The American running community has long searched for an ambassador who can promote track and field domestically and inspire the next generation of runners to take up the sport.
With Jenny Simpson’s 1500 meter world title at the IAAF World Championships, the search appears to be over. Simpson possesses the physical talent as well as the charisma to become a top U.S. hope for the London Olympics next year and promote running to the American general public.
Fans of elite running have known of Jenny Simpson (née Barringer) since her early days as a Foot Locker bronze medalist as a high school junior. She blossomed as a steeplechaser at the University of Colorado, winning multiple NCAA titles as well as finishing fifth in the event at the 2009 World Championships in an American record time of 9 minutes, 12.50 seconds while still enrolled in college. All the while, the runner known on the message boards as ‘Jenny B’ became a fan favorite for her effervescent personality and charming post-race interviews.
The combination of her on-track performances and off-track persona contributed to New Balance signing her to an lucrative endorsement deal to be the face of the brand.
“Jenny is arguably the best female collegiate runner to put spikes on,” said New Balance General Manager Tom Carleo at Simpson’s signing press conference in January 2010. “But it was more Jenny as a person that was an amazing synergy and amazing fit for New Balance.”
Simpson’s 1500 meter win in Daegu not only cements her status as one of the world’s best runners but gives her the opportunity to utilize her natural charm to serve as a role model for young athletes and advance the sport of running in the United States.
But like many top runners, Simpson has experienced her share of adversity that serve as examples of the up-and-down nature of running. She was the overwhelming favorite at the 2009 NCAA cross country championships but experienced a strange physical and mental breakdown that caused her to collapse midway through the race and eventually finish in 163rd place.
Simpson had her first professional season in 2010 derailed by a femoral stress reaction, forcing her to miss racing on the European circuit.
“She’s a very mature athlete and handled it very well,” said Juli Benson, Simpson’s coach and head cross country coach at the Air Force Academy. “We did a good job of putting [the injury] in perspective. The 2011 and 2012 summers are what the big goals are.”
The lessons of the tough times only serve to make the successes sweeter. Simpson has now experienced the highs and lows of the sport and is now ready to be a face of track and field heading into an Olympic year when endorsement and media opportunities will be rampant for the World champion. Let’s hope the youth of America will be inspired by their hero and devote themselves toward becoming the next Jenny Simpson.