Jenny Simpson

Jenny Simpson has long-standing record in sight after spectacular season

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NEW YORK — Jenny Simpson felt embarrassed as the London Olympic women’s 1500m final began.

That’s because Simpson, the surprise 2011 World champion in the event, wasn’t on the track at the Olympic Stadium. Two nights before, Simpson was eliminated by fading to last place in her semifinal — “a shameful performance,” she called it that night, reportedly while breaking into tears.

So, on the night of the final, she joined supporters at her sponsor New Balance’s hospitality house at the Games. They watched the race.

“To be there, surrounded by people that were hoping to be watching me race the final and were crossing their fingers for a medal in the final, and the fact that I was there with them in that room was a little bit embarrassing to me,” said Simpson, standing across from the Guggenheim Museum on Friday, one day before she defends her Fifth Avenue Mile title.

“When you sign up to be a professional athlete, you sign up for good days and bad days.”

The bad days have become less and less frequent since the Olympics.

Simpson, 28, rebounded to win the 2013 World Championships silver medal in the 1500m. This year, she whacked nearly three seconds off her personal best, won the final two Diamond League races of the season and the Diamond League season title.

The Coloradoan won’t get as much mainstream praise for her performances since this is the only year in the Olympic cycle without a major global championship. But she was arguably the best U.S. female track and field athlete this season.

The blueprints were conceived last fall, in goal-setting with her coaches, Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs, who guided her at the University of Colorado and she returned to after that disappointing 2012. A wise move.

“My goal, really, was incredibly straightforward,” Simpson said. “I wanted to PR. I wanted to run as fast as I ever had in the 1,500 meters. I wanted to set up my season so that I had as many opportunities to do that as possible.”

Simpson twice set a personal best. She finished fourth at the Prefontaine Classic on May 31 in 3:58.28, smashing her previous top time from the same meet in 2009 by 1.62 seconds.

Thirsty for more, Simpson clocked 3:57.22 at a Diamond League meet in Paris on July 5. She finished second in that race, but she also became the second-fastest American ever over the metric mile in doing so. Only Mary Slaney has run faster, by one tenth of a second.

From there, Simpson raced for victories in Stockholm (Aug. 21) and Zurich (Aug. 28) over fields that included the fastest women since London — Ethiopian-born Swede Abeba Aregawi, Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan and Hellen Obiri, who was born in and has always competed for Kenya.

“I put together a better season than I ever could have imagined,” said Simpson, who won the Zurich finale by .01 of a second over countrywoman Shannon Rowbury.

Simpson said she does not race motivated by what happened in 2012, but it’s hard not to draw back to Olympic years in track and field. Especially in her case, given a chance encounter at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore.

Simpson walked into a local sandwich shop with a coach a few days before the 1500m race that would determine if she made her second Olympic team. A short while later, another woman walked into the shop. It was Slaney, whom she had never met.

“[Slaney] came in, with a friend who realized that the only two American gold medalists in the 1500m were in the same room together,” said Simpson, referencing Slaney’s 1983 World title, as no U.S. woman has won Olympic 1500m gold.

The meeting was polite and short. “Like an acquaintance,” Simpson said of their only meeting to date. “We got our sandwiches and went on our way.”

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Next season, Simpson will chase Slaney’s time, the longest-standing American record in an Olympic men’s or women’s track event.

“The record is important to me at this point, mostly because it means that I’m still improving,” Simpson said. “I don’t know that I’m really ready to appreciate or understand that significance until I have a chance to do it.”

source:
Simpson (center) is looking to win her third Fifth Avenue Mile in four years. (NYRR)

Simpson is, of course, a different runner now than at Colorado, when she tacked Sara Slattery‘s school record in the 5000m on her freshman bulletin board but was converted into a 2008 Olympic steeplechaser.

She hasn’t yet pasted Slaney’s 1500m time in her Boulder home.

“Maybe because I’m not living in a dorm room anymore,” Simpson said, smiling.

She also feels different from the wide-eyed woman who captured the 2011 World Championship with the slowest gold-medal time ever, wrapping herself in the American flag and the meet mascot’s arms in euphoria.

“I’m so much more sure of myself when I step on the starting line,” she said. “I have absolutely progressed to a point where if [the pace] is fast, I can still be a factor, where back in 2010, 2011, that might not have necessarily been the case.”

If Simpson progresses, or even remains at this level, she will have a chance in 2016 to break a 44-year U.S. gold-medal drought in Olympic track events longer than 400m. No man or woman has won since Dave Wottle captured 800m gold while wearing a cap in Munich.

She might not be the only hope to snap the skid, with Olympic and World medalists Galen RuppLeo Manzano and Matthew Centrowitz (Centrowitz leads the men’s field in the Fifth Avenue Mile).

In Simpson’s event, the precocious talent is Mary Cain, who became the youngest woman ever to make the World Championships 1500m final at age 17 last year. Cain, too, is in the Fifth Avenue Mile on Saturday.

Cain, a college freshman, tells her friends who do not know much about track and field about how unusual Simpson’s dominance is in an event usually owned by Africans and Europeans.

“She finished, as an American woman, No. 1 in the world, she’s won the Diamond League,” said Cain, who owns a fuzzy yellow duck named “Puddles,” the same name of a stuffed duck given to a teenage Simpson as a consolation gift after her parents discovered and let free her pet duck, Noah, when she was in high school. (Simpson still has Puddles.) “That’s something that doesn’t happen.”

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At U.S. Open swim meet, teens make a splash with Olympic trials on horizon

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While Olympic and world champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Chase Kalisz notched expected victories at the U.S. Open on Thursday, a trio of teenagers lowered personal bests to further establish their Tokyo Olympic hopes.

At the top domestic meet of the winter, Alex WalshCarson Foster and Kieran Smith each earned runner-up finishes, but their performances stood out in the big picture: looking at June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event make the team.

Walsh, a rising Nashville high school senior, took 2.23 seconds off her 200m individual medley best. She clocked 2:09.01, overtaken by .17 by Melanie Margalis, the Rio Olympic and 2019 World Championships fourth-place finisher.

Full meet results are here.

Walsh moved from fifth-fastest in the U.S. this year to No. 2 behind Margalis, passing Olympic and world championships veterans Ella EastinKathleen Baker and Madisyn Cox. Of those swimmers, only Eastin was also in Thursday’s final.

Walsh joined her younger sister, Gretchen, in Olympic qualifying position based on 2019 times. Gretchen, 16, ranks fourth in the U.S. in the 100m free this year. The top six in that event at trials are in line to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool.

The Walshes could become the third set of sisters to make the same U.S. Olympic swim team, and the second to do it in pool swimming after Dana and Tara Kirk in 2004.

Foster, 18, continued his ascent Thursday in taking second to Kalisz in the men’s 200m IM. The world junior champion lowered his personal best in the prelims and the final, getting down to 1:57.59. Foster passed Ryan Lochte, who is nearly twice his age, in Thursday’s final and in the 2019 U.S. rankings. Only Kalisz and Michael Andrew have been faster among Americans this year.

Foster is trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut. Foster, who has been breaking Phelps national age-group records since he was 10, committed to the University of Texas in March 2018, two years before he graduates high school in Ohio.

Then there’s Kieran Smith, now a prime candidate to fill a huge void in the 400m freestyle. Zane Grothe is the only American ranked in the top 20 in the world this year.

Smith, a 19-year-old from the University of Florida, took 2.29 seconds off his lifetime best on Thursday to jump from outside the top 10 to No. 2 in the U.S. on the year. Smith was already ranked No. 2 in the country in the 200m free.

Two more runners-up in the 50m freestyles — Erika Brown to Manuel and Zach Apple to Brazilian Bruno Fratus — lowered personal bests to move to No. 3 in each U.S. ranking list this year.

The U.S. Open continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBCSN and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

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Nathan Chen distances Yuzuru Hanyu in Grand Prix Final short program

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A brilliant Nathan Chen outscored a flawed Yuzuru Hanyu for a fourth straight head-to-head program, taking a 12.95-point lead at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, on Thursday.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, tallied 110.38 points going into Saturday’s free skate. He landed a quadruple Lutz, triple Axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

It’s the highest short program score in the world this season, leading the American to say “wow” in the kiss-and-cry area. His coach, the often-gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, banged his knee against his pupil’s.

Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, hit a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel but then stepped out of a quad toe landing. He therefore failed to include a required jumping combination and ended up in second place.

“I wanted to do a great performance and do a good competition against [Chen], but that didn’t happen this time,” Hanyu, who was without longtime coach Brian Orser, or any other coach, said through a translator. Hanyu said Orser was busy last week, so he chose to use his lone accreditation on another coach who had travel delays.

Hanyu is not out of title contention. His world-leading free skate score this season is 16.61 points better than Chen’s best free skate from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, but this is just his second head-to-head with Hanyu in that span. Chen defeated Hanyu at March’s world championships, where the Japanese megastar was likely affected by an ankle injury.

After Thursday’s program, Chen repeated what he said before the competition: he still feels like he’s chasing Hanyu.

“Yuzu is like the goat, he’s the greatest of all time, really,” Chen said. “So, to have this opportunity to be able to share the ice with a guy like that, someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, someone that I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks when I was like a baby, it’s really cool to be able see him now. It’s really cool to even just be able to see him person.”

The Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside the world championships, continues Friday with the rhythm dance, women’s short and pairs’ free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Earlier in pairs, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took their first step toward a first Grand Prix Final title. The Olympic silver medalists tallied 77.50, leading Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by .85 going into Friday’s free skate.

Sui and Han were imperfect, with Sui putting her hand down on a throw triple flip landing. They are undefeated in this Beijing Olympic cycle and own the world’s top total score this season.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the six-team Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

Grand Prix Final
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 110.38
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 97.43
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 96.71
4. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.78
5. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 81.32
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 80.67

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 77.50
2. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.65
3. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 75.16
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 71.48
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 69.67
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 67.08

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