Posted on Jul 15
Jenny Simpson: More Than Gold
"Everything went quiet, and everything went still...I really was in a wonderful sense of shock. I was coming down that last 100 meters and I saw the other competitors in my peripheral vision, and they just faded away. I knew I was the first to cross the line but I thought, surely this isn't happening right now. In five seconds someone is going to usher me off the track and say, 'I'm sorry Jenny, they all lapped you, you need to get off the track now.'"
Calling in from a small town in Italy to a press conference yesterday, Jenny Simpson used those words to describe her surprised, delayed reaction in the moments immediately after her gold medal performance (4:05.40) in the 1500m at the World Track & Field Championships at Daegu, South Korea last week in what Runner's World described as "the best development for elite American middle distance and distance running since Deena Kastor was winning marathons."
Watch the final and its conclusion and you can see the dawning realization Simpson describes as it unfolds:
Simpson credited a little luck alongside her notoriously rigorous training regimen, strong support team, and shrewd race planning in netting a gold medal not attained by an American woman since the event's inaugural meet 28 years ago. Simpson and Mary Decker Slaney stand alone as the only American women to have won the IAAF World Championship in a distance event since 1983.
In a thrilling final that showcased both her flat-out speed and her tactical smarts, Simpson bested a field of the world's top competitors including race favorite Maryam Jamal from Bahrain, American Morgan Uceny, and Hannah England of Great Britain. The key to her win in the final would come down to her decision to patiently stay on the inside and then aggressively take to the outside when the opportunity arose in the last 300 meters, a tactic she had implemented in the prelim but not executed to perfection until the final. Simpson told reporters:
"I really was focused on the top two people because I thought, 'Somebody's going to start running and I need to make sure I can go with them.' I think one of the things that played to my advantage the most throughout that series of three races — and this is something I learned from my steeplechasing days — I really was focused on myself and my effort, and for the lack of a better phrase, not playing games with what other people were going to do. I just really looked to focus on what I was going to be capable of doing."
Shortly after the race, Simpson offered some advice and perspective in a blog entry: "When things aren't going perfectly, you can still make the best of every opportunity." In characteristically understated terms, Simpson's advice also serves as a fitting description of her central focus through the 18 months of transition, patience, and perseverance that led to her historic victory. In her first year and a half as a professional, Simpson trained through everything from physical setbacks to a fluke flu that sidelined her from key races, and successfully shifted her focus from the Steeplechase to the 1500m. She truly made the best of each phase of training, no matter where she was in the continuum from recovery to peak performance. When injuries arose, she used them as an opportunity to work out all the more vigorously and shore up "weak links" in her body's support structure. When she was sidelined from running itself with a stress reaction in her femur, she focused on cross-training and complementary activities that would help her come back to running even stronger. "One of the things I'm most proud of is that ever since the first year I started running I've run a PR every single year of my career. I've been hurt, and I've had years that weren't really excellent and weren't fun. But it's just getting out the door on the days that it's fun, and on the days when it's not fun, and putting in the work."
Team New Balance's Maggie Vessey also put in an extremely strong showing at Daegu in reaching her first appearance in a world championship final, in the 800m — this one in particular a final that has not yet been won by an American woman in the meet's history. Vessey finished 6th in the final with a season best time of 1:58.50, within a field that included several World Champions and Olympic gold medalist Mariya Savinova. She felt she had most of the ingredients in place for the last race, but will do more in the future to prepare for the unique rigors of running three such super fast races so close together. Vessey told Steve Ritchie of the Santa Cruz Sentinel, "I had all the good intentions and gumption in the world to get it done, but I'm coming around that corner and my legs are just flat out heavy." Vessey was energetic and upbeat as she rounded the corner to her next event, leaving the following note to her Facebook fans: "Thank you so much everybody!! It's tough getting that close, literally to gold, and coming up short. I'm proud of the accomplishment but aware of work that can be done to become better! In Berlin now at their Olympic Training Center. Resting up for a great race on Sunday. Don't dwell, just keep on movin' forward!!"
We at New Balance are thrilled to serve as both a witness to and a participant in Jenny's and Maggie's ongoing journey, and look forward to following September's races and their efforts to earn a spot representing our country at the 2012 Olympics in London.
On Twitter, Follow Jenny Simpson at @trackjenny, and Maggie Vessey at @maggiekicks.