EUGENE, Ore. – University of Colorado senior Jenny Barringer nearly pulled off the biggest upset in her career as she just about nipped Ethiopia’s Gelete Burka at the finish in the 1,500 at the Prefontaine Classic on Sunday.
Barringer lost by .01 seconds, the narrowest of margins, as she raced to a personal record of 3 minutes, 59.90 seconds. Burka, who barely held on at the end to win, broke the tape at 3:59.89.
The time is Barringer’s sixth NCAA record this season, shattering the previous record of 4:06.19, set by Hannah England (Florida State) on June 14, 2008. Barringer had gone for the record earlier this year on April 24, but she missed it by a couple of ticks when she clocked 4:08.38.
“We were hoping for the collegiate record (today) or just a few seconds faster,” assistant track and field coach Heather Burroughs said. “We (Burroughs and head coach Mark Wetmore) thought she could run 4:02 or 4:03. For the first time this year, she was chasing her competition. Most of this season she’s been putting out solo time trials so this was another level of competition for Jenny that we haven’t be able to see yet this season.”
Only three women in American history have obtained sub-four minute performances, and Barringer becomes the youngest to do so. The American record is 3:57.12 and was set by Mary Decker Slaney, a former Buff, in 1983. Barringer was the youngest and only collegiate athlete in the star-studded race at just 22.
“It was really exciting to be in this race and to accomplish this,” Barringer said.
The race got out to a quick pace. In the field of 13, Barringer started out eighth and came through the first 300 in 47.72. By the time she reached 700 meters (1:53.08), Barringer had moved up to third. She finished her next 400 meters in 1:04.78. Barringer was picking up speed during her final lap and held off several opponents on the back stretch who were trying to make their move.
Around the final turn as she entered the home stretch, Barringer passed two racers and had just Burka left to beat in the final 80 meters. Barringer just about caught Burka and had she had one more meter to go, could have won the race. Barringer’s final 400 was her best at 1:02.05.
“I went into this race telling myself to be smart and just race,” Barringer said. “I didn’t go in thinking I could win but with about 200 to go, I really thought I could win and I raced like I could win.”
Barringer has used her strong kick in the past to win races. Last year she beat U.S. Olympic teammate Anna Willard in the final 50 meters en route to setting the then-American record in the steeplechase at 9:22.73 in Switzerland.
This was the first time all year that the CU Female Athlete of the Year did not have the lead at any point during the race.
“This meet is special because I actually got to race,” she said. “I never led one step and that was really important. I’m really proud to race with a ton of well qualified professionals and to be able to race to win. I wanted to be competitive today and I’m glad I stuck with the plan.”
Barringer has run in some very big meets, including the 2008 Olympics, but this ranks highly on her list of top performances.
“This is the best race of my career,” Barringer said. “I’m not training for the 1500 right now, so to step on the track and put together a race like that is something that I am so proud of. I really showed that I belonged and it felt so amazing.”
Barringer will end her collegiate career with six total NCAA records. She has three on the indoor books (mile, 4:25.91; 3k, 8:42.03; 5k, 15:01.70) and three for the outdoor season (1500, 3:59.90; steeplechase, 9:26.20; 5k, 15:07.64). Barringer is the American record holder in the steeplechase at 9:22.26 and owns all six of the above CU records.
The NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championship is June 10-13 in Fayetteville, Ark. and Barringer is set to defend her title in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. She won the event in 2006 and 2008. The semifinals are on Wednesday at 6:50 p.m. and the finals are on Friday at 5:25 p.m.
When asked if Barringer will be ready to compete on Wednesday after such a hard fought race on Sunday, Burroughs thought she would be fine and that the excitement of racing later in the week will be enough to get Barringer through nationals. “We are going to take a couple of hours to enjoy this and then it will be back to work.”
“More than anything, I’m really excited to defend my NCAA title this week and to compete in my final NCAA meet,” Barringer said. “This is special, but I’m really looking forward to NCAAs.”
2009 Prefontaine Classic
Hayward Field (University of Oregon)
Track Events (Current and Former CU Athletes Only)
Women’s 1,500 Meters: 2. Jenny Barringer, 3:59.90; 13. Shayne Culpepper, 4:15.18
Men’s Steeplechase: 7. Billy Nelson, 8:35.90; 11. Steve Slattery, 8:45.13
Men’s 3,000 Meters: 11. Brent Vaughn, 8:09.82
Women’s 2,000 Meters: 7. Kara Goucher, 5:41.28