Dave Hunter’s piece on Sunday is on Jenny Simpson, one of the most likable and poised athletes in our sport. She is fiercely competitive and is the 2011 World Champion in the 1,500 meters. It was in Daegu, during the semi-final, when Simpson made this beautiful move on the final stretch, with little effort, but complete focus, that I first considered her as a medal contender. In the final, Jenny did not make an error and ran the field down.
2013 World Outdoor Track & Field Championships / Moscow Notebook
On Wearing The Crown
Jenny Simpson Cites Joys, Challenges Of Being Champion
August 11, 2013
The United States can take pride in having its middle distance star Jennifer Simpson as the reigning world champion in the 1500. She is bright, articulate, and an exemplary personification of all that is right in the sport of track & field.
Two years ago – in Daegu – Simpson roared off the final curve in the world championship 1500 final to sprint on to a most unexpected world title. Forgiveness would been extended had this young, rising star – then only two years out of college – been unprepared to be champion, uneasy wearing the crown.
But Simpson rose to the challenge. She saw the world championship as an honor – an honor that came with significant responsibility. She saw in her reign the responsibility to conduct herself as a humble ambassador for the sport – behaving in a manner befitting the other great 1500 meter champions who had come before her. In a world where accomplished sports stars increasingly denounce any sense of responsibility as a role model, Jenny Simpson embraces it.
As is the case in virtually all walks of life, it is easy for those tasting success in sports to be gracious. But the true measure of character is how one responds when the inevitable difficulties arise. In 2012 – the year following Simpson’s Daegu triumph – much was expected of the new world titlist. But as can be the case in track & field, it was not to be. The Olympic year proved to be an undistinguished period of challenge for the world champion: garnering no wins of great consequence, just grabbing the final spot on the US Olympic team, and failing to make the Olympic 1500 final. It was a sequence of events that would have rattled a lesser champion. But Simpson stayed strong, stood strong. Unwavering in her commitment to be an admirable champion, Simpson never once allowed personal disappointment to interfere with her self-imposed obligation to honor the position of champion by recognizing and fulfilling the several responsibilities that accompany a world championship title.
Now on her 4th U.S. World Championship team, Simpson has begun her quest to defend her world 1500 crown. And it comes during a period when Simpson is recapturing the middle distance performance skills that she demonstrated two years ago in claiming the title. In the first round of the women’s 1500, Simpson ran with the air of a confident champion – controlling the race from the front, forsaking the opportunity to make a meaningless early-round “statement”, and utilizing a beautifully controlled acceleration down the final straightaway. The defending champion finished second in her heat – in 4:07.16 – to easily move on to Tuesday’s semi-final round.
In the mixed zone, Simpson assessed her first round performance. “I just felt like I needed a clean, smooth race,” offered Simpson. “My best effort would be if I got out there and just really took control of myself from the start. I tried to stay to the outside and just pick a good spot up with the leaders.” And with that trademark smile, she laughed, “I just said to myself, ‘The top half of the race makes it through, so don’t ever not be in the top half.”
As a veteran of world class competitions on the big stage, Simpson knows well that patience and self-control are needed to navigate through treacherous rounds and to make the final with gas in the tank. “I tried to hold back the temptation to showboat,” confides Simpson. “In these rounds, there is a temptation deep inside of you – because all of us have big egos once we get here – to show people what you’ve got. But I held back and said, ‘Save it. You’re in.’ If you’re in, it means you get another chance to do that.” And with a flashing smile, Simpson adds, “So I am trying to save the turbo boosters for when I’m really going to need them.”
In a serious mixed zone moment, the reigning world 1500 meter titlist reflected on what it is like to be the defending champion. “It is really different walking around the village,” Simpson admits. “I think of it this way: there is a form chart. Somewhere the USA has a form chart on how they’re going to get their medals. And this is the first time ever I’ve made the form chart. So I think to myself that I need to honor that. And what that means to me out here is to be the best representative I can be and not have any excuses filled in on the form chart at the end.”
Jenny Simpson brings an uncluttered thought process to her role of world champion. “I think of it this way: the work is mine to do, but the burden [of being champion] is not mine to carry. There are four very capable U.S women on the team in the 1500 meters. And I have a lot of work to do to make it to the finals. But the burden is on my whole team which is a wonderful thing. I have a great wonderful, supportive team.. I like to think of it that way. I sincerely wish all of my teammates the best.”
So what’s ahead for the reigning world champion as the rounds progress? “I’m really fit. I’m really confident. And I’m racing like I’m really confident. And so it is translating well. So I am excited about today’s round.”
It is, of course, uncertain whether or not Simpson will be able to successfully defend her title. There are two more steps in her quest to repeat – and the competition will be fierce. But amid this uncertainty, one thing is known for sure. Win or lose, Jennifer Simpson will respond as she always has: as a composed young woman and a poised athlete – humble in victory, gracious in the wake of any setback, and always a tremendous representative for the sport of track & field.