Women’s 1,500: Jenny Simpson Leads the Way; High Schoolers Mary Cain & Alexa Efraimson Will Clash

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By LetsRun.com
June 23, 2014

Women’s 1,500

Prelims: Friday, 10:03 p.m. ET

Final: Sunday, 5:39 p.m. ET

2011 World champ and 2013 World silver medalist Jenny Simpson headlines the women’s 1,500 field at the 2014 USATF Outdoor Championships in Sacramento. She’s run over six seconds faster than everyone else in 2014 (including a PR of 3:58.28 at the Pre Classic) and enters as the heavy favorite. Behind her, Morgan Uceny will look to keep moving toward her form of 2011 & 2012, while high school legends Mary Cain and Alexa Efraimson will square off for the first time outdoors. We break it all down for you below.

The full field.

NameAffiliationDOBPBSBComment
Jennifer SimpsonNew Balance8.23.863:58.283:58.282011 World champ and ’13 silver medalist will be heavily favored; 3rd in NY DL on June 14
Gabriele GrunewaldBrooks / Team USA Minnesota7.25.19864:01.484:10.12U.S. indoor 3k champ but just 13th in NY DL in 4:10
Morgan Ucenyadidas3.10.19854:00.064:04.872011 & 2012 champ rounding back into form: 4:04 in NY was her fastest time since July 2012
Brie Felnagleadidas12.9.19864:05.644:07.424:07 at Oxy but just 9:54 2 mile in last race at Pre
Alexa Efraimson2.20.19974:07.054:07.05HS junior ran 4:07 at NY DL to become #2 U.S. HSer of all time behind Cain
Heather KampfAsics / Team USA Minnesota1.19.19874:07.154:07.153rd at U.S. indoors; ran PR at Drake Relays in April
Katherine MackeyBROOKS Beasts TC11.12.19874:04.604:07.199th last year; 4th at Oxy
Kate GraceOiselle10.24.19884:07.354:07.35Has won all four of the individual events she’s finished in 2014
Heather WilsonNJ*NY TC6.13.19904:07.474:07.47Former UConn runner ran PR at Oxy on May 15
Lea WallaceNike12.19.19884:09.134:09.342:04 800 in LA on June 7 but other than that no races since April
Kerri Gallagher5.31.19894:09.644:14.338th in the non-DL 800 in NY DL on June 14
Nicole SchappertHoka One One / NYAC10.30.19864:06.874:09.8710th in 3k in NY DL in PR of 8:55
Amanda Eccleston4:09.884:09.88Has PR’d twice this spring after entering ’13 with 4:14 PR
Laura ThweattBoulder Track Club12.17.19884:10.554:10.55Breakthrough year: has come down from 4:21 & 15:36 to 4:10 & 15:04
Lauren Paquette6.27.19874:09.864:10.98Ran SB last time out in Indianapolis on June 15
Sarah BrownNew Balance10.15.19864:05.274:11.276th at USAs last year but made team after Treniere Moser withdrew
Stephanie CharnigoNJ*NY TC7.25.19884:10.914:11.33
Stephanie BrownArkansas3.4.19914:11.404:11.40
Angela BizzarriBROOKS Beasts TC2.15.19884:11.264:11.63
Melissa SalernoNew Balance11.22.19864:12.354:12.35
Rebecca Tracy2.20.19914:12.144:12.37
Cory McGeeFlorida5.29.19924:06.674:12.503rd at USAs last year; 2nd at NCAAs in ’14
Amanda MergaertOiselle9.4.19914:12.834:12.83
Mary CainNike5.3.19964:04.624:07.052-time defending U.S. indoor champ was 2nd last year, 10th at Worlds
Amanda WinslowOiselle / NJ*NY TC12.10.19904:10.794:12.33
Lauren JohnsonOregon TC Elite5.4.19874:11.224:14.43
Hillary Holt4.24.19924:11.624:13.13NAIA champ for the College of Idaho
Christina CazzolaU. of Wisconsin-Oshkosh4:14.204:14.2028-year-old won NCAA Division III titles at 800, 1500 and 5000 outdoors
Emily LipariVillanova11.19.19924:12.174:14.64Big kicker won NCAAs indoors + anchored Nova to 3 CoA victories at Penn Relays
Allison PeareKentucky11.19.19914:14.914:14.91

(Entries subject to change. Check the status of entries here.)

The big favorite

Jenny Simpson On Medal Stand in 2011

Simpson hasn’t been able to celebrate like this yet after the 1500 at USAs

Believe it or not, 2011 world champion Jenny Simpson has never won a U.S. 1500 title. That’s right: Simpson has won Worlds in the 1500 but not USAs. In fact, after her silver in Moscow last year, she now has two WC medals without a U.S. 1,500 title.

There’s more to the story, though. It’s well-known that Simpson began her career in the steeplechase, and she won two U.S. titles in that event in 2007 and 2009. And Simpson would have been a good bet to win the 1,500 last year, but since she had a bye to Worlds as the defending champ, she mixed it up at USAs and ran the 5,000, which she won. She’s only run the 1,500 at USAs twice: she was second in 2011 and third in 2012, with Morgan Uceny winning both times.

Uceny is not in the same form in 2014 as she was when she won those titles, while Simpson is in even better shape, running a PR of 3:58.28 at Pre on May 31, making her the third-fastest American of all time. She’s run faster than 4:04 in all four of her races outdoors; apart from Uceny (who ran 4:04.87 behind Simpson in New York on June 14), no other American woman in the field has broken 4:07 this season (Brenda Martinez 4:02.52 is in 800, Shannon Rowbury 4:03.36 in not at meet, and Treniere Moser 4:04.33 is not in the meet). Simpson is in great shape, and with a gold and silver at the last two World Championships, she’s got the racing chops. It would be a HUGE shock if she lost in Sacramento. The only way we could see it happening is if the heat gets to her (Weather.com is currently projecting a high of 99 degrees on Sunday, the day of the final), but heat is usually only an issue for the 5,000 or 10,000.

Morgan Uceny is a threat again

As we mentioned in the previous section, Uceny was great in 2011 and 2012, winning two U.S. titles and making the finals at Worlds and the Olympics, only to suffer a devastating fall in each race. 2013 didn’t go as well for Uceny, as she was just eighth at USAs and never ran faster than 4:08.49 (a time she bettered 17 times from 2011 to 2012). Recent results have been encouraging for Uceny, however. She ran 2:00.29 at the low-key New Balance Twilight Meet outside of Boston on May 31 and was seventh at the New York Diamond League meet, running 4:04.87, her fastest time since her victory in the Olympic Trials in 2012. Uceny would require a big jump to take down Simpson, but with no Shannon Rowbury or Brenda Martinez, Uceny has a great shot at second.

High school sensations

Mary Cain celebrates after her win at USATF Indoors in February

Mary Cain celebrates after her win at U.S. Indoors in February

After she finished 10th in the 1,500 at Worlds last year, the thought of Mary Cain losing to another high schooler was insane. Cain owned the nine fastest times ever by a high schooler, and her 4:04.62 PR was almost 10 seconds faster than the #2 girl on the list. Colorado’s Elise Cranny ran 4:10.95 on May 4 to move to #2 all-time, but she was still six seconds off Cain’s best. But then Washington’s Alexa Efraimson, only a junior, ran 4:07.05 at the NY DL meet on June 14. Now Efraimson is a very real threat to Cain, and the two will square off in the 1500 in Sacramento, with possible rematches at USATF Juniors and World Juniors (should Cain elect to run the 1,500).

By our count, this is the fourth time Cain and Efraimson have raced each other, but the first on the outdoor track. So far, Cain is undefeated: she beat Efraimson at Nike Cross Nationals in 2011 and 2012 and also came out tops at the Millrose Games in February, beating her in the mile, 4:27.73 to 4:32.15.

Cain hasn’t looked great so far outdoors (eighth in the National 800 at Pre in 2:02.31 and fourth in the 800 at the NY DL in 2:01.67), but some context is required: that 2:01.67 is still outstanding for a high schooler (#5 time ever) and it’s better than the 2:03.26 that Efraimson ran to win the Brooks PR Invitational in Seattle on Saturday (though Efraimson ran that time solo under windy conditions). Cain may not be in the form that saw her win U.S. indoors in February, but we doubt her coach Alberto Salazar would let her race her if she wasn’t in a position to succeed. Cain’s Nike Oregon Project teammates (and defending U.S. 1,500 champs) Matt Centrowitz and Treniere Moser won’t run in Sacramento and after switching Cain out of the DL 1500s in Eugene and New York, Salazar surely won’t hesitate to scratch Cain from the 1500 at USAs if he doesn’t think she’s ready. If Cain makes it to the start line, expect a strong performance.

A strong performance doesn’t guarantee victory over Efraimson, though. Efraimson’s 4:07.05 pb is within striking distance of Cain’s 4:04.62 pb, especially considering high schoolers tend to improve more rapidly than runners in their 20s, so another big breakthrough for Efraimson isn’t out of the question. Efraimson’s previous 1,500 best was 4:15.65 (converted from her mile at Millrose in February) and her race in New York was her first outing against pros since Millrose. If you recall, last spring Cain had a stretch of races where she kept getting better every time out. On April 26, she ran a PR of 4:10.77 at the Drake Relays. She followed that up with a 4:04.62 at Oxy on May 17 and a 1:59.51 at the Pre Classic on June 1. After a 15:45 5,000 at the Portland Track Festival, she got second in her next race at USAs on June 22. Efraimson is the same age as Cain was then and a similar stretch from her isn’t out of the question, especially considering the jump in competition she’ll be facing at USAs.

We’ll still give the big edge to Cain based on her track record, she was a world championship finalist after all last year, but the battle between the two high schoolers is a big story line to follow.

LetsRun.com Prediction: Simpson for the win and Cain over Efraimson. 

1. Simpson 2. Cain 3. Uceny