When Jenny Simpson (formerly Barringer) moved from the steeplechase to the 1500-meter run she set the stage for her breakout performance at the 2011 World Championships. Not considered among the event’s favorites, she seemed to even surprise herself when she surged past the 1500-meter field on the final lap to win the gold medal. Those familiar with her college and early pro career, however, were probably not completely surprised that the determined Simpson had prevailed against the odds.
Simpson first had to beat the odds as a young child when she overcame infantile asthma prior to age 2. She began running competitively in grade school and continued to compete even when calcium deposits formed in her lungs as a result of contact with contaminated horse feed. The only thing young Jenny Barringer gave up on was competitive horseback riding, but that decision helped her focus on track and field.
After a record-setting high school career in Florida, Simpson passed up a scholarship offer to Duke in favor of Colorado, but only after track coach Mark Wetmore assured Simpson’s father that his daughter could be a standout runner. Wetmore was proven correct as Simpson won four NCAA championships, three in the steeplechase and one in the indoor 3000 meters. She was also an All-American cross country runner.
Simpson’s key rival at Colorado was Kenyan distance star Sally Kipyego, who ran for Texas Tech. Kipyego beat Simpson consistently, but Simpson won the duo’s last college competition, in the Big 12 Conference’s indoor mile final. Simpson set an NCAA record while winning the race in 4:25.91. “I finally got her in my last race against her, but I’d like to think that I spent three years really working my tail off to get there,” Simpson told Running Times
. Simpson said that Kipyego dominated their early encounters, adding, “getting stomped like that can either put you down or it can really motivate you. I realized the person who was killing me totally deserved it. And my thought was ‘I want to deserve it, too.’”
Middle Distance Success:
After focusing on the steeplechase for three years at Colorado, Simpson broadened her horizons in her senior year, setting five NCAA indoor and outdoor records, ranging from the 1500 to the 5000. She offered a hint of things to come at the 2009 Prefontaine meet by becoming the third American woman to run the 1500 in less than four minutes, finishing second in 3:59.90.
Simpson finished ninth in the 2008 Olympic steeplechase final, then took fifth in the 2009 World Championships in an American record time of 9:12.50. Moving to middle distance, she overcome a leg injury that cut her 2010 pro season short, plus bronchitis in 2011 to finish second in the U.S. Championships in the 1500 meters, then prevailed in the World Championships by passing three runners on the final turn then two more on the straight to capture the 1500-meter gold medal in 4:05.40.
- Height: 5 feet, 5 inches
- Weight: 110 pounds
- Birth date: August 23, 1986
- Hometown: Oviedo, Florida
- Personal best: 2:01.20 (800 meters); 3:59.90 (1500 meters); 9:12.50 (steeplechase)