2015 NBIGP Press Conference: Jenny Simpson, Bernard Lagat, Matthew Centrowitz and More Speak Before Tomorrow’s Races

By Jonathan Gault
February 6, 2015

BOSTON — Seven American pros gathered at the Lenox Hotel Friday morning ahead of tomorrow’s 20th annual New Balance Indoor Grand Prix. Though there are several big names in the sprints and field events — Jamaica’s former 100-meter world record holder Asafa Powell, Olympic pole vault champ Jenn Suhr, former world shot put champion Christian Cantwell — the best fields are in the distance events, a fact meet organizers were clearly aware of since all seven featured athletes were mid-d/distance runners.

The athletes spoke in three waves: New Balance pros Brenda Martinez (running the distance medley relay), Jenny Simpson (2-mile) and Emma Coburn (2000) appeared first; Bernard Lagat (3000) then got his own billing; and then Matthew CentrowitzPat Casey and Cax Loxsom (all running the 1000) showed up. Record talk was the theme of the day, whether it was a record that was recently broken (Centrowitz and Casey’s DMR WR; Loxsom’s 600 AR), could be broken tomorrow (everyone except Coburn will be shooting for a record of some kind tomorrow) or wasn’t officially broken at all (Coburn’s steeplechase in Glasgow last summer).

New Balance's leading ladies, Brenda Martinez, Jenny Simpson and Emma Coburn. New Balance’s leading ladies, Brenda Martinez, Jenny Simpson and Emma Coburn.

Check out our meet preview or our 2015 NBIGP Special Section for everything you need to know ahead of tomorrow’s races. Below, six takeaways from today’s press conference.

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1) Emma Coburn is ready to put the Glasgow debacle behind her and focus on 2015

This race is Coburn’s 2015 opener and was the first opportunity for many members of the media to speak to Coburn for the first time since news broke late last year that her 9:11.42 American record in the 3000 steeplechase last summer would not be ratified because she failed to take a drug test within 24 hours of the race. Once moderator Toni Reavis opened up the floor to journalists, the first question of the entire press conference was from RunBlogRun’s Larry Eder, who asked Coburn to comment on the situation. This was Coburn’s response:

“I’m here to race the 2k as fast as I possibly can. I understand it’s your job to ask me these questions and I hope you guys understand it’s my job to focus this week on the task at hand of running the 2000 meters as fast as I can. I am going to respectfully decline to comment on that. I said what I wanted to say on social media and I might open up more discussion in the coming weeks after this race, but I’m really just trying to focus on the race tomorrow and get excited for that.”

It’s clear that this is an uncomfortable situation for Coburn and has been for some time. After she ran 9:11.42 in July, I called Coburn and she was happy to speak from Glasgow shortly after the race. When I first heard that Coburn’s record wasn’t going to be ratified in December (kudos to messageboard poster “north atlantic” for being the first to point it out), I called and texted Coburn for a comment but never heard back.

As far as Saturday — which Coburn said will be her only indoor race this year — Coburn believes she is as good as shape, if not better, than she has ever been at this time. She said last year when she ran this race, she was tentative after coming off an injury in 2013 (it was her first race since June 2013) and that resulted in a middling 5:47.20 time, over six seconds behind winner Kim Conley. After a career year in 2014, Coburn said that she is aiming to be a lot more aggressive in tomorrow’s race.

Coburn added that she’d like to do more 1500s this year (she ran two in 2014), but because Worlds is her priority, if she is to do any they’ll either be early in the season or after Beijing.

2) 2015 is all about the World Championships for Jenny Simpson

Prior to 2014, Simpson had two World Championship medals but had broken 4:00 for 1500 just once in her career. With no Worlds to peak for, Simpson went out hard in several races with the sole aim of holding on for a fast time, an approach that paid off with three sub-4:00 clockings, including a 3:57.22 in Paris that ranks #2 in American history.

Worlds is back on the schedule this year, and since she’s the Diamond League champion, Simpson doesn’t even need to worry about a mini-peak at USAs since she has a bye to Beijing. While it was tough for Simpson to just miss out on Mary Decker‘s American record by just .10 seconds last year, the focus on 2015 is squarely on Worlds, not chasing times.

“I think you can’t prioritize both,” Simpson said. “Balancing that for next year will be interesting because I know I can run fast, I know I can lead a lot of the race, but there’s a lot more at stake because I want to retain that top-three position [at Worlds]”

Indeed, Simpson’s 1500 results throughout her career suggest that she benefits from a slower race. In her two fastest races last season, she was 2nd (3:57.22) and 4th (3:58.28). Her 4:05.40 winning time from 2011 Worlds was the slowest in the event’s history. Simpson, at 28, is in her prime and could well be in 3:57-flat shape this season. But we may have to wait until September 11 in Brussels — the only post-Worlds Diamond League event featuring a women’s 1500 — to see Simpson chase a really fast time.

I also wanted to know why Simpson, who was the runner-up at last year’s USA XC Championships, elected to run in Boston this weekend rather than at USA XC in her hometown of Boulder. She was second in last year’s champs, 22 seconds back of winner Amy Van Alstine. Here’s what she said about running xc last year but not this year:

“I wanted to run one of the years it was in Boulder because I believe in supporting when your hometown brings something important to town.

“Totally honestly, I love cross country and was great at it in college; in fact I would argue I was better at cross country than track. I was surprised — it was a little bit of an awakening, when you’re removed from it for five years — it was a bit of a shock for me how hard it was to get back into the swing of it. I think I was a little bit naive to think I didn’t need to do a lot of work on grass and on cross country courses. it translated into a challenge for me, which I think was an incredibly great, humbling experience for me going into the 2014 season.

“Facing the decision between cross country and indoor track in the 2015 season, I think where I am in my career it makes more sense to focus on the track, but that love for cross country is still there. I just know I’m going to have to do a lot of work to get back to a real championship-level fitness for that specific distance. Going from four minutes to thirty minutes also was a bit of a shock last year. There’s work to do there if I want to return to cross country.”

Simpson’s thoughts were echoed later by Bernard Lagat, who explained that he ran poorly in the cold and mud of Edinburgh on January 10 (he was 15th of 17) because it takes a lot of additional work for him to get ready for a cross country race compared to a track race.

Finally, Simpson said she feels that she is in great shape for this meet, which means that drug cheat Regina Jacobs‘ 9:23.38 2-mile American record may have only hours to live.

3) All three female athletes support the Boston 2024 bid

L to R: Brenda Martinez, Jenny Simpson, Emma Coburn. L to R: Brenda Martinez, Jenny Simpson, Emma Coburn.

Athletes always like racing on home soil, and it was no surprise that Martinez, Simpson and Coburn all voiced their support for Boston’s 2024 Olympic bid.

“There is a lot of tradition here…it would be really nice to have it back in the States,” Martinez said.

“I think it’s important for the United States to support the international competitions,” Simpson said. “At the World Championship and Olympic level, the U.S. hasn’t hosted anything during my career. It’s exciting for me to see the World Juniors in Eugene and to see the World Indoor Championships are coming to Portland and I’d love to see that trend build momentum and have more really big races here. I am afraid I might retire before I get a really big chance, so I’d love to see that happen.”

“There’s a lot of pride in this state and this town,” Coburn said. “Bringing it back home to the U.S. and specifically to Boston, is kind of quintessential American pride and I think it would be great for it to be back here so we could represent our country on U.S. soil.”

For the record, Simpson would be 37 or 38 (her birthday is August 23) in 2024, Martinez would be 36, Coburn 33.

4) Breaking news: Bernard Lagat is 40 years old

IMG_0692 Bernard Lagat on Friday

As you may have heard, Lagat turned 40 in December, which means that he will carry the “master” designation for the rest of his career, even though he’ll still be racing open runners. Lagat said that it’s all anyone has talked about with him this year and that meet director Mark Wetmore greeted him with “How you doing, old man?” before the press conference.

“I am 40 and I think at this stage in my career, I’m even more hungry than before,” Lagat said. “My agent and I and my coach were looking at the records and were thinking to ourselves, you know what, based on what I did last year in 2014, if I keep going hard, training hard, I think those records will be my target as I start the new year.”

Keep an eye on Lagat’s mile split in the 3000 tomorrow night. The meet has a masters mile at 4:30 p.m. (before the TV window) and it’s very possible his mile split in the 3k would be good enough to win that race outright.

Lagat added that of course he will be aiming to make the U.S. team for Worlds this year — he is the defending U.S. champion at 5000, after all — and that even though he thought last year in Sopot would be his final World Indoor Championships, he can’t pass up running on U.S. soil in Portland next year.

“I came to Albuquerque last year with all these kids because I told them, this is my last USA [indoor] nationals. After this, I’m done. Then I realized we have Portland right here at home. It’s a few hours from Tucson on a flight. I am going to come back and run indoor again next year. That means I have something to look forward to.”

He went on to say that if that indoor season goes well, there’s no reason for him not to come back that summer and try to make his fifth Olympic team.

One final note on Lagat: he said that he’s considering making his debut at 10,000 this spring, perhaps at an early-season meet (Stanford’s Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational on May 2 would seem ideal if he is to run one).

5) Lagat sees a lot of himself in Lawi Lalang

Lagat has enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship with the former Arizona star, who remains in Tucson under the tutelage of Lagat’s coach James Li. Their relationship has changed over the years as Lagat has aged and Lalang has gained more experience. Initially, Lagat would have to encourage Lalang to keep up in workouts, but now Lagat says that he’s the one struggling to keep up.

“Whenever we do tempo runs, four-mile tempo runs, he is finishing about 10 seconds ahead of me. I’m on my knees and he’s just like ‘Good job man.’ That never happened before.”

Lagat enjoys being able to mentor Lalang, while Lalang, in turn, keeps the old master young by pushing him in workouts.

I asked Lagat, a two-time world champion outdoors, whether he thought Lalang could be winning World or Olympic medals some day.

“Yes. And I say that because a long time ago, when he was a freshman or a sophomore in college and he was training with us, I could see where he was compared to where I used to be myself. And this guy is a great guy in terms of training. He has really good mental strength and that’s one thing I always look at in young athletes. Someone could be really good in training but when he’s confronted by a situation — this is a big race for you and you just shatter because of expectitions, stress, all the nervousness. And Lawi doesn’t have any of that.”

Lagat and Lalang will square off in the Wanamaker Mile at the Millrose Games next week.

6) Centro, Casey and Loxsom are all ready to run fast tomorrow

Loxsom said that feels he’s more aerobically fit than ever before after a stint at altitude in Albuquerque, while Casey, also coming off altitude, thinks he’s better this year overall. Casey admitted that he didn’t have the footspeed of Centrowitz or Loxsom, but that he’s looking to come through 800 below his PR (1:47.67 is his best) tomorrow and hold on for the final lap.

Centrowitz didn’t seem as focused on a time, noting that winning is his main goal.

“(The American record is) definitely in reach of being broken if the pacing is right,” Centrowitz said. “Obviously the competition is there. I think it’s in the back of our heads, but winning will probably come first as a priority.”

Centrowitz, a Maryland native and a Ravens fan, was also asked by a member of the Boston media whether, after his victory in Super Bowl XLIX, there is any doubt that Tom Brady is now the best quarterback ever.

“Unfortunately I was flying back from New York — well actually fortunately, so I didn’t have to watch the Super Bowl — but obviously Tom Brady was the better quarterback in that game,” Centrowitz said. “But [JoeFlacco‘s still better.”

Centrowitz has proved to be a master tactician in championship races, but in fast time-trial-type efforts, he has struggled with his positioning. He said that is something he’s always working on as a runner.

“Luckily with it being a 1000, it’s going to be a fast race,” Centrowitz said. “I could be in dead last and that could probably help me get out faster for the mile just being under-distance and a fast race. Positioning has always been something I’m continuing working on, establishing myself as a contender early on in the race. Tomorrow will be nothing less than me attacking this race and getting out with the leaders and the rabbits. In terms of working on it, I think I’ll always be working on it the rest of my career. It’s something that I can’t say I will have perfected until pretty much the end of my career.”

He also noted that he and coach Alberto Salazar are going to focus on developing his speed more this year. Some of his top competitors in the 1500 such as Asbel Kiprop (1:43.15 pb) and Ayanleh Souleiman (1:43.63) are world-class 800 runners while Centrowitz’s own PR in that event is 1:45.86, a relatively modest mark in comparison.

More: Discuss this meet in our running fan forum: MB: New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston -Official Tread AR attempt @1000m, Simpson AR Attempt, Cain, Coburn, Lagat…
*Check out our meet preview or our 2015 NBIGP Special Section

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