Q&A with DL Champion Jenny Simpson after Her Win in Zürich: “I pulled off what seemed at times was impossible odds”

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“I pulled off what seemed at times was impossible odds: I had managed to win both the final DL races which was required if I wanted any hope at the overall DL title.”

By LetsRun.com
August 31, 2014

On Thursday, Jenny Simpson became just the second American mid-d/distance runner to win a Diamond League title after narrowly edging fellow American Shannon Rowbury to win the 1500 in Zürich by .01 seconds. Over the weekend, LetsRun.com caught up with Simpson over email. We asked Simpson about the contact at the finish line with Rowbury, why she’s been so successful on the circuit this year and why she thinks American women are running well in the middle distances this year.

Simpson took a victory lap in Zurich after clinching the DL title. (Photo by Jason Simpson)

Simpson took a victory lap in Zurich after clinching the DL title. (Photo by Jason Simpson)

LetsRun.com: Universal Sports announcer Tim Hutchings said you had asked for a quick pace coming in. Was your focus on the American record or winning the race?

Jenny Simpson: The focus was on winning the race with the hope that possibly it could be a record-setting night. It’s not easy to balance more than one objective in such a big race when the stakes are so high. So looking back I’m not as surprised that I was never really on pace for the record. But, I wanted to keep it in reach in case I felt great and could make a go at it. I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to make another really big attempt this year at 3:57.0 but overall winning the Diamond League was the most important focus going into the race in Zürich.

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LRC: On a related note, what was your strategy coming in? It looked like you wanted to control the race from the front like you did to win USAs.

JS: It is less about controlling the race and more about just making sure it’s a quick pace. I knew I was in good enough shape to press the whole way and since these races have pacers, I’m not out there all alone for the entire 1500m race. I thought my strength going into the race was my fitness and so similar to how I felt at USAs, I just thought I left less to chance if I went out and ran to my ability level.

LRC: It was a tight finish between you and Shannon Rowbury. Can you walk us through what happened over the final meters? Did you know she was coming up on your inside? Were you worried about a potential DQ (it looks like you were on the outside of lane one at one point on the homestretch and then nearer the middle at the end)? Were any protests filed?

JS: The last 80 meters or so I knew that [Sifan] Hassan was making a serious charge on the outside and I knew had to beat her in order to win the DL title. All I was thinking about along the homestretch was running as strong and hard as I could to ensure I clinched that title. I didn’t hear or feel Shannon coming on the inside. I began to fall just a step or so before the finish line due to contact with her. I’m fortunate that I fell forward and that the contact didn’t happen a moment sooner. It never occurred to me to be concerned about a DQ for myself because I ran in lane one and was leading the entire way. I’m not aware that any protest was filed.

Simpson led this one the rabbits dropped out

Simpson led in Zurich once the rabbits dropped out. (Photo by Jason Simpson)

LRC: What were you thinking once you crossed the line? Did you not realize you won the race (and the Diamond Race) until the guy  handed you the flowers (Editor’s note: We realize now it actually was a woman who handed her the flowers)? What were your thoughts once you realized you’d won? (We think we heard you say, “Oh my god, I won?”)

JS: I wasn’t sure who won to be honest and I wasn’t immediately as concerned. As soon as I finished I looked at my calf where I had unfortunately spiked myself when I fell. The gash was pretty upsetting and combined with being so tired from the race I think I was in a little bit of shock. When I saw them coming at me with the flowers it was like it snapped me back into the moment. I was thrilled to have won and it was in that moment that I realized I pulled off what seemed at times was impossible odds: I had managed to win both the final DL races which was required if I wanted any hope at the overall DL title.

LRC: The last few years, you’ve struggled to run fast times in Diamond League races, but you’ve now gone sub-4:00 three times in 2014 and won two races. Why have you been so successful in DL races this year? Have you changed anything in your training?

JS: My coaches have made some very smart adjustments to my training but mostly I think it has been a shift in my mental approach. In championship years, it’s so important to be able to close super quickly and important to be on top of your tactical game. This year was really the first year since I was in college that I got to take a break from worrying about getting “outkicked” and I could risk racing way out on the edge. It wasn’t immediately super successful. I was 4th at Pre and second in Paris. Doing the leading and taking the race out fast isn’t always the best way to win but I had to do it if I wanted to run PRs. This was the perfect year to risk losing for a different reward.

LRC: You and Shannon went 1-2 on Thursday. With you two plus runners like Brenda Martinez, Mary Cain and Ajee Wilson, the U.S. has been one of the best countries in the world when it comes to women’s middle distance running the last two years. Why do you think Americans have had so much success recently?

Simpson was one of seven Americans to win DL titles in Zurich. (Photo by Jason Simpson)

Simpson was one of seven Americans to win DL titles in Zurich. (Photo by Jason Simpson)

JS: I’m not sure but I do think it has been a building momentum. The women racing that are my age were in high school watching Deena [Kastor] come into the stadium in Athens and win a medal in the Olympic Marathon. Then, we were just beginning to make USA teams when Kara [Goucher] and Shalane [Flanagan] won their medals in the 10k at the Worlds and Olympics. I’ll never forget in 2009 returning to XC camp in Colorado after my own World Champs steeple race in Berlin and watching the US advance three women to the 1500m final (Rowbury, who took bronze, Christin Wurth-Thomas and Anna Willard). That was unheard of at the time. Little by little I’ve had the pleasure of watching great women achieve in our sport at new levels and it has made me believe along the way that I can be just as good. I think an era in sports like we see in women’s middle distances today doesn’t happen by chance. We had great examples ahead of us.

LRC: Do you have any more races this season? Which ones?

JS: I’m preparing to race the 3000m in Brussels [on Friday] and then I finish at the 5th Avenue Mile in New York City [on September 13].

LRC: Have you given any thought to running U.S./World XC next year, given that the U.S. Champs are in Boulder?

JS: The 2014 season has had enough going on, I haven’t thought for a second about 2015! But the fact that there is a championship in Boulder is very special and it will be a part of our consideration for the following season.

More: LRC Race Recap:  LRC Jenny Simpson Does It – Wins Diamond League Final And Title By Diving Across The Finish Line 
*Full 2014 Weltklasse Zürich Coverage


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