By Jesse Zentz -

Edition Date: 09/23/07

Nicole Nielsen let a brief moment of doubt creep into her mind, but in the end, the Borah High junior left no doubt she was the runner to beat Saturday at the 33rd annual Bob Firman Invitational cross country meet at Eagle Island State Park.

She knows what she's doing, there's no doubt about that, Judge Memorial (Utah) senior and runner-up Hailey Knettles said. She's a great racer.

Nielsen trailed Mountain Brook (Ala.) junior Madeline Morgan by at least 15 meters for much of the 3.1-mile race, but pulled away to win in 18 minutes, 18.40 seconds - less than 1 second short of the course record.

When she extended her lead, I was a little worried, Nielsen said. I was thinking, ‘Oh, maybe she's going to haul it off, and maybe I'll have to run for second. But then I was like, ‘Wait, no, no, no, you can still go, you can still go.' 

And off she went.

Nielsen surged past Morgan with about 1,000 meters to go on a short uphill section and held off a late charge by Knettles for her first title at the elite event. Morgan was third and defending champion Candace Eddy of Davis (Utah) placed fifth. Eddy set the course record (18:17.20) last fall.

I was wondering if (Morgan) was going to hold out, and if I didn't go when I did, she might have gained moreconfidence, said Nielsen, whose brother Jared was Idaho's top finisher in the boys race in 14th place. I couldn't wait anymore, it was just, go, go, go.

I was pretty tired and she came by so fast, I didn't have time to respond, Morgan said.

Morgan's Mountain Brook squad, which is ranked 21st in the nation, won the girls team event with 64 points.

Davis (80) and California's Trabuco Hills (125) placed second and third. Bear Lake was the top Idaho team in seventh (240), while Boise placed ninth (243).

Mountain View junior Bug Simmons was the second Treasure Valley finisher in 12th place with a time of 19:03.51.

I was just looking for the local girls to key off, but the closest one was Nielsen, and she was way out there, Simmons said.

Utah senior sets record in boys race

Judge Memorial (Utah) senior Luke Puskedra dashed to the early lead and never was challenged as he smashed the course record and won the Bob Firman Invitational boys elite race in 14:49.16.

Highland graduate Taylor Farnsworth set the previous record of 15:16.6 last fall as he beat Puskedra for the 2006 title.

Taylor Farnsworth is a legit runner, so getting that record was definitely a plus, Puskedra said.

Borah senior Jared Nielsen - girls champion Nicole Nielsen's older brother - was the top Idaho finisher in 14th place with a time of 16:11.83. He was warming up when he saw Nicole win.

When I saw her come in, I felt my heart racing a little bit and knew I was going to do pretty well, he said.

Crater (Ore.) won the boys team title with 121 points to edge Spokane's North Central (124). Orem (Utah) placed third with 171 and Mountain View was the top Idaho team in 14th place with 353.

Symmonds receives celebrity treatment

Bishop Kelly graduate and 800-meter runner Nick Symmonds, who recently competed in the World Track and Field Championships in China, didn't get a chance to watch a race because he spent the entire time signing autographs at the Nike-sponsored truck.

To come back and do this for Boise athletes and people who have been supporting me for years is huge, said Symmonds, who lives and trains in Eugene, Ore. It means the world to me to come out here and talk to these kids.

Symmonds, who won seven state titles in cross country and track and field for BK, arrived with a pile of photos and posters to sign. By 2 p.m., both piles were gone and he resorted to signing backs of promotional flyers.

The scene at Eagle Island State Park shocked Symmonds, who remembers a modest meet when he was still running in the Treasure Valley. This year's meet featured a record 2,800 athletes.

I ran this meet twice, but it definitely wasn't like this, we had maybe a couple hundred athletes, Symmonds said. Hopefully, I can help out a little. Idaho is getting stronger every year and maybe soon the state will be a powerhouse. The future looks great.