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Sticking to Plan, Simpson Readies for Olympic Year

2011 IAAF World Outdoor ChampionshipsDon’t mess with success.

That appears to be Jenny Simpson’s mantra for her Olympic year as the 2011 world 1500-meter champion prepares to open her indoor season at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston on Feb. 4, followed by the Millrose Games in New York City on Feb. 11.  Simpson will run the 3000m in Boston and the NYRR Wanamaker Metric Mile (1500m) in New York.

“That’s one of the wonderful things about the season I had last year; the end of the story was really great,” Simpson told reporters on a conference call yesterday.  “The only thing I hope to change over the next year is have fewer interruptions, not get the flu, and minimize the risk of injury.”  She continued: “And continue to train like Jenny Simpson has trained over the last five years.”

Simpson, 25, who spoke from her training base at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, almost had her dream season derailed by a serious hip injury in 2010 which took six months of rest and rehabilitation to overcome. Then, before last summer’s USA Outdoor Championships, the trials for the IAAF World Championships, Simpson became sick with the flu.  Her coach, Juli Benson, who joined Simpson on yesterday’s call, said her athlete was “really sick” and endured “seven full days with a high fever.”

But Simpson was strong enough to sprint past Christin Wurth-Thomas just before the finish line to clinch second place in the national meet, clinching her world team berth.  That set the stage for her greatest career accomplishment, and one of the big surprises of last summer’s world championships in Daegu, South Korea.

“My coach and I conducted a workout yesterday, and I think she said it best,” Simpson recounted.  “It was a really challenging year for me as an athlete.  In a championship series like that you have to focus on yourself, focus on your own fitness.  Don’t count anyone out.”

Benson said that she saw Simpson steadily getting stronger as she raced in Europe prior to the world championships, then helped her athlete prepare for each round by methodically dissecting each race she would run.  The pair sat down after each round in Daegu to pick apart the races and look for opponents’ weaknesses and Simpson’s mistakes.

“I watched the men’s and women’s marathon broadcast,” Simpson said, referring to last Saturday’s USA Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston.  “Something that Shalane (Flanagan) said really resonated with me.  She talked about ‘cold execution’ (and taking yourself out of the race).  I don’t particularly enjoy watching the first round and the semis… but it was absolutely vital to my success in Daegu.  My tactics in the first and second round were not perfect.”

Simpson’s winning time of 4:05.40 was the slowest in world championships history, but demonstrated that the former steeplechaser and NCAA star at the University of Colorado knew how to put herself in position to win, and had the closing speed to do it.

“I knew that I not only had to get through the rounds, but learn from them,” said Simpson, who also won New York’s Fifth Avenue Mile last September with her explosive sprint.  “I can see myself ways that I improved from the rounds before.”

For the upcoming indoor season, coach Benson said that Simpson is at a much better starting point than one year ago when she was still ramping-up her fitness after her hip injury.  While Benson said that they would make adjustments and improvements in her training, she would not be rewriting her playbook.

“As Jenny touched on, it’s business as usual,” said Benson who, as Juli Henner ran the mile in 4:26.64 and competed in the 1996 Olympic Games in the 1500m.  “The exciting thing for me is that last year Jenny was coming off of an injury (and mostly cross training).  “Having the summer she had… she went into her break very fit, and came out of it very fit.  We are preceding as normal.  She came into this training segment very fit and I know she is stronger than she was one year ago.”

Simpson said that she really enjoys indoor racing, especially because the fans get to sit so close to the track and that the atmosphere in a full indoor arena can be so electric.  She said that she has felt that energy before competing in the Reggie Lewis Track Facility in Boston, where the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix will be held, and in the Armory in New York, the new home of the Millrose Games.  At the latter meet, she’ll be running against the reigning world 1500m indoor champion, Kalkidan Gezahegn of Ethiopia, and 2009 World Championships 1500m bronze medalist Shannon Rowbury.

“The greatest excitement for me about Boston and Millrose is it’s my first opportunity to see how my training will translate into results,” Simpson said.

Coach Benson said that the remainder of Simpson’s indoor season was still under discussion, and that she might compete at the USA Indoor Championships in Albuquerque at the end of February (she’s the defending champion in the mile and 3000m) to try to qualify for the IAAF World Indoor Championships in March in Istanbul.

“We’re going to focus on the Boston indoor meet, and the Millrose Games,” Benson said.  “We haven’t made a definitive decision on the world indoor championships.”

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PHOTO: Jenny Simpson after winning the 1500m gold medal at the 2011 IAAF World Championships (photo courtesy of New Balance)