Jenny Simpson: Looking back at 2011, by Elliott Denman, note by Larry Eder

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Simpson_Jenny-World11.JPG
Jenny Simpson, 2011 WC 1,500 meter final, photo by PhotoRun.net

Simpson_Jenny1-World11.JPGJenny Simpson, 2011 WC 1,500m, final, photo by PhotoRun.net

Simpson_Jenny1a-World11.JPGJenny Simpson, 2011 WC 1,500m, final, photo by PhotoRun.net

Simpson_Jenny1b-World11.JPGJenny Simpson, 2011 WC 1,500m final, photo by PhotoRun.net

The 1,500 meter run is an event where a middle distance runner is challenged in many ways. Running three laps, and then kicking for the last 300 meters is a text book way to run the distance. A 1,500 meter run, in a championship venue, is a totally different event. A championship 1,500 meter run is part roller derby, part chess match, part playing chicken. In the end, the athletes who can focus the most, cover the moves and kick when need be, will be in the medal hunt.

Jenny Simpson, Morgan Uceny and Shannon Rowbury were the US runners in Daegu. Shannon did not make the final, Morgan was knocked down in the final, and Jenny Simpson ran the race of her life, taking all of the lessons that she had learnt running those NCAA champ rounds, World Champ rounds and Olympic rounds, and putting them into practice in lone long, very long last straightaway.

With fifty meters to go, nine women were within striking distance of each other. Jenny Simpson made her move with fifty meters to go, just before Hannah England. Simpson knows how to kick, and kick she did. The quality of the women's event, globally, is that there will be fields like this in upcoming world champs and Olympic Games. A sizzling kick, the ability to time it right, and perform on the right day is what makes a gold medalist and a sixth placer.

Jenny Simpson has won the World Champs 1,500 meters. Nothing else really matters this year. Sure nice to win the Fifth Avenue Mile, great way to end the season, but for Jenny Simpson and her coach, Juli Benson, London 2012 began the moment Jenny Simpson crossed that finish line in Daegu.

This is Elliott Denman's take of Jenny Simpsons' remarkable year, 2011.


Simpson_Jenny1c-World11.JPGJenny Simpson, 2011 WC 1,500m, photo by PhotoRun.net

By ELLIOTT DENMAN

"Thank you, New York City; thanks for putting on a wonderful race; thanks, everybody."

That was all-smiling, all-exuberant Jenny Simpson, who had 5,000 reasons - or a buck apiece - for being very, very grateful.

Simpson-Lakhouad-Gezahegne-Rodriguez-World11.jpgJenny Simpson, 2011 WC 1,500m, photo by PhotoRun.net

She'd just earned a check for $5,000 for the 4:22.3 performance that made her the women's pro racing titlist at the 31st edition of The Fifth Avenue Mile. And she knew that she could at last rest easy at the conclusion of a brilliant year capped by her 4:05.40 victory in the 1,500-meter final at the World Championships in Daegu, Korea.

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Fifty meters to go, 2011 WC 1,500m final, photo by PhotoRun.net

The Jenny Simpson vacation fund was off and running.

Immediately post-Daegu, Simpson had been in a deep slump.

Simpson50mToGo1a-Worlds11.jpgFifty meters to go, 2011 WC 1,500m, photo by PhotoRun.net

At Rieti, Italy, Sept. 10, she'd finished a totally outdistanced 10th in 4:06.13 n the 1,500 race won by Mariem Alaoui Selsouli of Morocco (4:01.04) over Russia's Ekaterina Martynova (4:02.10) and Ukraine's Anna Mischenko (4:02.79.

Six days later, in the Van Damme Memorial in Brussels, she slipped even further back in the back - to 13th in 4:03.68 in a race won by USA teammate Morgan Uceny in 4:00.06, 2011's best time, over Selsouli (4:00.77) and 2009 World champion  Maryam Yusuf Jamal of Bahrain (4:01.40.)

A hectic travel schedule and, likely, a degree of post-Daegu letdown, had clearly taken their toll.

Simpson_JennyFV-WorChp11.jpgJenny Simpson, 2011 WC 1,500m, photo by PhotoRun.net

But the Fifth Avenue win - over Kenya's Sally Kipyego (4:22.6), Great Britain's Hannah England (4:22.6, too) and 17 others - served as the perfect sendoff to a period of brief rest.

Simpson_JennyR1a-WorChp11.jpgAfter the victory, Jenny Simpson, 2011 WC 1,500m, photo by PhotoRun.net

Winning "on the Avenue, Fifth Avenue" required conquest of, likely, the strongest women's field in the event's 31 years.

Left in the slipstream of Simpson - wearing the "Jenny" bib that gave crowds lining the 20-block course plenty of personalized cheering opportunities - were two other Daegu medalists, and many of the occupants of top spots on the year lists.

Simpson_Jenny-FifthAve11.JPGJenny Simpson, 2011 Fifth Avenue Mile, photo by PhotoRun.net

Kipyego had taken the silver medal in the 10,000 meters in Daegu.  England won  the silver in the 1500 there back of Simpson. Each of these top three had also been NCAA champions, Simpson (then as Jenny Barringer) at Colorado, Kipyego at Texas Tech, England at Florida State.

  Relegated to spots further back were sixth-placer Morgan Uceny, the world's fastest at 1500 this year; seventh-placer Shannon Rowbury, the 2009 and 2010 Fifth Avenue champion, and 14th-placer Alysia Montano, USA 800-meter champion and fourth in the two-lap final at Daegu.

 But the Iowa-born, Florida-prepped (Oviedo, Fla. HS), Colorado-schooled (U. of Coloarado '09) 5-foot-5, 110-pound Simpson took the measure of them all.

  "Everybody brings their own strengths to their racing," said Simpson. "There were so many great, talented runners out there.

   "The season's been long and it's been tough on all of us. I was really keyed in on the World Championships, to bounce back like this was encouraging to me.

  "So this was a great way to come home and celebrate the season and to showcase my strength.

  "The thing about this race is that brings together some very talented women from the 800 on up, to the 5K and even the 10K.  It's a great meeting in the middle, in the mile.

  "We moved out pretty fast right from the gun, but I felt comfortable and settled in.
Then we got to the hill (a slight rise around midway), and from the top of the hill down to the (finish) line it was a real race from there.

  "With about 200 meters to go, I finally got into the lead, and just took it in."

  Among the applauders at 60th Street: Sister Emily, an Army private first class clad in fatigues and combat boots, taking a rare weekend break from duty at Fort Rucker, Alabama.

   Simpson had no idea of her split times.  It was, in effect, a very long, straight and controlled sprint.

  Her great closing rush gives even more confidence heading into Olympic year.
As any World or Olympic final-goer must know, these races inevitably boil down to jockeying for position and desperation, all-out sprints around the final turn

   "Yes, yes, I know if I can finish like that, I'll be hard to beat," said Simpson. "I'll be ready for anything."

   With several major Big Apple water-main breaks, street floodings, and subway stoppages in the days preceding the Fifth Avenue Mile, some suggested that Simpson would have been right at home, too, running her other event, the 3000-meter steeplechase.

   She'd certainly made her mark as a steeplechaser, winning three NCAA titles for  Colorado, running ninth at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and placing fifth (in the American record time of 9:12.50) at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin.

  But a stress reaction at the head of her right femur spelled an early end to her 2010 season and likely influenced her decision to stick to flat/ barrier-free / water jump-less middle distance running heading into 2011.

  It's been a huge year from the very beginning.

  Her 4:28.60 victory at the New Balance Games at New York's Armory Track Center held up as the fastest mile in the world for the indoor season.

  She followed by taking both the mile (4:34.96) and 3000-meter (9:02.20) crowns at the USA Indoor Championships in Albuquerque.  A second-place finish in the 1500 final at the USA Nationals at Hayward Field proved her ticket to Daegu and she arrived in Korea fit and ready.

Simpson_JennyR1b-WorChp11.jpgVictory! Jenny Simpson, 2011 WC 1,500m, photo by PhotoRun.net

  With the 1500 win in Daegu, she became the first American woman to win the event since Mary Decker did it in 1983. ( And just the fourth American 1500 Worlds medalist ever - Regina Jacobs had placed second in 1997 and '99; Rowbury ran third in 2009.)

 Now the one big question: Will we ever see Jenny Simpson running another steeplechase?

  Sure it's an option, sure it's a possibility, sure it would be breakthrough opportunity for any American woman.

   But sure it's getting a lot less likely with her every success on the flat.

    The London 1500 is certainly the far safer wager.

   No American woman has ever won - or even medaled - in an Olympic 1500.

   So what greater ambition can Jenny Simpson possibly have?


Simpson_JennyR1c-WorChp11.jpgVictory is hers, Jenny Simpson, 2011 WC 1,500m, photo by PhotoRun.net

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