him to run a little better than that.”
Bill Nelson will be in the stands to watch his son run in the Olympics. Nelson and his wife and his other son and daughter will travel to Beijing for the Games.
“I’ve known for a long time he has the talent,” the elder Nelson said. “That’s what I’m excited about, that it worked out for him.”
Billy Nelson, who left for China July 29, will run in a qualifying race Aug. 16. The finals for the 3,000-meter steeplechase will be Aug. 18.
Qualifying for this year’s Games was a big deal for Billy Nelson. So making it to the 2012 Olympics in London would be an added bonus. His father is looking forward to it.
“I’ve already told my wife, just plan on vacationing in London for two weeks (in 2012),” Bill Nelson said.