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

Jenny Simpson
0 Comments

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.”

Photos: Things Mutaz Barshim could jump over

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.”

Oscar Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide (verdict video)

Kelly Slater is trying to qualify for the Olympics at age 51

Kelly Slater
Getty
0 Comments

On Dec. 19, 2019, Kelly Slater missed qualifying for surfing’s Olympic debut in Tokyo by one spot. It came down to the 11th and final event of the season-long World Surf League Championship Tour in a tight battle with his Hawaiian neighbor John John Florence.

At age 47, it appeared that surfing’s Olympic inclusion came just a bit too late for the greatest surfer in history to take part.

Slater continued to enter the sport’s other premier contests.

He opened the 2021 season with a third-place finish at surfing’s crown jewel, the Pipeline Masters on the North Shore of Oahu. But Slater then missed half the season, citing injuries to both ankles and his right hip. It was a reminder that every athlete succumbs to age — even if few have successfully fended it off longer than Slater.

Yet there Slater was last Feb. 5, being carried out of the water, raising his arms in triumph after winning his eighth Pipeline Masters title, six days shy of his 50th birthday and 30 years after his first victory. It was his first title on tour in nearly six years.

That win — which Slater called the best of his record 56 on the Championship Tour — also meant something more. Maybe, just maybe, he has enough left in the tank to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Slater made just one more quarterfinal in his remaining seven events last season. Still, he finished the year ranked 15th in the world and, more importantly for Olympic prospects, third among Americans.

Everybody starts from zero points again as this season opened Wednesday with the first rounds of the Pipeline Masters. The top two Americans per gender in the season-ending standings in September are likely to qualify for the Paris Games. The U.S. could get a third men’s Olympic spot if it wins next year’s World Surfing Games team competition (Brazil may be favored). It’s unclear what will determine which surfer fills that potential spot.

If he could only have one, Slater would take a 2024 Olympic spot over another win at Pipeline.

He is trying to become the oldest U.S. Summer Olympic rookie competitor in a sport other than equestrian, sailing, shooting or art competitions(!) in the last 100 years, supplanting Martina Navratilova (who was 47 in 2004), according to Olympedia.org.

“This will be my one chance [at the Olympics],” Slater said Saturday while promoting the upcoming season of “Make or Break” that premieres Feb. 17 on Apple TV+. “The next [Olympics] I’ll be 55 years old. I’m not going to be on tour by then. I did say that at 40, though, when I was talking about being 50.”

Slater, speaking on Wednesday’s opening day Pipeline broadcast, said he messaged Tom Brady after the NFL star announced his retirement (for a second time) earlier in the day.

“I don’t think there would be a player in the league right now that wouldn’t say that Brady can still win a Super Bowl right now, so it’s a hard carrot to dangle in front of yourself and not go for it,” Slater said. “I can relate to that after so long, but I love to surf, and this is the outlet for it, still. I feel that candle kind of burning out for me. That’s been for a while, but I think I’m just going to surf until it’s totally done, and I don’t really care at all about surfing a heat and want to be somewhere else.”

Slater is pumped for the 2024 Olympic venue: Teahupo’o,  a daunting reef break nicknamed “The End of the Road.” It is in Tahiti, an island in French Polynesia that is about 9,800 miles from Paris. It will break the record for the farthest Olympic medal competition to be held outside the host city.

Slater won there five times on the Championship Tour, the last in 2016.

“It’s one of the truly great challenging waves in the world,” he said. “If I can get on that team, I feel like I have a good shot at potentially winning a medal or gold medal. If that were the case, I will drop the mic and quit right then, but, you know, I got a lot of work to do between now and then.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone appears in ‘This is SportsCenter’ commercial

0 Comments

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone appears in an ESPN “This is SportsCenter” commercial that was published Friday and debuts on the network on Saturday night, after she races for the first time this year at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix on NBC.

In the commercial, ESPN (and former NBC Sports) anchor Hannah Storm asks McLaughlin-Levrone if she has a minute to catch up.

McLaughlin-Levrone replies by saying she has 51.46 seconds right after lunch, 51.41 seconds later in the afternoon or 50.68 seconds right now. The numbers represent the last three times that McLaughlin-Levrone clocked when breaking the 400m hurdles world record.

McLaughlin-Levrone is scheduled to race the 60m at the New Balance meet in Boston, which airs on NBC, NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app and Peacock from 4-6 p.m. ET on Saturday.

The commercial first airs during the North Carolina-Duke men’s basketball game that starts at 6:30 on ESPN.

In the last two years, McLaughlin-Levrone lowered the 400m hurdles world record four times, winning the Tokyo Olympics and last July’s world championships in Eugene, Oregon. She brought the record down from countrywoman Dalilah Muhammad‘s 52.16 from 2019 to 50.68 at July’s worlds.

The 23-year-old said after last season that she wants to expand by adding the flat 400m to the 400m hurdles, but she has not yet publicly committed to racing it at the next major outdoor meet, the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in Eugene in July.

For the first time, McLaughlin-Levrone has a bye into the 400m hurdles at the world championships in August, meaning she does not have to race it at USATF Outdoors. That could make the flat 400m more appealing.

Past “This is SportsCenter” spots included Olympians Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt and Kerri Strug,

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!