In 2010, when Jenny Simpson signed with New Balance, there were many armchair critics behind the scenes. The competition for Jenny Simpson (then Barringer), was pretty intense by the brands, and the money was more most American women distance runners were getting at the time.
New Balance ended up sponsoring her, and I remember Tom Carleo, the GM of Running at New Balance, introducing Jenny in New York and admitting that he was taking a big chance.
Tom Carleo credited Josh Rowe, his new marketing manager, on much of the work at bringing Jenny Simpson to New Balance.
And then, just before she signed, she left her college coach and signed with Julie Benson, formerly 1996 Olympian Julia Henner, who had coached at Georgetown and then at the Air Force Academy.
The sniping was loud. “She’s only a steeplechaser.” “Can she deliver?” The sniping was pretty realistic, as the chance of an American women winning a distance gold medal on the global scene is pretty slim. And how could NB get any value out of a steeplechaser? Could she win at the glamor event, the 1,500 meters?
But, there was a glimmer of hope, and Jenny Simpson had shown great speed over the 1,500m, endurance over 5,000m and an AR in Berlin where she ran 9:12.54 in running a stunning fifth in the steeplechase.
The bronze medals of Kara Goucher in 2007 and Shalane Flanagan in 2008, both in the 10,000 meters, and the silver of Meb Keflezighi in 2004 in the marathon and Deena Kastor with her bronze in the marathon in 2004, were all the more stunning. The work that had gone into those medals was pretty stunning in itself. Nike had put some serious dollars and commitment to those athletes.
In Jenny Simpson’s case, New Balance was footing the bill.
Now, New Balance put some serious bucks and assistance behind Jenny Simpson. In 2010, she had injuries and took off much of the year. In 2011, she started off well, got sick,and Julia Benson, her coach and Jenny did much soul searching.
She made the WC team for Daegu and she started getting fast.
In the semi-final, Jenny Simpson pulled a fast finish out of her belt and I wondered out loud if she and Morgan Uceny could be in the top six. I remember seeing Julia Benson that night and wishing her luck. Julia, the consumate coach, just smiled.
The final was a roller derby kind of event. The pace and the tactics played right into Jenny Simpson’s hands, and her last 150 meters, after staying out of trouble the entire race, put her in contention. It was that last 150 meters, and Jenny Simpson used all she had and, as much surprising herself, won the world championships.
The first time a US women had done it since 1983! And that was, yep, Mary Slaney.
That one percent chance paid off. The support that NB gave her, her coach, her husband, her family, and Jenny’s special talents: ability to focus, ability to keep stress down, speed, and tactics, all play a part.
The film, done by New Balance, gives the viewer a sense of the challenges in 2011, and also now, with a bullseye on her back for 2012, how she is handling the new stress of being the World champion.
The truth is, that is what Josh Rowe’s contempories do around the footwear business. From adidas to Nike, from Saucony to ASICS. Sports marketing teams pick athletes to speak for their brands. In most cases, the athletes have short careers. In some cases, the athletes have shining moments. And in rarer cases, some athletes win medals.
And in the rarest of cases, those medals are golden. Such is the story of Jenny Simpson.
To see the entire film:
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