Simp­son great­est at 1,500m

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - John Meyer: jmeyer@den­ver­ or @john­meyer By John Meyer

If there was any ar­gu­ment against the no­tion that Jenny Simp­son is the great­est fe­male Amer­i­can 1,500-me­ter run­ner ever, it may have been set­tled in Lon­don last week when she claimed her fourth medal at a ma­jor in­ter­na­tional cham­pi­onship. It could even be ar­gued the Boul­der res­i­dent and Uni­ver­sity of Colorado grad­u­ate is Amer­ica’s great­est of ei­ther sex in the “met­ric mile” — one of the sport’s mar­quee events.

Simp­son un­leashed a killer kick over the fi­nal 100 me­ters Mon­day at the bi­en­nial world cham­pi­onships, burst­ing from fourth place to claim the sil­ver medal. She pre­vi­ously claimed world cham­pi­onships medals in 2011 (gold) and 2013 (sil­ver). Last sum­mer in Rio, she be­came the first Amer­i­can woman to medal in the event at the Olympics, claim­ing bronze. Best Amer­i­can fe­male ever? “In my opin­ion, yes, and I would go fur­ther,” said CU coach Mark Wet­more, who still coaches Simp­son, along with as­sis­tant Heather Bur­roughs. “At that dis­tance, is there a male Amer­i­can that’s in the same cat­e­gory?”

Only Bernard La­gat, but with as­ter­isks. Born in Kenya, La­gat won two Olympic medals and a world cham­pi­onships medal in the 1,500 for his na­tive coun­try be­fore be­com­ing an Amer­i­can ci­ti­zen in 2005. He claimed two more world medals in the 1,500 run­ning for the U.S, along with three in the 5,000 me­ters.

Simp­son stands alone among na­tive-born Amer­i­cans, man or woman. While still at CU in 2009, she ran the 1,500 in 3 min­utes, 59.9 sec­onds, and at that time only two Amer­i­can women (Mary Slaney and Suzy Hamil­ton) had run faster. In those days, her pri­mary event was the steeple­chase, which she ran at the 2008 Olympics, but af­ter the 2009 world cham­pi­onships, she shifted her fo­cus to the 1,500. She has since won a medal in ev­ery ma­jor cham­pi­onship ex­cept the 2012 Olympics, where she says she was “un­der-pre­pared,” and the 2015 worlds, when she lost a shoe in the fi­nals af­ter a run­ner clipped her heel.

“What peo­ple say of me that makes me feel the best about my ca­reer is when they talk about how con­sis­tent I’ve been,” Simp­son said last week from Switzer­land, where she is train­ing for sea­son-end­ing meets in Europe. “I don’t have some of the records, and not all of my medals are gold, but I’ve been re­ally good over a re­ally long pe­riod of time. The 3:59 when I was in col­lege wasn’t a fluke. The gold medal in the world cham­pi­onships in 2011 wasn’t a fluke, and the bronze last year (at the Olympics) wasn’t a fluke. At some, point when these things keep go­ing well, you’ve got to stop think­ing it’s a fluke. That’s re­ally fun for me, to know my con­sis­tency is go­ing to be the main nar­ra­tive of my ca­reer.”

On Mon­day — on the same track where she sur­pris­ingly failed to reach the fi­nal round of the 2012 Olympics when she was the reign­ing world cham­pion — Simp­son was 5 to 10 me­ters be­hind the lead­ers com­ing off the fi­nal turn. She blazed down the stretch to fin­ish in 4:02.76, only 0.17 be­hind Olympic cham­pion Faith Kipye­gon of Kenya. It wasn’t about re­deem­ing her­self on that track, but the mem­o­ries were there.

“It’s cer­tainly part of my story,” Simp­son said of Lon­don 2012. “There’s no way I can step out on that track and not have it be part of what is go­ing through my mind through­out the six or seven days that I’m there. But mostly when peo­ple ask me about 2012, I just think about how dif­fer­ent and more evolved of a per­son and a racer I am five years later.”

Simp­son turns 31 this month, but she re­mains at the top of her pro­fes­sion. One dis­tinc­tion she has yet to se­cure is the Amer­i­can record. In 2014, she ran her PR of 3:57.22, which was only 0.1 sec­onds off the record Slaney set in 1983, but Shan­non Row­bury of the Nike Ore­gon Project low­ered the mark to 3:56.29 in 2015.

“It (the record) is some­thing I would re­ally love to still run,” Simp­son said. “I would love to run the fastest race of my life yet. I’ve come so close to the Amer­i­can record sev­eral times, and if I ran a PR, I would be fright­en­ingly close to it again, if not sur­pass it. Run­ning fast is still re­ally im­por­tant. That has to be some­thing you care about do­ing if you’re go­ing to keep try­ing to win global medals. You have to care about con­tin­u­ing to get faster. You can’t just say, ‘I’m go­ing to out­smart all of these women.’ You have to keep get­ting bet­ter.”

Patrick Smith, Getty Im­ages

Jenny Simp­son cel­e­brates with the Amer­i­can flag af­ter the women’s 1,500 me­ter fi­nal at the 16th IAAF World Ath­let­ics Cham­pi­onships in Lon­don last week. She is still chas­ing the Amer­i­can 1,500-me­ter record, which is about a sec­ond off her PR.

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