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'Steeplechase Queen' Hopes To Score Big In London


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block.

At this week's Olympic trials, middle distance runner Jenny Simpson will find out if she's going to the Olympics. Simpson is the current world champion in the 1,500 meters, but as we hear from NPR's Allison Keyes, she's had some setbacks recently, and she and her coach are making last-minute tweaks to her training routine.

JULI BENSON: Just relax, relax a little, just ease it back, ease it back. You're plenty fast.

ALLISON KEYES, BYLINE: On the cobalt blue track at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Jenny Simpson's coach, Juli Benson, worked with the middle distance runner and two male training partners, trying to make sure she'd be in top form for the trials.



UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Good job, good job.

BENSON: Sixty-four, six.

KEYES: At a world-class meet in New York earlier this month, Simpson ran last in a rocky 800-meter race, which at half her normal distance should have been a breeze. She says she was trying to ride a fine line between training for endurance and speed.

JENNY SIMPSON: So the transition is now just recognizing that between strength and intensity something had to give, and we just needed to rest up and really focus on re-energizing for the trials.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Wow, this is quite a turnup in the end. It's America victory for Great Britain.

KEYES: Jenny Simpson's tactical prowess helped her win the 2011 World Championship in the 1,500 meters in Daegu, Korea, in September. She lurked in the beginning, staying with the field, made a smooth move to the outside and around, then finished like a freight train, kicking her way to victory off the final curve. Simpson told flotrack.org...

SIMPSON: All of a sudden, I can see the finish line, and there's not many people in my vision. And then all of a sudden, there's no one in my vision, and I'm like, I think I'm winning.


SIMPSON: And I just felt like I couldn't believe it.

KEYES: But the first American since 1983 to win gold in the race known as the metric mile has won gobs of titles and set many records. Last year alone, the 25-year-old Florida native also took indoor titles in the mile and 3,000 meters.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Here she comes powering those arms down the final straightaway in front of the whole field here, crosses the line, arms up. Look at the time. Oh, my gosh. That's almost eight seconds under the current record.

KEYES: That's flotrack.org's play-by-play of Simpson's 2009 NCAA 3,000-meter indoor championship, and she has a slew of steeplechase championships as well. Simpson also holds the American record in that event. That's the race where the runners jump over 35 30-inch hurdles, including water hazards in addition to running 3,000 meters.

SIMPSON: It is a really crazy event.

KEYES: Simpson says it's been a good stepping stone in her career, and she's made teams, including the 2008 Olympic team. She wouldn't have without it. But in 2009 as a college senior, Simpson ran a startling 3:59 in the 1,500.

SIMPSON: It was such a huge barrier to break four minutes.

KEYES: Simpson says she realized then she could be world-class at any distance she focused on from 1,500 meters on up. Now, she's laser-focused on making the 2012 team at that distance.

SIMPSON: It's fun to be a miler. It's fun to only be in excruciating pain for four minutes instead of nine minutes.



BENSON: Right into it, right into it.


KEYES: Back at her coach's home base at the Air Force Academy, kids from an athletic camp cheered Simpson on as Juli Benson put her through her paces, but Benson says Simpson is absolutely ready for the U.S. Olympic trials.

BENSON: This woman can compete and will compete with whoever wants to line up against her.

KEYES: Jenny Simpson says she's heading into the trials excited about what she may be capable of this year. Allison Keyes, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Keyes is an award-winning journalist with almost 20 years of experience in print, radio, and television. She has been reporting for NPR's national desk since October 2005. Her reports can be heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition Sunday.