Jenny Simpson

Jenny Simpson, the ultimate racer, snags silver in wild finish (video)

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As Jenny Simpson rounded the final curve of a global 1500m final for the fifth time, she knew exactly what to do.

Ahead were three women who gapped her on the bell lap at the world championships in London on Monday night.

They were Brit Laura Muir and the leading duo of Kenyan Faith Kipyegon and Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan.

All three runners have faster personal bests than Simpson, who ranks No. 39 on the all-time women’s 1500m list.

As Simpson proved in 2011, 2013 and 2016, the rankings matter little when she is part of Olympic and world championships 1500m finals.

“I thought,” Simpson recalled going into the last straightaway, “no one’s going to believe I’m doing this again.”

In 2011, Simpson made the world championships team in the 1500m in her first full season focusing on that race.

A 1500m star she was not — ranking outside the world top 20 that season — but a racer? Definitely. Simpson lowered the American 3000m steeplechase record at the prior Olympics and world championships before moving to the 1500m.

And so at the 2011 Worlds, when the pre-race favorites fell off before the bell lap, it was Simpson who shifted all the way out to lane 3 and kept her form, moving from fourth to first.

After a disastrous, last-place 2012 Olympic semifinal, Simpson showed her mettle at the 2013 Worlds. She led nearly from the gun this time. Simpson was passed on the last lap by pre-race favorite Abeba Aregawi. It looked like Simpson would fall behind promising Kenyan Hellen Obiri on the final straight. But Simpson had properly rationed her energy and surged. She nearly caught Aregawi. Silver.

A runner stepped on Simpson at the 2015 Worlds, and she covered the last 600 meters with one shoe and a bloodying foot. 11th place.

Then in Rio, Simpson saw Ethiopian world-record holder Genzebe Dibaba go to the lead at the halfway point. Simpson chose not to tail her — others did — and faded to sixth place with 300 meters left. The patience paid off. Simpson couldn’t catch Kipyegon (the eventual surprise winner) or Dibaba, but she picked off three women, including Muir and Hassan. Bronze.

Coming into Monday night’s final in London, Simpson was already one of the most accomplished female runners in U.S. history. The only American woman with an Olympic 1500m medal. One of two (Mary Slaney) with a world 1500m title.

This field was loaded. The Olympic champion Kipyegon. The world-record holder Dibaba. Hassan, undefeated this year. Muir, the fastest woman of the last two years. And the wild card, Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya.

Kipyegon and Hassan separated from the pack with 300 meters left. Muir initially chased them. Simpson did not.

“I covered every move that I could,” Muir said.

So there Simpson was, with 80 meters left and Muir, Hassan and Kipyegon between her and a fourth podium in five global finals.

She remembered one of her coaches, Heather Burroughs, telling her not to hesitate. She remembered watching the women’s 100m final on TV the night before. Countrywoman Tori Bowie took upset gold with a textbook finish herself, a well-timed lean. (Bowie and Simpson have similar stories switching events for success; Bowie was primarily a long jumper until 2014)

Simpson thinks. And she looks, beyond Muir, and assesses the two leaders.

“I can see how hard Faith [Kipyegon] and Hassan are racing each other, and I really believe I can get one of them if they’re working this hard this far out,” Simpson said. “It’s so weird to me that I can have all of those thoughts in those few, short seconds. But I just really believed I was going to be able to run at least one of them down.”

She finds an opening. Muir is out in lane 2 and slowing. For the first time she can think of, Simpson passes on the inside on a final sprint. As that happens, Hassan is cooked, unable to keep the pace with Kipyegon. The Dutchwoman flails to the far side of lane 1, opening up the rail. Simpson slips through, keeping her form.

As Kipyegon pumps her celebratory fist at the finish line, Simpson rushes in for silver, just .17 behind.

As this is all happening, Semenya put on her trademark sprint for bronze and ended up falling to the track. Muir fourth. Hassan fifth.

“I can talk about the race, but mostly it comes down to the last 100 meters,” Simpson said. “This is my 17th 1500m race at world championships [or Olympics], and with that comes 17 opportunities to do it the right way.”

Simpson became a 1500m runner six years ago. She has made every U.S. team for worlds and the Olympics and come away with four medals.

The success has come during an era of drug-related scrutiny in all running events. The 2012 Olympic final is now a mess of doping disqualifications. Aregawi tested positive last year for the controversial meldonium. Performance-enhancing substances were found in Dibaba’s coach’s hotel room last year.

“If I’m second in this race, you beat cheaters,” Simpson said. “Because there’s not zero cheaters in the race.”

The other medalists deserve acclaim. Kipyegon is just 23 and now an Olympic and world champion.

“My tactic was to run the last 300 meters, because I knew Semenya was fast in [the last] 100 meters,” she said.

Semenya raced a 1500m outside of Africa for the first time in six years at this meet. She still has the 800m left later this week, an event she hasn’t lost in almost two years.

Eight years ago, Semenya famously won the world 800m title at age 19 and a gender-testing controversy erupted. After these worlds, regulations may be imposed forcing some female athletes to again take hormone-suppressing medication. Semenya was asked about it.

“I have no time for nonsense, so medication, no medication, I’m an athlete,” she said. “I don’t have time for such things, you understand? For me, its their own decisions [the IAAF, Court of Arbitration for Sport].”

The South African had the closest view of Simpson’s move in the last 80 meters on Monday. And a pretty good one of Kipyegon, too.

Semenya, the most dominant female runner in the world today, was impressed.

“They move like rockets,” she said.

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WORLDS: TV Schedule | 5 Men’s Races to Watch | 5 Women’s Races

Omar McLeod preserves Jamaican glory; U.S. shut out (video)

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Omar McLeod finally gave Jamaica a gold medal to celebrate at the world track and field championships.

After Usain Bolt and Elaine Thompson lost 100m finals, it was McLeod who won the 110m hurdles title in London on Monday night.

“The camp was really daunting, and I really wanted to bring that spark back,” McLeod, the Olympic champion who led from hurdle one and clocked 13.04 seconds, told media in London. “I particularly wanted to come out here and dedicate this win to Usain Bolt‘s retirement.”

McLeod held off Russian Sergey Shubenkov by one tenth of a second. Shubenkov, the 2015 World champion, was excluded from the Olympics because of Russia’s ban for its poor anti-doping record. Russia is still banned. Shubenkov, who has never failed a drug test, was one of many Russians allowed to compete in London as a neutral athlete.

Hungary’s Balazs Baji grabbed bronze, while 2012 Olympic champion and world-record holder Aries Merritt was fifth. Merritt, who earned 2015 World bronze with kidney function at less than 20 percent, was in the mix for bronze up to the final hurdle.

“I failed to execute late in the race, which is my specialty,” Merritt said. “Finishing is what I do best.”

The U.S. failed to earn a world 110m hurdles medal for the first time, one year after failing to earn an Olympic 110m hurdles medal for the first time (excluding the 1980 Moscow Games). Merritt was the lone U.S. finalist.

“I’m not even supposed to be running,” said Merritt, who underwent a kidney transplant four days after 2015 Worlds and missed the Rio Olympic team by .01. “So just me being here in the final is definitely a blessing.

“Now that I’ve had a year of proper training, the next year that I run will definitely be better.”

Full worlds results are here.

In other events Monday, Kenyan Faith Kipyegon took gold in the women’s 1500m, .17 ahead of a hard-charging Jenny Simpson. Scrutinized South African Caster Semenya earned bronze with a late surge.

Kipyegon, the Rio gold medalist, became the first Kenyan woman to win a world 1500m title.

Simpson captured her fourth global medal following her 2011 World title, 2013 World silver medal and 2016 Olympic bronze medal.

Simpson, 29, transitioned to the 1500m fully in 2011, after making the Beijing Olympics in the steeplechase, and has turned into one of the greatest American distance runners in history. In her five global 1500m finals, she has earned four medals. In the outlier, she ran the last 600 meters with one shoe.

Semenya, scrutinized after a gender-testing controversy in 2009, made the podium in her first 1500m outside of Africa since 2011. Semenya is an overwhelming favorite in the 800m (final Sunday) after taking Olympic gold in that event.

Allyson Felix and Shaunae Miller-Uibo set up a rematch in Wednesday’s 400m final. Felix topped Miller-Uibo for the 2015 World title, but Miller-Uibo edged Felix in Rio with that famous finish-line dive.

Wayde van Niekerk, looking to join Michael Johnson as the only men to sweep the 200m and 400m at an Olympics or worlds, headlined the qualifiers from the 200m heats.

Van Niekerk races the 400m final Tuesday, the 200m semifinals Wednesday and, if he advances, the 200m final Thursday.

Both the 200m and 400m are lacking superstars. Neither 2008 Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt nor 2012 Olympic champion Kirani James is in the 400m final. Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin skipped the 200m this year, and Olympic silver medalist Andre De Grasse withdrew before worlds with a strained hamstring.

Olympic champion Kerron Clement led the qualifiers into Wednesday’s 400m hurdles final.

In the triple jump, Yulimar Rojas earned Venezuela’s first world medal. It was gold. Rojas reversed the Rio Olympic one-two with Colombian Caterine Ibarguen, edging her by two centimeters.

Poland’s Anita Wlodarczyk repeated as world champion in the hammer throw, one year after repeating as Olympic champion. Wlodarczyk, who last lost in June 2014, threw 77.90 meters to win by six feet, but she was 17 feet shy of her world record from last August.

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Matthew Centrowitz, after ‘rock bottom,’ glad with runner-up at USAs

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Matthew Centrowitz said he hit rock bottom two weeks ago.

“I was ready to do the depressed thing that most people do,” Centrowitz, whose normal dark buzz was topped with faded blonde, said Saturday. “Bleach it like Justin Bieber.”

Back then, Centrowitz did not believe he would be racing this weekend at the USATF Outdoor Championships, part of the TeamUSA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast.

The Olympic 1500m champion was sidelined for weeks due to a series of ailments.

A left adductor strain in April. A May visit to the emergency room with a viral infection similar to his 2014 bout with pericarditis. His heart rate was through the roof. Then, a right adductor tear.

“I was ready to can the season, to be honest with you,” said Centrowitz, who in Rio became the first U.S. Olympic 1500m gold medalist in 108 years. “I was like, no one’s going to see me. I’m done with my year. So I dyed it.”

The next day, people told Centrowitz that, regardless of hair color, he would be racing. At some point, he came to believe them.

So, on about 10 days of training, Centrowitz came to Sacramento to try and earn a place on the three-man world championships team.

Centrowitz did just that Saturday, finishing second to Robby Andrews in the 1500m final.

Third is as good as first,” said Centrowitz, who is going to his fourth straight worlds, seeking to complete his medal collection (bronze in 2011, silver in 2013).

Andrews, in fifth place going into the final lap, surged past Centrowitz on the last straightaway to win in 3:43.29. Centrowitz was second in 3:43.41.

“He’s been banged up, I’m not going to say it’s a true battle,” said Andrews, who was second to Centrowitz at the 2015 USATF Outdoors, 2016 USATF Indoors and 2016 Olympic Trials.

Andrews, who was disqualified in the Rio semifinals, is not yet on the team for worlds in London in August. He must still run the world championships qualification standard of 3:36.00 by July 23.

USATF OUTDOORS: Broadcast Schedule | Full Results

Earlier Saturday, Allyson Felix headlined the qualifiers for Sunday’s 200m semifinals, which do not include Justin Gatlin.

World-record holder Keni Harrison won the 100m hurdles in 12.60 seconds, after shockingly failing to make the Rio Olympic team. Harrison was followed by Olympic silver medalist Nia Ali in 12.68. Also making the world team was 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper.

Harrison had not raced since May 5 after breaking her left hand in a warm-up and undergoing surgery.

“In a few more weeks, my hand will be back to normal,” said Harrison, whose world record from July is 12.20. “I’m not race sharp.”

Olympic bronze medalist Jenny Simpson took the women’s 1500m in 4:06.33. She’s joined on the world team by Olympian Kate Grace and surprise Sara Vaughn, a 31-year-old mother of three daughters.

“It’s a lot of times about squeezing in the training whenever I can do it,” Vaughn, a first-time world team member, told media in Sacramento. “It’s not always the primary focus, so coming out to Sacramento for a week and pretending to be nothing but a professional runner is kind of weird for me. I feel like I’m forgetting something, but I felt extra light on the track. It brings a lot more joy to the sport when I can share it with my three daughters.”

American record holder Shannon Rowbury shockingly missed the world team, fading to eighth.

In the 400m, Fred Kerley and Quanera Hayes each won their first U.S. titles.

Kerley, who didn’t make it out of the Olympic Trials first round, won comfortably in 44.03 seconds. The NCAA champion from Texas A&M now owns the five fastest times in the world this year.

Kerley is joined on the world team by Olympian Gil Roberts (44.22), Wil London III (44.47) and 2008 Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt. Merritt has a bye into worlds as the 2016 Diamond League champion, so he didn’t race the 400m in Sacramento.

Kerley and Merritt are medal contenders, though gold will be difficult against South African Wayde van Niekerk, who broke Michael Johnson‘s world record in Rio.

Hayes, who was eighth at the 2016 Olympic Trials, won the women’s 400m in 49.72 seconds, the fastest time in the world this year. She’s joined on the world team by Olympian Phyllis Francis and Kendall Ellis.

Three-time Olympian Natasha Hastings finished fourth, just missing the individual 400m world team. She also finished fourth in the Rio 400m.

Hayes, Francis and Ellis join the 2015 World champion Felix on the U.S. team in the 400m in London. They’re looking to unseat Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas.

Olympic champion Michelle Carter was upset in the shot put, finishing third behind Raven Saunders and Dani Bunch. They’re all going to worlds.

Tianna Bartoletta edged Brittney Reese in a battle of Olympic long jump champions, 7.05 meters to 6.98 meters.

Olympic bronze medalist Sam Kendricks became the first American to clear six meters in the pole vault since 2008.

MORE: Gatlin gets one more shot at Bolt after surprise U.S. 100m title

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