Jenny Simpson adapts to emerging 1500m stars in U.S., abroad

Getty Images
0 Comments

When asked the state of the women’s 1500m, one of the strongest events in track and field, Jenny Simpson thought of her days as a steeplechaser in 2009.

Simpson, after her last NCAA season at Colorado, remembered what happened after she placed fifth in the 3000m steeple at the world championships in Berlin, breaking her American record (gold medalist Marta Domínguez of Spain was later DQed for doping).

“I rushed home after the steeplechase at the world championships to be at my college cross-country camp, and I remember, we had three Americans that made the [1500m] final,” Simpson said last month. “I’m at home in Boulder, Colorado, watching the 1500m final, and just to have three Americans make the final was unprecedented [for a worlds or Olympics]. It was amazing.”

Simpson won the next world title in the 1500m two years later.

“Now, the depth of American distance running has grown and grown and grown,” she said. “But what’s happening in the United States seems to also be happening on the world stage. Every single year, it’s like another really incredible talent is added to this pool, and nobody drops off.”

At this time in the last Olympic cycle, Simpson was coming off a Diamond League season title, essentially crowning her the best 1500m runner of 2014. She clocked a personal-best 3:57.22, moving one tenth shy of Mary Slaney‘s American record from 1983.

The following three years weren’t so much about fast times as about global medals. Simpson missed out in 2015, finishing 11th with a bare foot at worlds. She rebounded with the first U.S. Olympic women’s 1500m medal — a bronze — in Rio and a silver at the 2017 Worlds.

While Simpson set personal bests this year in the mile, 3000m and two mile, she lacked a signature 1500m. Her four-year streak of national titles was snapped by the breakout Shelby Houlihan. She was 10th at the biggest international race of the season, the Diamond League final in Brussels.

“Ran really consistent and ran really well,” she said. “Had a 3:59 race, a four-minute race. I ran really solid in the longer distances earlier this season, but I didn’t have that real breakout moment that I had in seasons in the past. I didn’t have a 3:57. I didn’t have a medal. I didn’t win a Diamond League final.”

Simpson still believes she can challenge Slaney’s American records. Her mile PB from July moved her within .59 of Slaney’s mark at that distance. She feels she must be in that kind of shape to challenge internationally anyway with the likes of Olympic and world champion Faith Kipyegon of Kenya, world-record holder Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia, Diamond League champion Laura Muir of Great Britain, Caster Semenya of South Africa and Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan.

“That’s six people that can win gold, and there’s only three medals,” Simpson said, including herself. “I don’t know that there’s a time in history where the 1500m has been this deep for women.”

And now there’s a challenge domestically. Houlihan was the revelation of female distance running this season. Eleventh at the Olympics and 13th at the 2017 Worlds in the 5000m, this year she won two Diamond League 1500m races, plus swept the 1500m and 5000m at the U.S. Championships and broke the American 5000m record.

Houlihan dropped her 1500m PB from 4:03.39 to 3:57.34, faster than any of Simpson’s times from the last three years. She beat Simpson in all three of their head-to-heads this year after being winless in seven previous matchups.

“Shelby is someone I can’t given an explanation to,” Simpson said. “She was someone that was consistently good, but not this good. It’s hard to articulate exactly what the difference is between being a 4:03 to 4:06 runner to kicking with the best in the world in a 3:57, 3:58 race. The type of work to get there took me years, so for her to figure that out in one fall is just really incredible. That’s one thing. In addition to that, what she did in the 5K in Houston [American record] is also unbelievable. I certainly can’t explain it or figure out, so I’m just going to have to race it.”

At Tokyo 2020, Simpson can become the second-oldest American woman to earn an individual Olympic track and field medal (Jackie Joyner-Kersee, 1996 long jump). She hasn’t mapped anything beyond that, except that she wants to be at the 2021 Worlds in Eugene, Ore., preferably having made the U.S. team. Simpson has said she’s going to retire “with no talent left.”

“Every time I accomplish something,” Simpson said, “I think history will look back on this and my accomplishments will be in the context of what I think is one of the most competitive eras of middle-distance running.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Joan Benoit Samuelson finishes Chicago Marathon, 34 years after Olympic gold

Noah, Josephus Lyles have unfinished business after record-breaking sprint season

Noah Lyles, Josephus Lyles
Getty
0 Comments

CHARLOTTE — Brothers Noah and Josephus Lyles each hit a milestone in the 200m this past summer. Each has a clear next step in mind.

Noah, the elder at age 25, is (in a change) now talking openly about wanting to break Usain Bolt‘s world record of 19.19 seconds. He will do it if he improves his personal best by a similar amount of time as he did in 2022.

At the world championships in July, Noah prevailed in 19.31 seconds, a personal best by 19 hundredths and an American record. He is now the third-fastest man in history. Bolt’s world record is 12 hundredths of a second away. Eye blinks can be quicker, but it is still a significant gap. Since worlds, Noah repeated a desire to break Bolt’s record.

Noah, speaking before an event for the brothers’ foundation last week, was asked if he had any hesitation about voicing that ambition given there will be doubters. He ruminated.

“There’s like 150 different ways I can go about [answering] this. I’m trying to figure out which one I want to do,” he said. “It kind of really all boils down to: I don’t care what other people think.”

Recall a back-and-forth between Noah and the retired Bolt in 2019. That summer, Noah ran 19.65 at a Diamond League meet in Paris — breaking Bolt’s meet record. In Noah’s Instagram story that day, an image showed him making a shushing motion with the caption, “Bolt who?” That drew a reaction from Bolt. Noah was asked often that summer about Bolt’s world record. Rather than take aim at 19.19, Noah said coyly that he had special things planned.

Noah did not run 19.65 or faster for another two years, until after taking bronze at the Tokyo Olympics. But his 2022 was arguably the deepest 200m season in history. Noah went faster than 19.65 on six occasions. Bolt is the only other man to break 19.65 more than three times over a career, and he never did it more than three times in one year (In his prime, Bolt did not race the 200m as often as Noah did this year).

In summary: Noah is back and better than ever, boosted by a more efficient start out of the blocks and improved mental health, having worked with therapist Diana McNab. Bolt was 23 when he ran 19.19. Michael Johnson was 28 when he ran his personal best of 19.32. Noah turns 26 on July 18, one month before next summer’s world championships in Budapest.

“When you enter a sport, why shouldn’t your dream be to achieve the best that is ever possible?” Noah said. “To anybody who says to themselves, ‘A record is not going to be broken,’ look at all the previous world records. All broken. And even when I get this record, it’s going to be broken. And that’s OK.”

In addition to chasing Bolt in the 200m, Noah plans to reintroduce the 100m into his major event program. He has a bye into the world championships in the 200m, so expect him to run the 100m at next summer’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, where three world spots are at stake.

Noah previously planned to double in the 100m and 200m for the Tokyo Olympics but did not find his rhythm before the Olympic Trials, where he placed seventh in the 100m, one week before making his first Olympic team in the 200m. Only one man has won both the 100m and the 200m at a global championship in the last 15 years: Bolt in 2008, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016.

“We were planning on going after [the double] this year, but just a few complications,” Noah said. “Mostly, [needing to work on] my start was making that very difficult. We decided to focus mainly on the 200m, and I’m glad we did because we were able to accomplish two things — winning the world championship in the 200m again, and then actually getting a better start. So now that I’ve secured both of those things, I now feel I have the freedom to go and try and bring the same success to the 100m.”

Josephus, the younger brother by 369 days, had a breakout 2022 of his own. He went under 20 seconds in the 200m for the first time and, had he not been running into a headwind, would have broken 10 seconds in the 100m for the first time.

Josephus also made his first world championships team, albeit in unusual circumstances. He was fifth in the 200m final at nationals, where the top four earned spots at worlds. Josephus, who had a two-day bout with COVID a week before nationals, left the Hayward Field track believing that he missed the team by six hundredths of a second.

Then he got a call from Noah, who saw Josephus’ name on a board at team processing and told his younger brother to hurry over to get fitted for national team clothes. Turns out, Josephus was named to the 4x100m relay pool, unexpectedly given he didn’t run the 100m at nationals. Micah Williams, who was fourth in the 100m at nationals, was not named to the team (no reason was given).

At worlds, the U.S. ran the same four men in 4x100m qualifying and the final, meaning that Josephus and Kyree King, another relay pool-only runner, didn’t get to race. Josephus left bittersweet.

“All I know is I’m not going to be in the relay pool again [without qualifying in an individual event],” he said. “I’m going to make the team [individually] so I don’t have to worry about that.”

Josephus and Noah traded stories about their seasons after taking an eight-hour road trip from Central Florida to Charlotte, where they lived for five years growing up. They sat for an interview on bleachers inside the Sugaw Creek Recreation Center, where they planned to show off their medals, give away signed spikes and meet and greet more than 200 people, including a question-and-answer session with kids.

The foundation, launched in late 2020, supports children who want to be involved in track and field.

“We’re still in the early stages,” Noah said.

Next: the brothers go back to their native D.C. area, where they will be inducted into their high school district’s athletics hall of fame next week. Later in October is what Noah calls an “End of Season Bash” in Bermuda. There is plenty to celebrate, and plenty to look forward to.

Before rising from the bleachers, the brothers were asked what will make 2023 a success on the track.

“If I go out there and I have fun, everything else will fall into place,” Josephus said.

Noah joked that Josephus stole his answer.

“I got a lot of success this year, but I can’t let that overrun everything,” Noah said. “I want to make sure that I use that energy to fuel doing even more into this [next] year. I know if I do that. the world is mine.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

U.S. women win record 27th consecutive FIBA World Cup game

USA Basketball
Getty
0 Comments

SYDNEY — There’s been a long legacy of success for the U.S. women’s basketball team at the World Cup.

The names change over time, but the results don’t seem to.

Kelsey Plum scored 20 points, Chelsea Gray added 16 and the United States routed Bosnia and Herzegovina 121-59 on Tuesday to break the team record for consecutive wins at the World Cup.

The victory was the 27th in a row in World Cup play for the Americans, who haven’t lost since the 2006 semifinals against Russia. The U.S. won 26 in a row from 1994-2006 leading up to that game. The Soviet Union holds the World Cup record with 56 straight wins from 1959-86.

“It’s kind of amazing,” said Breanna Stewart, who has been part of the last three World Cup teams. “Obviously, been here for some of it, but you understand the legends before that who really kind of started the streak. It goes to show that no matter who is playing on USA Basketball, we’re always trying to chase excellence.

“This streak doesn’t mean much right now because we’re going into the quarterfinals and focusing on winning a gold medal, but it’s something to kind of hang your hat on later.”

What started with Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Sylvia Fowles has now been passed on to Stewart and A’ja Wilson. A legacy of excellence that doesn’t appear it will end anytime soon.

“The players change and, you know, there was a lot of concern about who’s next,” U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve said. “It was a concern when Dawn Staley and Lisa Leslie were playing and who was going to be next. Then it was Sue and (Taurasi) and then other great players, too. Now with this group they are saying, hey, we’re pretty good, too.”

MORE: FIBA World Cup Schedule, Results

The U.S. last lost a group play game in 1975, according to Bill Mallon of Olympedia.org.

“We know the responsibility when you put on this jersey. There’s a lot more than yourself,” Plum said. “Everyone puts pride to the side. We have a common goal. We have some amazing players on this team.”

The Americans (5-0) won their pool games by an average of 46.2 points and never trailed in any of them. Now they play Serbia in the quarterfinals.

The U.S. was coming off a record rout of South Korea in which the team broke the World Cup record for points with 145. While the Americans didn’t match that number, they put the game out of reach in the first 10 minutes, going up 33-15.

The lead ballooned to 63-31 at halftime. Bosnia and Herzegovina put together a small run to start the third quarter, but the U.S. scored the final 19 points of the period.

Once again they used a dominant inside performance, outscoring Bosnia and Herzegovina 84-28 in the paint led by Wilson, Stewart and Brionna Jones.

“It’s a huge part of our identity,” Reeve said. “Ninety-whatever we had yesterday and 84 today, we just know what we’re good at and we have players that are really understanding their opportunities for that.”

The U.S. was missing Jewell Loyd, whom the team said was resting. Kahleah Copper started in her place and finished with 11 points.

Nikolina Elez scored 19 points to lead the Bosniaks (0-5), who were playing in their first World Cup.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!