LONDON – Never, ever count out Jenny Simpson.
“I cannot explain it how this always works out for me,” she said.
Simpson won the silver medal in the women’s 1,500-meter Monday at the IAAF World Championships to continue her astounding run of major championship podiums: four in the last six global meets.
She had come in as the 15th fastest performer this year on the world list.
Simpson was in fourth place not just with a lap to go, but with 50 meters to go, and kicked from fourth to second at London Stadium.
“The final stretch, I just thought, ‘I can win,’” Simpson said. “And I thought, ‘No one’s going to believe I’m doing this again. It just felt so amazing. I’m so happy to be a medalist again.”
In the last six years, Simpson has made the podium in three of the four world championships, with an Olympic bronze medal last year.
Olympic champion Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon of Kenya won with a time of 4 minutes, 2.59 seconds, followed by Simpson at 4:02.76, then 800-meter specialist Caster Semenya of South Africa in 4:02.90.
Simpson, who will turn 31 on August 23, overtook Laura Muir of Great Britain and Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands, who had been dueling Kipyegon for the lead, in the closing moments of the race. Muir was fourth in 4:02.97 while Hassan dropped to fifth in 4:03.34. World record holder Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia was last in the 12-woman field at 4:06.72.
Simpson was clocked in 58.8 seconds for the final lap.
“I tried to stay calm and then ‘release the beast!’’ said Simpson. “With 80 meters or so, I wanted to be able to make it to the finish line because I was running so hard to just stay with that top group, so I wanted to be able to preserve my ability to make it to the end.
“But I remember coming around the bend and just thinking, I can see how hard Faith and Hassan are racing each other. And I really believe I can get one of them if they’re working this hard this far out.”
Simpson was originally a steeplechaser and was fifth at worlds in 2009. Switching her specialty to the 1,500, she won the gold in 2011, then took the silver in 2013.
Disaster struck in 2015 when someone stepped on Simpson’s shoe and, after kicking the shoe off and bloodying her foot to stay in the race, she wound up in 11th place. Then Simpson came back to claim the bronze at the Olympic Games Rio 2016.
The medal Monday made up for her failure to reach the final at the Olympic Games London 2012, when Simpson was 11th in her semifinal.
“I finished and I thought, ‘The stadium is designed and looks like a tiara and I feel like one of the jewels just shining on the inside of it,’” Simpson said. “And it just feels amazing. To come back here five years later, you never get a do-over in this sport. Look at Beijing (when she lost the shoe).”
The slow pace Monday – 2:17 at 800 meters – worked in Simpson’s favor.
“I think I’m really threatening in a sit-and-kick race,” she said, noting that she can think on her feet.
She was patient and credited coach Heather Burroughs for telling her not to hesitate when it was time to make her move.
Simpson figured her fastest 100 came when she was running the curve. She said she thought, ‘‘Don’t let them go, you’re going to get them. Then just run your guts out the last 100.’’
Simpson gauged where her competitors were positioning themselves, then chose to come up on the inside. “It’s like a fight,” she said. “You can’t hesitate, you gotta just go for it.’
Before the race, Simpson described the last 400 like this: “I think there’s an element in which you’re ready for everyone to lose their mind.”
When the bell goes off, she said, “There’s this sense of kind of managing the chaos and then getting around from that stretch. I feel like that last 200 meters, you’re coming around and you’re just edging closer and closer and as soon as you can see that finish line for me, it’s all about running for home.”
And she did just that.
“I’ve been really fortunate in my career,” Simpson said.
Although she said she “can’t fully explain or articulate” how she has risen to the next level when it mattered most, Simpson figured it is “a combination of just knowing all the work that I put into it and the joy I have for what I do and it's amazing how what event I'm running and who I’m running against really dissolves in that last 20 or 30 seconds. And it's my favorite part of the race every time.”
Although Simpson naturally wished she could have caught Kipyegon for the gold, she had the honor of standing on the top of the podium in Daegu in 2011 and hearing her national anthem.
“I wanted to win tonight, but I look back and I’m lucky that I get to say that I’ve gotten to experience that (gold medal),” she said. “It’s so hard to make the final, so to make the final and have the type of run I had tonight, I’ll take what I got.”