Women’s 1500: Jenny Simpson Goes For Repeat Gold But Faces A Formidable Opponent in Abebe Aregawi

Aregawi, The Favorite For Gold, Probably Should Be The Reigning Olympic Champ; She Soon May Be The Fastest Clean Woman In History

by LetsRun.com
August 5, 2013

The women’s 1,500 at the IAAF World Outdoor Track and Field Championships two years ago in Daegu was one to remember for American fans, as Jenny Simpson stunned everyone by becoming the first US world champion in the 1,500 since the inaugural World Championships back in 1983, when Mary Slaney, who later in her career was banned for a doping violation, won the world title.

Let there be no doubt about it. Simpson is significantly better at 1,500 right now than she was in 2011 – way, WAY, better.

We know some people find that hard to believe, particularly when we argued that point after Simpson finished third in Rome in June, but the stats don’t lie.

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Jenny Simpson had plenty of reasons to smile in 2011.

Below we compare what Simpson closed in to win her world title in 2011 and what she closed in to win her first Diamond League victory in Monaco on July 19th.

Jenny Simpson’s Golden Close In 2011
Final 300/Final 200/Overall Time

45.9/ 30.9 / 4:05.40 off of a 2:13.94 opening 800 for the leader

Jenny Simpson’s Close In Monaco:
Final 300/Final 200/Overall Time
44.1/ 29.1/ 4:00.48 off of a 2:12.17 opening 800 for the leader

It’s not even close. The Simpson of 2013 would drill the Simpson of 2011.

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So she cruises to victory, right?

Far from it. The competition in 2011 is also way, WAY better than it was in 2013, primarily in the name of Abebe Aregawi, the Ethiopian-born Swede.

If Simpson wins this year over Aregawi, she certainly will have earned it.

How Did Simpson Win In 2011?

Not that an athlete ever needs to apologize for winning a world title, but Simpson benefited from a ton of breaks to win in 2011. Thanks probably in large part to better drug testing, 2011 was the first year since 1977 that a woman didn’t break 4:00.00 for the year. Yes, it was the slowest year since 1977.

So the competition was historically slow and then the top two entrants were total non-factors in the final. Remember, 2011 world #1 Morgan Uceny was tripped in the final. Uceny had already won a bunch of European 1,500s that year, including a 4:05 race in Birmingham in which she closed in 45.09. Had she not gone down, she wold have been your world champion had she been able to replicate what she did earlier in the year. Additionally, 2011 world #2 Maryam Jamal also was a non-factor, but through the fault of no one else but herself. Jamal just ran an awful race and was last.

The top two entrants both were non-factors and that was in a year when no one in the world broke 4:00.00. Someone had to win and, thankfully for US fans, it was Simpson.

Simpson Will Have To Really, Really Earn It This Year

Things are much different in 2013. Four women have already broken 4:00 and all four have broken 3:59.00. Aregawi leads the list at 3:56.60. Simpson is fifth at 4:00.58 and it’s our belief that the top five are the ones that are going to be battling it out for the medals.

The 5 Fastest Women’s 1,500 Runners In 2013
1. Abebe Aregawi SWE – 3:56.60
2. Faith Kipyegon – KEN – 3:56.98
3. Genzebe Dibaba – ETH – 3:57.54
4. Hellen Obiri – KEN – 3:58.58
5. Jenny Simpson – USA – 4:00.48

Domination is normal for Aregawi, shown here in Lausanne earlier this year.

A few comments about each of them.

1) Abebe Aregawi – There is little to not like about this woman who turned 23 on July 5th. She’s undefeated on the year and has won DL meets in Doha, NY, Rome, Birmingham, and Lausanne. Take a look at the all-time 1,500 list here. It’s full of drugged up Eastern European and Chinese women. Might Aregawi be the fastest clean woman in history? We think it’s very possible that will be the case soon as she’s just .36 behind Maryam Jamal on the all-time list.

If you are looking for a chink in Aregawi’s armor, we imagine you’ll say, “But she ran super fast last year – faster than this season – and was only 5th in the Olympics.”

Yes, that’s true.

If we assume the top two finishers in London were dopers, which is far from an irrational assumption, then she was really third – just .29 away from gold. And take a minute to look at the last lap replay right here, watch that and tell us she wasn’t the best person besides the potentially doped top two. You can’t.

At the start of the last lap, Aregawi was in an awful spot – way in the back. Then to make matters worse, she nearly went down and lost a lot of momentum when Uceny went down. She recovered from that and tried to run down a doper on the backstretch after going about four wide. Her move on the backstretch was way too fast, too soon (it’s hard to try and run down a doper), so she tied up in the last 30 meters and went from second to fifth.

We’re not certain she would have won had the Turks not been in that race but we think it’s most likely she’d be your reigning Olympic champion as she likely wouldn’t have tied up as much.

Aregawi also has learned from her panicked move on the backstretch last year. In her last few European races, she’s been content to run with the pack and just wait until the last 200 to make her move. She’s realized they don’t hand out the medals with 250 to go.

Fans of Simpson can hope Aregawi hasn’t been running fast as she’s lost fitness, but we highly doubt it. We’ll find out next week, but we think she’ll be your champion.

2) Faith Kipyegon – We’ll try to put Faith Kipyegon’s talent in perspective for our American viewers, who are normally a bit biased towards Americans.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words:

Mary Cain en route to the US jr record and yet she barely is in the same picture as Faith Kipyegon Mary Cain en route to the US jr record and yet she barely is in the same picture as Faith Kipyegon.

After winning World Juniors last year, Kipyegon started 2013 even more impressively as the 19-year-old set a 3:56.98 national record in Doha on May 10th. But May 10th is 3 months before Worlds – a long time to maintain your peak for anyone, let alone a 19-year-old.

And look at the slowing trend in her races this year:

Faith Kipyegon’s 4 1,500s In 2013
May 10 – 3:56.98
June 1 – 4:01.08
June 6 – 4:05.31
July 13 – 4:07.00

That slowing trend has us a little bit nervous about her prospects.

At the Kenyan Trials, she lost to Hellen Obiri and Obiri was beaten by Simpson in Monaco.

3. Genzebe Dibaba – The 22-year-old younger sister of Tirunesh Dibaba has run 3:57 each of the last two years, including this year when she did it in Doha on May 10th. She hasn’t raced a 1,500 since June 6th or at all since a 14:37 5,000 on June 13th. Is she injured like she was last year when she bombed out of the heats in London or has she just been training to be at her peak? We’ll find out at Worlds.

4. Hellen Obiri – KEN – 3:58.58 – 6 days after winning the Kenyan Champs for the second straight year, the 2013 Prefontaine 1,500 winner found herself in Monaco racing Simpson and Simpson came out on top. Simpson as a result has to like her chances versus Obiri, who was 10th in 2011 and 12th last year.

5. Jenny Simpson – USA – 4:00.48 – As stated above, the reigning world champion is better than ever. Yes, she did lose to both Aregawi and Dibaba in Rome, but that was in June. Simpson was 2.07 seconds behind in Rome but she’s probably made at least half of that up since then as she closed in 45.2 in the 4:02 race in Rome but 44.1 in the 4:00 race in Monaco.

Quick Take #1: As Americans with ties to Cornell (where Morgan Uceny went), we’ll be the first to admit we didn’t enjoy Simpson’s win in 2011 nearly as much as we should have. It was so depressing to see Uceny fall that we were moping about that for about 30 seconds and barely realized Simpson was somehow going from seventh to first in the last 300 to steal the race. Simpson’s win was so, so shocking it took a while to comprehend.

This year is the total opposite. We’ve been eagerly waiting for the women’s 1,500 for months. The more we analyze Simpson, the more we like her chances. If Aregawi’s not on her game, Simpson could emerge as the repeat world champion and that’s saying an AWFUL lot, as Aregawi might soon be the greatest potentially clean women’s 1,500 runner in history.

QT #2: You can read our men’s preview here. Aregawi for us is the female version of Asbel Kiprop in the sense that she’s nearly impossible to beat if she’s on her game. The difference is on the men’s side, Silas Kiplagat is there as well and he is almost Kiprop’s equal. Based on her 3:59.90 personal best, Simpson has to be considered a small step below Aregawi and not quite her equal.

We feel that Aregawi isn’t going to be beaten by Simpson if Aregawi is in the same form she was earlier in the year. If Aregawi is able to close a 4:00.33 race in 43 again, then she’s your champion. But Aregawi, like Kiprop, got the tactics all wrong last year (don’t be in the back at the bell in a totally slow race) and could do so again this year.

Mary Cain pre-race Mary Cain got over her stage fright in London.

QT #3: What about the other Americans, you say? Well, making the final for high schooler Mary Cain, US champion Treniere Moser or Florida’s Cory McGee would be a nice accomplishment. Moser is ranked 8th based on seed times but has been running awfully of late. As a result, we think the US’s best shot comes with Cain, who closed really well in London. She’s got amazing speed, so if she’s in the final it will be a ton of fun to watch if it’s slow and tactical. Cain has risen to the challenge all year long and we think she’ll do it again and be in the final.

The London race was good for Cain as it was a packed Olympic stadium, so she shouldn’t be intimidated by the huge Moscow crowds. If Cain makes the final who knows what she can do. We said we’d quit being surprised by anything Mary does this year so that includes if she makes the final and works her magic.

QT #4: Up top when we compared Simpson’s close at Worlds in 2011 and her close in Monaco in 2013, we were going to tell you watch it for yourself (2011 here, 2013 here), but the commentating on the video of her 2011 win is cringe-worthy. We guess you can do it, but please mute it. The announcers didn’t realize who Simpson was. When an American wins gold, US fans need to have it properly announced. (Maybe the announcing contributed to us not fully appreciating the victory at the time).

If you want to watch some good 1,500 race commentating at a Worlds, watch this video from 1999 with Steve Cram commentating. Brilliant.

QT #5: Dopers even when they get caught ruin the sport. If the Turks are DQd from last year’s Olympics, Maryam Jamal will be given the gold medal, but rerun the final lap in London without the Turks in it and Aregawi likely would have been atop the podium.

We think she’ll get the win this time, which might be fine just as well. Winning a gold for Ethiopia last year and Sweden this year would be a bit much for our patriotic tastes.

Our patriotic interests would love to see Jenny Simpson atop the medal stand again.

LRC Prediction: Aregawi 1, Simpson 2. Cain in the final.

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