Five days after celebrating her 28th birthday, Jenny Simpson celebrated two victories at the Zürich Diamond League finale. The first was her dramatic win in the 1500, where she first outlasted Sifan Hassan and then hung on against what looked like decisive final sprint on the rail from Shannon Rowbury. Had the race been decided by who had the form and the pace at the end, it would have gone to Rowbury; but races are decided by who reaches the line first, and Simpson’s lean and sprawl brought her torso through the line a mere hundredth of a second ahead.
I’ve seen the word “desperate” thrown around to describe both Rowbury’s stretch run and Simpson’s dive to the track, but in neither case does the word seem apt. Rowbury’s strong finish showed good tactics, I think, and gave her the best chance to win even though her positioning meant she had very little running room on the inside of lane 1 during the final 50 meters. Similarly, Simpson’s lean and subsequent fall were evidence of total commitment, but not desperation. There’s a picture that accompanies the race report on the IAAF web site that shows her in mid-fall, and her expression is remarkably composed.
The other victory was, of course, the Diamond League title itself, which Simpson won over the early favorites Hassan and Abeba Aregawi. Simpson earned the title by being very good and incredibly consistent. It’s not easy to hold a peak for more than 6-8 weeks (see Aregawi, above, who was a non-factor here and in recent weeks). Simpson, on the other hand, has been running 4:00 or better for four months, including a personal best 3:57.22, the second fastest time ever recorded by an American.
Simpson has been very good for a long time now. She set the American record in the steeple five summers ago, and won her World Championship title three years ago. At 28, she’s running better than ever, and has managed to stay on top of a very deep American middle distance contingent that includes Rowbury, Treniere Moser, Brenda Martinez, Morgan Uceny, and of course, Mary Cain.
Furthermore, Simpson has done it this season by being unafraid to push the pace early in races and make long moves to the finish. She doesn’t have the most explosive kick (it’s good, but not the best), but she has shown great speed endurance, as she did again in Zürich.
It turned out that with Hassan finishing fourth, Simpson could have lost the race to Rowbury and still won the Diamond League title. In the end, the lean, the fall, the face-plant weren’t required to capture the series prize. But not going after the win 100% wouldn’t have been in character for Simpson, or Rowbury for that matter.
Lean in, indeed.