SACRAMENTO, Calif. — University of Colorado alum and volunteer assistant coach Jenny Simpson gave her alma mater its second national title in as many days, as she pulled away from the field over the last two laps and easily claimed the crown in the 1,500-meter run here Sunday on the final day of the USA Track & Field National Championships.
A major story of the day came down to which athletes could overcome the hot conditions: the temperature reached the mid-90s, and despite 25 percent humidity and 10 mile per hour winds, the temperature on the track was estimated to be the equivalent in the neighborhood of 120 degrees.
But if the conditions bothered the former Jenny Barringer, it wasn’t evident as she barely looked winded after winning in 4:04.96. That was well ahead of runner-up Mary Cain, who finished in 4:06.34. Simpson led after all three splits (300-, 700- and 1100-meters), moving into the lead for good by the one-third point of the race. Despite the heat, Simpson’s time was less than four seconds off the meet record (4:01.01); another former Buff, Mary Decker-Slaney, owns the American best of 3.57.12 that she set way back in 1983.
Simpson’s best time in the 1,500 is 3:58.28, which she ran last month in Eugene in much cooler conditions, so it might only be a matter of time before Decker-Slaney surrenders the record. Sunday’s win was her eighth USATF title, her fourth in outdoor competition to go with steeplechase titles in 2007 and 2009 and the 5,000-meters in 2013.
“It was hot. All we’ve been doing for two days has been managing the heat and trying to keep everyone cool and calm,” CU head coach Mark Wetmore said. “I know I say this all the time, but she really ran a very businesslike race, what she needed to figure out to be able to win a national championship in this heat. It was not a day to try and run it in 3:56, but also not a day to run at a 4:10 pace. She wanted to keep it honest, stay out front and out of trouble and then put it away over the last 300-meters or so.”
It was a much better experience for Simpson this time around on this track; when she last competed here as a CU sophomore in the steeplechase in the 2007 NCAA Championships, she was clipped on a heel and finished seventh – an eventual three-time steeple champion, that likely cost her the rare shot at being a four-time national collegiate champion in one event.
"It felt really, really good,” Simpson said. “It is hard to run 4:05 in the heat and the wind. You have to be brave in a race. That is why you work hard in every race. This is special part of my consistency. You can feel pressure when people are close to you. You have to run all 1,500 meters and I knew I needed to run hard to win.”
And despite the broiling conditions, both competitors with CU ties ran faster Sunday in the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase final than they did in the prelims on Friday night.
Aric Van Halen, a 2013 CU graduate who raced unattached here, finished eighth in 8:42.86, nearly eight seconds quicker than his prelim time. CU assistant coach and ’08 grad Billy Nelson, who regularly trains with Van Halen, placed 12 in 8:52.05, over two seconds faster than what he was clocked in the prelims. Evan Jager, competing for the Bowerman Track Club, won in 8:18.83.
“I was happy with that – we came up with an honorable performance today,” Wetmore said. “Aric got eighth and he’s continuing to move himself up in the steeplechase. Billy had a mild injury a few weeks ago and it has affected him more than he thought. He’ll rest a while and regroup. “
In all, 10 with CU ties competed here this week, and overall the Buffs enjoyed a successful venture, capped by Emma Coburn winning her third women’s steeplechase title in the last four years on Saturday, Simpson’s win Sunday and a host of solid performances against many of the nation’s best athletes.