If the Zurich Diamond League taught us anything in particular on 28 August, it was the effect a major championship or lack of it, can have on athlete’s body. Out of the 16 event winners in Switzerland only four were European, with the same number of races won by Africans, leaving the remaining eight disciplines to all be taken by athletes from the Americas, as they continued to reap the rewards of their mid-season competition lull.
While the levels of fatigue might not have been quite so obvious in the field events, down on the track, it was clear to see that the pressure and energy exhumed from such a busy major championship schedule over the last month had started to take its toll on the athletes. Although the likes of Nijel Amos and Caleb Ndiku just did enough to continue their momentum through to one more race, there was no such success for Abeba Argawi, Siffan Hassan and Helen Obiri. As they were out thought and fought by the fresh legged Americans, Jenny Simpson and Shannon Rowbury in the tightest event on the tour, the women’s 1500m.
Simpson and Rowbury: battle on! Zurich Weltklasse, photo by PhotoRun.net
During the period where her rivals were off grabbing Commonwealth, European and African titles apiece, Simpson was is the South of France busting a gut to try ensure that the second half of her season had been as good as the first.
It has been a great year for the former steeplechaser. She has become the 2nd fastest US athlete of all-time after running 3:57.22, won her maiden US Outdoor 1500m title and finished inside of the top 4 on each of her appearances the Diamond League tour, making the podium on all but one occasion. So you could have been mistaken for thinking that the New Balance athlete would have been content with her early successes in a season bereft of a major championship.
While this may well have initially been the case, the runner, a fierce competitor and an excellent racer, clearly had something different in mind over the last week of racing. This has been illustrated in the way she has come back to the European track scene in style, taking both the Stockholm and Zurich Diamond meets to complete one of her early season goals and become the Diamond Race winner, almost out of nowhere.
When I say nowhere, I am of course referring her Diamond League standings rather than her racing credentials, which are of course illustrious, as a former world champion and reigning world silver medallist.
Despite her consistency this year, coming into the penultimate Diamond League in Stockholm, Simpson only had five Diamond League points, from her two second place finishes in Paris and Shanghai and 3rd in New York. Lagging seven points behind then leader, Abeba Aregawi, Simpson would have been considered by many as at most an outsider to win first in Sweden and then again in Switzerland, especially after the recent performance of the likes of Siffan Hassan had been so electric.
Nevertheless, in true Simpson style, she put everything on the track as she produced two fearless performances full of experience and strategy to outthink and outrun her rivals. Firstly in Stockholm, where she left it until the final 100m to go past Genzebe Dibaba and Siffan Hassan when it mattered to win in 4:00.38.
Then a week later, on the biggest stage she would face all season in Zurich, where she attacked from the gun sticking with the pace setter as she went for an American record and Diamond League double. Ruthless in her form she stood strong almost until the end. As the challenge from her main European and African rivals died out, the test from compatriot Shannon Rowbury ignited. Kicking on the inside it seemed as though the Alberto Salazar-coached athlete might well deny Simpson a season-culminating moment.
As they stretched for the line neck and neck, Simpson dived for desperation to finish 1st. Claiming victory by just 0.01 of a second, winning in 3:59.92 and collecting numerous stiches as result of her perseverance, Simpson was the winner on that day and the Diamond League champion for 2014.
While Rowbury’s excellent performance should definitely be commended, it would have been a slight shame had she beaten Simpson and denied her accolade given the latter’s brilliance all year and the fact that this was the first time the former has finished in the top 3 all season.
The focus for Simpson now must be to regain her world title in 2015 before she goes to Rio 2016, with a lot to prove to herself rather than anyone else after her performance in 2012.
Alongside that, there will of course be the nagging feeling that she should be able to break Mary Slaney’s record in the near future.
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