Tag Archives: Abeba Aregawi

Simpson reflects on medals, race tactics and looks forward to a fun 2014

It would not be an exaggeration to say the United States, at present, is the greatest nation in terms of strength in depth in the women’s middle-distances. No country fielded more finalists in the women’s 800m and 1500m at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow and the United States finished the season with three athletes ranked inside the world’s top-10 in the 800m and four in the 1500m.

It’s an incredible time to be a US woman racing in the middle-distances”, reflects world 1500m silver medallist Jenny Simpson who is at the forefront of this global onslaught. “Every race in the US and abroad over 1500m is likely to have a competitive and deep field. Each race is difficult and every win is meaningful and I think the domestic rivalry has elevated all of us and made our event a lot more exciting to watch.”

The impact on the middle-distances in Moscow was tangible. 17-year-old Mary Cain, who has been setting US age-group and high-school records seemingly at will, joined Simpson in the final in Moscow, thus becoming the youngest ever world finalist in the 1500m while Brenda Martinez assured the United States would for the first time leave a major championships with medals in both middle-distance races, taking bronze in the 800m.

Martinez is no slouch over the longer distance, and the 1500m at next year’s US Championships has the potential to rival the sprint events as the must-watch final. Simpson jokes this unparalleled depth does have a slight downside though: “The most practical impact is there’s never an easy win!”

Simpson’s path to stardom followed the tried-and-tested route of the collegiate system. The 27-year-old studied economics and political science at the University of Colorado where she forged a lucrative career on the NCAA circuit, predominantly in the 3000m steeplechase in which she won a hat-trick of NCAA titles.

It was over the barriers where Simpson initially made her mark internationally. The highlight was a fifth-place finish at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin in a still-standing domestic record of 9:12.50 which ranks her eleventh on the world all-time lists. However, it was a race in the build-up to Berlin which proved the seminal moment in mapping out the next four years of her career.

I entered the 1500m at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene with the singular goal of trying to break the collegiate record at the time of 4:06,” remembers Simpson. She did indeed achieve this, slashing her PB from 4:08.38 to 3:59.90.

My effort at Pre was a paradigm shift for my career in several ways. It certainly changed how the sport perceived me. I was no longer just a steeplechaser. It also, more slowly, changed how I perceived myself. As the achievement of breaking four-minutes as a collegiate slowly settled on me, I began to realize I could have the opportunity to set the course of my career.

I’d thought of myself as a steeplechaser with a future in the 5000m and 10,000m but after that race, there just seemed to be less limitations and more possibilities for my future in the sport.”

It’s funny looking back because so many 1500m races are tactical and messy. It was the perfect race for someone less experienced like myself. It was single-file and fast from the gun so I didn’t have to think much, I just had to run hard and try to keep up.”

That breakthrough performance proved the seismic shift and 2011 marked her first full season over 1500m. She finished second at the US Championships to seal qualification for her third World Championships in succession and while her results were solid in the run-up to Daegu, they did not suggest she would be a threat for the medals.

I remember, again, having a single goal which was to make the final,” she recalls. “I knew it was going to take all of my focus and training to make it through two rounds and into the final. I was tested that year in a new way and I was so proud to be on the starting line the evening of the final.

Having achieved that goal, I think I was really relaxed going into the final and I remember saying to my coach, very pragmatically, on the way to the track, ‘well, 25% of us will leave tonight with a medal.’ I really didn’t think in that moment I was going to be one of that 25%, but I wasn’t counting myself out either.”

Simpson’s trademark high-powered finish was the decisive factor in an untidy final. A late charge elevated the middle-distance newcomer from fourth at the top of the home-straight to first where she became the first American winner of the 1500m since Mary Decker fended off that memorable last-gasp dive from Zamira Zaytseva at the inaugural World Championships in 1983,

This upward trajectory momentarily stalled as Simpson admits she over-trained in her bid to arrive at the Olympic Games in optimum shape. Her sprint finish, the potent hallmark of her performance at the 2011 World Championships, deserted her in the semi-finals where she finished last. “The pressure and pageantry of the Olympics in comparison to the World Champs is a different animal altogether,” Simpson says candidly.

It isn’t in Simpson’s nature to dwell and with a world title to defend, she immediately bounced back with her most consistent season to date and a solid off-season block provided the groundwork: “There were so many differences between the years preparation that I think it’s difficult to distinguish exactly what had me more prepared for this year. I can say though the 2013 formula had me extremely confident and really happy throughout the racing season.”

This confidence was palpable. A commanding win in the Monaco Diamond League in her second best career time of 4:00.48 was a clear-cut indicator the reigning champion would be a threat for the medals again in Moscow. She executed the heats and semi-finals with the nous of a seasoned veteran and while her tactical approach in the final was in stark contrast to her sit-and-kick ploy in Daegu, Simpson’s razor-sharp racing instincts bore rich dividends.

I didn’t go into the final in Moscow with the plan of leading. However, I knew that being drawn in lane one was going to be a little tricky at the start. I think being in that position was a blessing in disguise because it forced me to be very decisive early on in the race. I wanted to be in a position to get to the front before the real “kicking” started but when I found myself leading off of the first curve, I decided I was good enough to control the entire race and I felt more comfortable doing that then letting someone else take over.

I think that conviction early on set the tone for my entire effort and I think it put me in the best possible position to try to win.”

The authoritative manner of Simpson’s tactical display in Moscow was impressive, and indicative of her growing maturity at the event which she adopted in 2011.

I think my racing skills come a little naturally but are also learned. The close proximity combined with the physical edge we are racing at is a really unique experience to the 800m and 1500m and the chaos cannot be accurately described in words. There is so much less thinking involved and a lot more instinct. I think some racers naturally have good instinct when it comes to strategy but you can always get better.

I sometimes watch race footage and workout with groups of people to learn and apply tactics but simulating race scenarios is nearly impossible. You get better by doing it. A bird’s eye view from a camera or being “boxed in” by a training partner almost seems a silly substitution for the real experience of fighting for position against the best women in the world.”

Even though Simpson didn’t come away with the top prize in Moscow, the 2011 world champion still reflects on the season with just as much pride.

In 2011, I was still relatively new to middle-distance racing and having an unexpected win; there are few things more thrilling and more memorable in one’s career. 2013 was about training and racing like I was one of the best in the world.

It was a completely different tone to my preparation and a much more mature approach to planning my racing schedule. Racing as a professional and in Diamond League races was new and exciting to me in 2011 but by 2013 every single effort was about how it was going to get me to Moscow ready to medal.”

Simpson achieved this singular goal and a pragmatic racing schedule geared solely towards the championships can partially account for Simpson’s mastery at the major championships. Without any such focus next year, she is looking forward to racing frequently although her plans aren’t yet fully finalised.

It will be a fun year with the opportunity to focus on new experiences and prioritise regular season races. Having never raced World Indoors, World Relay Champs or run early Diamond League races, it will be more a matter of narrowing down my focus. I can’t do it all, but I’m always tempted to try!”

Her response for her game-plan to bridge the distance on world champion Abeba Aregawi, the perennial thorn in Simpson’s side last season, had much more clarity though.

What do I need to do to close the gap? Keep getting better at everything.”

This is a slightly extended version of the feature as published on the IAAF website here.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , ,

European Indoor Championships – a statistical round-up

As published by Athletics Weekly on March 6

Men

60m

*Jimmy Vicaut and James Dasaolu were awarded an identical time in the final of 6.48. The last time the top-two couldn’t be separated by hundredths was when the Scandinavium played host to the European Indoor Championships in 1984.

*Dasaolu’s silver medal extends Britain’s record of winning at least one medal in the 60m to fourteen consecutive editions.

*This year was the first time two athletes went under the 6.5-barrier in the final and Dasaolu’s time would have sufficed for the title at all but one previous edition.

*Vicaut and Dasaolu move to equal fifth on the European indoor all-time rankings. British sprinters own five of the seven fastest times ever over 60m in Europe with French athletes holding the other two.

400m

*Pavel Maslak’s winning time of 45.66 was a Swedish all-comers’ record. He also became the first athlete to simultaneously hold European indoor and outdoor 400m titles since Du’aine Ladejo in 1994.

*Britain fielded three athletes in both men’s and women’s finals for the first time ever.

800m

*Adam Kszczot became the first athlete to defend this title since Yevgeniy Arzhanov in 1971.

*Mukhtar Mohammed picked up Britain’s first medal of any description since Tom McKean won gold on home-soil in Glasgow in 1990.

1500m

*Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad’s winning time of 3:37.17 was the second fastest ever after Ivan Heshko’s 3:36.70 championship record in 2005.

*His winning margin of 0.05 from Ilham Tanui Ozbilen was the smallest in the championship’s history.

*The Spaniards failed to win a medal in the final for the first time since 1998.

3000m

*Hayle Ibrahimov provided Azerbaijan with their first gold medal in any event in the history of the European Indoor Championships.

*At 34y and 211d, Juan Carlos Higuero replaced John Mayock (34y and 130d in 2005) as the oldest ever medallist in the 3000m.

60m hurdles

*Sergey Shubenkov’s winning time of 7.49 has only been bettered three times – once by Thomas Munkelt in 1983 and twice by Colin Jackson in 1994 and 2002.

*Paolo Dal Molin set an Italian record of 7.51 to win his country’s first medal in this event since 1986.

4x400m

*Britain’s winning time of 3:05.78 was the second fastest time ever recorded at these championships.

*Nigel Levine’s split of 45.74 was the fastest on the third-leg by 0.65.

Long jump

*Michel Torneus’ 8.29m leap was the longest ever non-gold medal winning mark at these championships.

Triple jump

*Daniele Greco’s shock leap of 17.70m was the second longest winning distance ever after Teddy Tamgho improved the world indoor record to 17.92m in 2011.

*His winning margin of 40cm was the largest since 1990.

High jump

*Russia claimed two medals in the high jump for the third successive edition of the European Indoor Championships.

Pole-vault

*Renaud Lavillenie became the first vaulter to win three gold medals in succession.

*The Frenchman is the only athlete to surpass 6m at the European Indoor Championships and he’s done so twice now. He cleared 6.03m in 2011 and 6.01m this year.

*His winning margin of 25cm has only been bettered once – by himself when he won in 2011 by 27cm.

Shot put

*Gold medallist Asmir Kolasinac from Serbia and silver medallist Hamza Alic from Bosnia & Herzogovina created history by winning their country’s first ever European indoor medals.

Heptathlon

*Eelco Sintnicolaas’ winning score of 6372 was the best mark by a European in nine years.

*At 21y and 21d, Kevin Mayer became the youngest ever heptathlon medallist by six days. His score of 6297 moved him to tenth on the European indoor all-time rankings and this mark was also a European under-23 record.

Women

60m

*Just 0.01 separated the medallists making it the closest ever European indoor sprint final.

*Ivet Lalova’s time of 7.12 was the fastest ever non-medal winning mark.

*Asha Philip equalled her 7.15 PB in the final which was the second fastest time ever achieved by a Brit at these championships.

*An incredible standard saw Ezinne Okparaebo and Verena Sailer finish seventh and eighth respectively in 7.16. This would have either equalled or bettered the gold medallist’s time at three of the five most recent previous European indoor finals.

400m

*GB’s 1-2 was the first time the same nation claimed gold and silver in the 400m since 1990.

*Perri Shakes-Drayton’s winning time of 50.85 would have won gold at two of the three most recent editions of the World Indoor Championships, and silver at the other.

*In terms of 400m hurdlers, only Sabine Busch (50.01), Nicola Sanders (50.02), Vania Stambolova (50.21), Irina Privalova (50.23), Natalya Antyukh (50.37) and Ionela Tirlea (50.56) have run faster than Shakes-Drayton indoors.

*Ksenia Ustalova’s fall in the semi-final meant the final was for the first time devoid of a Russian finalist.

800m

*Nataliya Lupu became the second former European junior champion to also win this title after Ludmila Formanova in 1998.

*Maryna Arzamasava’s bronze medal adds to her family’s tally as her late mother Ravilya Agletdinova won the European outdoor 1500m title in 1986.

1500m

*Abeba Aregawi’s winning margin of 9.72 was by far the largest ever at these championships. The previous largest was 3.73 back in 1972.

3000m

*Sara Moreira became the second Portuguese to win this title after Fernanda Ribeiro in 1994 and 1996.

*Her winning time of 8:58.80 was the slowest since 1992.

60m hurdles

*Nevin Yanit and Alina Talay became the first Turkish and Belarussians to win medals in this event while Veronica Borsi won Italy’s first 60m hurdles medal since 1977.

*Only six-hundredths separated the top four finishers which was the smallest margin ever.

4x400m

*Great Britain took a relay double with gold medals in both finals. This was the first time the same nation has won both titles at the same championships.

*The quartet set a championship and national record of 3:27.56 which moved Britain from sixth to third on the European indoor all-time rankings.

Long jump

*Darya Klishina achieved the championship’s first 7m-plus jump since Heike Drechsler won her fourth title in 1994 with 7.06m.

*Klishina’s winning mark of 7.01m equalled the best mark achieved indoors by a European this millennium.

*Erica Jarder’s final round 6.71m PB sufficed for Sweden’s first medal from this event since Erica Johansson won the title in 2000.

Triple jump

*Olha Saladuha’s winning margin of 58cm was the largest in championship history.

*Her winning mark of 14.88m was the joint second longest ever and the best since Ashia Hansen’s championship record of 15.16m in 1998.

High jump

*Ruth Beitia’s winning mark of 1.99m was the lowest winning height since 1998.

*Sweden scooped up silver and bronze through Ebba Jungmark and Emma Green-Tregaro. This was the first time the same country fielded two athletes on the podium since Bulgarians took gold and silver medals in 1994.

*The ages of the finalists ranged from 19-year-old Alessia Trost to 38-year-old Venelina Veneva-Mateeva, who competed at the 1991 World Championships before Trost was even born.

Pole-vault

*Holly Bleasdale’s gold medal was the first British medal in this event from either sex in European Indoor Championships history.

*Her winning vault of 4.67m was the lowest winning height since 2000.

Shot put

*Christina Schwanitz’s gold medal meant German athletes have won five of the nine medals on offer from the last three championships in the shot put.

Pentathlon

*Ida Antoniette Nana Djimou became the second athlete to retain this title after Carolina Kluft in 2007.

*Her winning score of 4666 was the second lowest in championship history though, and would have only placed seventh in Birmingham in 2007 where Kelly Sotherton and Jessica Ennis finished second and sixth with 4927 and 4716 respectively.

*18-year-old Sofia Linde finished fifth on home-soil with a PB of 4531. This was a mere four points below Kluft’s national indoor junior record and she still has another year left in the junior ranks.

Miscellaneous

*The Russian men outperformed the women for the first time in European Indoor Championship history. They won three gold medals and eight in total while the women won one gold and six overall.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

European Indoor Championships – women’s preview

Britain won three gold medals in Paris but out of that triumvirate, only Jenny Meadows will be defending her European indoor title this weekend. The 800m runner is among the team’s leading aspirants for medals along with Asha Philip, Perri Shakes-Drayton, Holly Bleasdale and Shara Proctor in Gothenburg. 

Women’s sprints

Gothenburg has twice hosted these championships and on both occasions, British athletes have come away with medals in the 60m through Andrea Lynch in 1974 and Bev Kinch in 1984. Surely this is a good omen for Asha Philip, who is ranked second in Europe this year with a 7.15 PB?

Unlike some events, most of Europe’s best are giving the 60m their due regard and this should ensure a high-quality final. Mariya Ryemyen is the fastest with a 7.12 PB and the Ukrainian will be looking to upgrade her silver medal from 2011 in the absence of team-mate Olesya Povh. Fellow sub-7.2 performers Verena Sailer, Ivet Lalova and British-based Norwegian Ezinne Okparaebo, who is gunning for a hat-trick of European indoor medals, will also be in title contention.

Perri Shakes-Drayton and Eilidh Child started the season with scant indoor experience but the 400m hurdlers have both enjoyed fruitful campaigns on the boards which should climax with medals over 400m. They ran 51.37 and 51.50 respectively in Birmingham which ranks them a close second and third in Europe to Ksenia Ustalova’s 51.31. Ustalova is the sole Russian representative in the individual with no doubt most of her team-mates choosing to keep their powder dry with the World Championships in Moscow on the horizon.

The Russians have named a strong relay-pool but Christine Ohuruogu’s inclusion in the British team might give our quartet a marginal edge.

Two-time European outdoor champion Nevin Yanit concluded her preparations with a 7.98 Turkish 60m hurdles record to win the Balkan Championships. A quartet of athletes led by Yuliya Kondakova’s 7.93 have run slightly faster but Yanit is a championship specialist as illustrated by her fifth-place at the Olympics.

Women’s middle-distances

Team captain Jenny Meadows made an auspicious comeback after eighteen months out and a 2:02.86 performance a fortnight ago in Birmingham convinced her to defend the title she was retroactively handed after Evgeniya Zinurova’s disqualification due to a doping violation.

Russian athletes hold the ten fastest times in Europe but their selectors have adopted an approach of prioritising quality rather than quantity. Despite an embarrassment of riches to choose from, Yelena Kotulskaya (nee Kofanova) is their sole representative and she’ll be the Brit’s greatest danger as her outdoor PB of 1:57.77 is marginally faster than Meadows’ 1:57.93.

Many events lack a resounding favourite but the home-crowd will be pleased this is not the case over 1500m as Abeba Aregawi arrives in fearless form. The 1500m in Stockholm last week was her first race for her adopted nation and the 22-year-old made an emphatic statement with a 3:58.40 national record. Her time was just 0.12 shy of Yelena Soboleva’s world indoor record and even though Soboleva’s in the Russian team, don’t expect her to be a threat as she hasn’t broken the 4:10-barrier in 2013.

The 3000m is much more difficult to call though. Yelena Korobkina’s 8:50.42 leads the way but sole British representative Lauren Howarth, who ran 8:52.00 in Birmingham, could cap her breakthrough campaign with a major title. European cross-country champion Fionnuala Britton from Ireland, fourth-placer Almensch Belete from Belgium and former silver medallist Sara Moreira from Portugal are also among the dangers.

Women’s field

Holly Bleasdale has a great chance of claiming her first major title as she is the holder of the two best vaults in Europe with 4.75m and 4.77m. She had a minor setback in Stockholm finishing fourth with 4.45m but she tweeted afterwards the run-up was her best ever which hopefully bodes well for Gothenburg.

She will need to rediscover her 4.70m-plus form in order to fend off the Russian threat of Anastasiya Savchenko, who has improved markedly since crashing out in Olympic qualifying last year. Savchenko has upped her PB from 4.60m to 4.71m and what’s more, she’s also beaten Bleasdale in their last two encounters in Bydgoszcz and Stockholm.

Shara Proctor produced a season’s best of 6.78m to win in Birmingham and the UK record-holder now comes up against a field including some of her likely rivals at the World Championships this summer. Two of Russia’s finest in reigning champion Darya Klishina and world outdoor silver medallist Olga Kucherenko, who holds the world-leading mark at 7.00m, are set to start along with European outdoor champion Eloyse Lesueur from France.

Two-time European outdoor triple jump champion Olha Saladuha makes her first appearance at these championships and the Ukrainian starts as the comprehensive favourite. An operation in the off-season accounts for Yamile Aldama’s slow start to the winter but a 13.91m season’s best in Birmingham indicates she’s rounding into competitive form.

Yevgeniya Kolodko is one of the few Russian A-listers making the trip but the Olympic silver medallist might play second-fiddle to Germany’s Christina Schwanitz, the holder of the three best puts in 2013 including a world-leading 19.79m.

Alessia Trost is unbeaten in the high jump this year and the Italian starts as the favourite ahead of former Olympic champion Tia Hellebaut and Spanish veteran Ruth Beitia. 

Pentathlon

The pentathlon lacks some lustre with Jessica Ennis, Tatyana Chernova and Nataliya Dobrynska all absent but the competition should be intriguing nonetheless. Antoniette Nana Djimou Ida will defend her title against a line-up including world-leader Yekaterina Bolshova, who will be looking to convert her best form to the major events this year.

The field also contains up-and-comers such as Kristina Savitskaya and Laura Ikauniece, who were eighth and ninth aged 21 and 20 respectively at the Olympics, and 18-year-old Nafissatou Thiam from Belgium, who recently broke Carolina Kluft’s world junior record.

Published in Athletics Weekly on February 28

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

An armchair fan’s guide to the indoor season

The indoor season won’t match the fever-pitch excitement of the Olympic Games but there’s more than enough intrigue to banish away any last remnants of the Olympic-induced blues. Here are five reasons why it’s worth following the indoor season.

Sprint clash set for Glasgow?

It hasn’t been officially confirmed but it seems two-time Olympic 100m champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce will go head-to-head with world 100m champion Carmelita Jeter in a high-powered 60m clash. Jeter has confirmed her berth on the US team for the five-way international and while Fraser-Pryce hasn’t done so yet, she has told the press she is going to contest her first ever indoor season. Glasgow isn’t the fastest track on the circuit but a time close to seven-seconds might still be on the cards.

Top-class high jumping

Olympic bronze medallist Robbie Grabarz has committed himself to the British indoor events while the Moravia Tour has signed up world champion Jesse Williams and Olympic champion Ivan Ukhov for Hustopece (Jan 26) and Trinec (Jan 29). Global medallists Chaunte Lowe and Brigetta Barrett will also go head-to-head at the Millrose Games in New York on Feb 16.

Farah’s indoor appearance

The European Indoor Championships don’t feature in Mo Farah’s plans but the double Olympic champion will still have a run-out over 3000m at the British Athletics Grand Prix in Birmingham. Let’s hope the organisers – like last year’s two-miles race when Farah was beaten, albeit in a very fast time – will invite some other top-class athletes to really test his mettle.

Scandinavian showdown

The European Indoor Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden, promises to be an appetising hors d’oeuvres for the outdoor season with many top names expressing their intentions to compete. Britain finished fourth on the medal table in 2011 with eight medals and while this time next month will give us a better indicator to what we can expect from the British team, Holly Bleasdale, Shara Proctor, Yamile Aldama and Robbie Grabarz should all arrive in Gothenburg as bona fide medal contenders.

The hosts aren’t the force they were in the mid-2000s when the likes of Stefan Holm and Carolina Kluft headed their team but recent transferee Abeba Aregawi will come to the 1500m with real aspirations of marking her switch from Ethiopia with a gold medal for her adopted nation.

Top marks for NCAA students

The NCAA Indoor Championships might not grab the headlines in the UK but keep your eyes peeled for some eye-catching performances. When the world’s press was focused on the World Indoor Championships in 2010, Ashton Eaton set a world heptathlon record of 6499 and already this season, good marks have been set on the collegiate circuit. Brianna Rollins’ 7.78 60m hurdles – for example – probably won’t be matched on the European circuit this winter.

Key dates

Jan 26 – Glasgow

Confirmed athletes – Carmelita Jeter, Bernard Lagat, KCim Collins, Holly Bleasdale, Robbie Grabarz

Feb 2 – Karlsruhe

Confirmed athletes – Bernard Lagat, Yenew Alamirew, Renaud Lavillenie, Christian Reif, Ivet Lalova

Feb 2 – Boston

Confirmed athletes – Tirunesh Dibaba, Aries Merritt, Jenn Suhr, Galen Rupp, Dejen Gebremeskel

Feb 3 – Moscow

Confirmed athletes – Dwain Chambers, Yuriy Borzakovskiy, Holly Bleasdale, Anna Rogowska, Fabiana Murer

Feb 8 – Düsseldorf

Confirmed athletes – Christophe Lemaitre, Nevin Yanit, Ivet Lalova, Bjorn Otto, Timothy Kitum

Feb 9-10 – UK Indoor Championships

Feb 10 – Gent

Confirmed athletes – Tia Hellebaut, Kevin Borlee, Jonathan Borlee, Eline Berings, Svetlana Bolshakova

Feb 16 – Birmingham

Confirmed athletes – Mo Farah, Robbie Grabarz, Holly Bleasdale, Fabiana Murer, Fionnuala Britton

Feb 16 – New York

Confirmed athletes – Jason Richardson, Brittney Reese, Jenn Suhr, Bernard Lagat, Duane Solomon

Feb 21 – Stockholm

Confirmed athletes – Abeba Aregawi, Fabiana Murer

March 1-3 – European Indoor Championships

March 1-3 – US Indoor Championships

Stats and facts

Men’s world indoor records and all-time lists

Women’s world indoor records and all-time lists

European indoor records and all-time lists

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,