RIO DE JANEIRO -- It only took one pep talk for Jenny Simpson to make history by winning the first-ever Olympic medal by a U.S. woman in the 1,500-meter.
“My coaches gave me a mantra coming into this race,” Simpson said. “Their mantra was to position the first two laps and the last two (laps), be a predator.”
The advice carried Simpson to a bronze medal. Despite a slow start, she surged to the front of the field of 12. A strong 300-meter rally was the difference, as Simpson crossed the finish line in four minutes, 10.53 seconds.
Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon of Kenya won the gold medal with a time of 4:08.92. World record holder Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia finished second in 4:10.27.
Shannon Rowbury was fourth for the second-best finish by an American woman since the event was introduced in 1972. Four years ago in London, Rowbury finished sixth, the previous best.
Simpson overcame two serious complications in her preparation. She said she suffered a stress fracture in her foot last December. And in the past week, she was treated for a cold that she said left her coughing in the call room. She was able to deal with those issues and execute her plan.
“They (coaches) told me that whenever someone jumps to the front, go with them, look where the medals are, and go get them,” she said. “My last 300 meters is the best example of their wisdom and me executing on what they told me to do.”
She remained focused on this moment, the ability to stand on the podium as an Olympic medalist.
“It has taken me over the edge from believing anything can happen to knowing anything can happen,” Simpson said.
Simpson’s bronze medal is redemption for her performance at last year’s world championships. The 2011 world champion and 2013 world silver medalist in the event, Simpson finish 11th in 2015 after losing a shoe late in the race.
“I was doing the victory lap (tonight) and I stopped on the track,” she said. “I thought exactly one year ago, I was on this side of the track picking up my shoe. Now I am here with an American flag.”
Rio marked Simpson’s third Olympic Games and the first time she reached the final at an Olympics.
“The medal is incredible,” Simpson said. “To be the first American woman to medal in the 1,500 meters is something that I have not allowed myself to think about until now. It feels incredible.”
Simpson said she doesn’t know what’s next but hopes to continue running in the future. She said her goal is to continue to inspire people that have dreams.
“I want to be someone that people are proud to cheer for,” she said. “I didn’t decide to want to be that person this week or this year. I wanted to be that person 10 years ago at my first world championships…
“This has been a long ride of highs and lows and hopefully every American watching me race tonight can take a small piece of ownership in this medal.”
Jaylon Thompson is a student in the Sports Media Certificate program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.