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

Danell Leyva makes incredible save on ‘American Ninja Warrior’

Danell Leyva
NBC
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Danell Leyva, a three-time Olympic gymnastics medalist, put those skills to the test in the “American Ninja Warrior” finals, saving himself from splashing out of the course.

In one obstacle, Leyva slipped and fell off one of four flexible boards positioned above water.

He faceplanted onto the last board, his lower body falling off. But Leyva held on with his arms and pulled himself back onto the apparatus and to the next obstacle.

The first Las Vegas Finals episode airs Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

Leyva previously splashed out of the “Leaps of Faith” obstacle in the Los Angeles City Finals episode that aired last month.

Leyva, a 27-year-old who took all-around bronze at the 2012 London Games, retired with parallel bars and high bar silvers in Rio.

Other Olympic gymnasts have tackled ANW, including gold medalists Nastia Liukin and Paul Hamm.

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VIDEO: U.S. gymnast catches high bar with one hand at nationals

Kim Rhode triumphs over theft on road to record-breaking Olympic bid

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Kim Rhode arrived at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, missing a few things.

The six-time Olympic shooting medalist had nearly all her equipment stolen prior to her trip earlier this month after her bag was nabbed from her father’s car.

“I lost everything but my vest and my gun,” Rhode said in Lima (noting with a smile she has seen worse: her gun was stolen a few years ago, though it was later returned). This time, “we’re all frantically trying to piece it back together, somewhat. … At the end of the day, you just have to kinda roll with it.”

It would take more than theft to rattle Rhode, who remains one of her sport’s top athletes 23 years after her first Olympic gold medal at the Atlanta Games.

The continental skeet title she won at Pan Ams (new equipment in tow) built upon a string of strong results since the last Olympics, including a world silver medal in 2018. Earlier this year, she became the first woman to win four straight World Cups in shooting.

At the Tokyo Olympics, Rhode could do something unprecedented: win seven medals in as many consecutive Olympics.

Rhode remembered a lot from her first trip to the Games as a 17-year-old carrying a pager. She described the volume of the crowd chanting “U-S-A” at the Opening Ceremony and the hum of the audience watching her compete, “almost like they were helping us to pull the trigger each and every time.” She recalled the athlete bowling alley, where both the balls and shoes were adorned with an Olympic flame symbol.

After winning gold in double trap, Rhode went back to high school life in El Monte, Calif. She couldn’t have known then that five more Olympics would follow. That one day, she’d have an Olympic medal from every continent in which the Games have been contested. That at 40, she’d still be at the top of her sport.

“I don’t think you ever get over the Olympics,” she said. “I don’t think you ever get used to it. It really takes on a life of its own.”

Rhode has been a constant in a sport that continues to evolve and change, and noted the technological advances that pushed it forward in the last several years: “you are seeing a lot more on the technical side of the stocks, more of these specialized grips,” she said, and “more people going with multiple lenses.”

Her competitors changed, too. Rhode described younger teammates showing her how to take a live photo and set up an Instagram account. “I’m kind of archaic in that sense,” she said with a laugh.

Her competitive spirit remains unchanged. While Tokyo would mark a milestone, Rhode has no plans of slowing down.

“I think I still have a few more in me,” she said, noting she’d like to compete in front of a home crowd again when the Olympics return to Los Angeles in 2028. “I definitely don’t see a need to stop. … Some of the shooters tend to be a lot older than most of the other Olympians because we have no shelf life. That’s the great thing about us.”

Rhode competed at the London Olympics not knowing she was pregnant with son Carter.

What followed was what she described as a difficult pregnancy and recovery. Her bones separated during the pregnancy, and she had her gall bladder removed after the birth.

The complications affected her ability to walk and complete endurance-related activities, which she continues to face. These days, Rhode said she still can’t run a mile, but in preparation for Tokyo, she is working with a physical therapist and nutritionist.

After Pan Ams, Rhode planned to add more strength training. “At the end of the day, I’m slowly but surely making small strides to get back to where I’m at,” she said.

Carter, now 6, speaks three languages and sometimes helps Rhode during practice, pulling for her before she shoots and collecting shells. He was on hand when Rhode earned a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics, but he isn’t overly impressed (yet) by his mom’s long list of accomplishments.

“I don’t think he grasps the whole picture of what it is that I’m doing,” she said. “I think that’ll come a little bit later.”

She stores Olympic mementos at her parents’ home, a collection of bags from each Games stuffed with clothing, pins and other paraphernalia, and vacuum-sealed.

“My family is running out of room with all the bags,” she said, noting she isn’t sure when she’ll open them up and go through what’s inside.

Maybe after she collects a few more.

“To have had that opportunity so many times is amazing,” she said of her Olympic career so far. “I feel very, very fortunate.”

MORE: Georgian shooter qualifies for 9th Olympics

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