Kim Nelson toed the 3,200-meter starting line at the Master’s Meet in May with something to prove.
A week earlier at the Southern Section Division championships, Nelson, then a junior at Canyon High, ran what she considered her worst race of the year. She finished with the 11th best time overall, apparently bringing her season to a close, because only runners with the top nine times advance to the Master’s Meet.
However, the next morning, Canyon Coach Mike Sayward called to inform Nelson that two of the 10 girls in front of her had decided not to run at the Master’s Meet, opening the door for a shot at redemption for his standout talent.
Sticking to the plan she and Sayward had carefully devised, Nelson ran with the leaders the entire race. She found she not only belonged with this elite group, but also could run away from them.
Nelson did just that. Unleashing the finishing kick that has become a vital part of her repertoire, the unheralded ninth-seeded runner raced away with the Master’s title and her first berth in the State meet. Her winning time of 10 minutes 48.13 seconds sliced more than 13 seconds off her personal best from the Arcadia Invitational earlier in the year.
Winning has long been associated with Nelson.
One of the most promising distance runners in the nation this year, Nelson has owned the Century League since she first laced up her racing flats as a freshman in 1990.
She brings into her senior year an unprecedented three-year undefeated streak in both league track and cross-country meets.
“Having a person as talented as Kim can really have a damaging effect on the team in a way,” said Sayward, referring to possible jealousy and ill feelings among her teammates. “But she handles (the attention paid her) all very well. Everyone looks up to her.”
Nelson’s name is mentioned among the best and brightest runners in the nation by virtue of her second-place finish in the State cross-country championships last fall and her fourth-place finish over 3,200 meters at the State meet last June.
Not surprisingly, college recruiting letters are still coming in on a daily basis to Sayward and his prize pupil. “Just today I handed her three more,” Sayward said.
Nelson has worked equally hard on her schoolwork. She has achieved a grade-point average of better than 4.2 while taking honors courses, leaving her college choices wide open.
After attending a running camp at BYU this summer, the Utah school has moved to the forefront.
“My father played football there and my brother, who just got back from his mission, will be a sophomore there this year,” said Nelson, who has five brothers. “So it is my choice right now.”
As for the upcoming cross-country season, which kicks off for Nelson and her Canyon teammates at the Las Vegas Invitational on Sept. 11, Nelson looks forward to season’s end.
After finishing 14th in the Kinney Western Regional in each of the past two years, Nelson’s main goal this season is to break through to the top eight and take her place among the nation’s best runners.
“Last year she felt the early pace was a little too fast, so she dropped back,” Sayward said. “This year she knows that no matter what the pace of the lead group is, she has to be in there.”
Said Nelson: “In that race, the whole thing is determined in the first mile, so if you lose contact it’s all over.”
The third-leading returner among the section’s Division II-AA runners behind Edison’s Elyse Homberger and Ocean View’s Taryn Lawson, Nelson got a taste of what it’s like to be among the nation’s elite runners in June, when she finished eighth in the 3,000 meters at the USA Junior National Track and Field Championships in Spokane, Wash.
She said she’s leaning toward the 5,000-meter event as her specialty in college.
For her success, Nelson credits her training partner, teammate and best friend since eighth grade, Laura Flatauer, one of Orange County’s top distance prospects.
“It’s really nice for me to have someone like her to run with and talk to at the same time,” said Nelson, a three-time All-Orange County performer in cross-country.
Said Sayward: “I think that a lot of Kim’s success comes from her surroundings.
“She has such strong family support and a great determination to win.”
And, when she needs to use it, a blistering finishing kick.