It’s a good problem when you’re having a tough time picking who will represent the United States in the 1500 meters at the Olympic Games without discussing qualifying standard issues. It has been quite some time since so many legitimate competitors on the international stage could be brought to bear by America. On the women’s side there has been a flush of dominant performances in recent years especially in the metric mile, where America last year had the world leader and the world champion all at the same time.
This past weekend’s U.S. Indoor Championship in Albuquerque was a sample of how difficult this process will be as World champion Jenny Simpson won but with emerging star Brenda Martinez finishing within the a whisker of dethroning the defending indoor victor as both runners crossing the tape in 4:15 but with Simpson taking it by seven hundredths of a second.
Aside from these two leaders there is 2011 world leader Morgan Uceny who despite a tragic fall at Worlds was dominant throughout the summer, 2009 World bronze medalist Shannon Rowbury and Saturday’s third place finisher Sara Vaughn. With a team so stacked we have to consider what are the chances of each of these athletes making the team.
Simpson is the new golden girl of American distance running after grabbing a surprise gold medal last summer when her fellow American and race favorite Uceny went down in a tumble on the track. Known primarily for her American record in the steeplechase, Simpson, coming off an injury plagued 2010, switched to the 1500 to avoid possible injury complications and the move paid off handsomely.
This year she started off with a shaky 3k in Boston where she attempted to chase Meseret Defar but faded badly to end 25 seconds back of the winner and behind three other Americans. Since then she has looked much stronger and with her double at indoor nationals she appears to be the front runner to make the squad. She will skip out on World Indoors to focus on the training needed to win at the Olympic Trials.
Uceny had a breakout year in 2011 but one misstep cost her the chance at being World champion. Though many think it may be a stretch to think she can duplicate last year’s consistency, her fitness level and mental state appear to be on solid ground as she produced a respectable 1k in Boston and recent 4:08 indoor 1500 in Stockholm.
With her ability to be unfazed by her Worlds performance she, in my opinion, seems to be sure thing to qualifying to the Games. Her strength and power at the end of the race keeps her a tough individual to displace.
Some would say that they would not have seen Brenda Martinez’s rise to becoming an Olympic threat but if you were keeping your eyes open it was clear. Her career at UC Riverside she put the little thought of program on the map with her running in the middle distances. She came in second at NCAA’s in the 1500 and under the tutelage of coach Carlos Handler has been making steady gains since going pro. Her victory at the U.S. Open mile made her be noticed in the running community and being under the guidance of coaching legend Joe Vigil does not subtract from her strengths.
With her continuous improvement over the season and steady doses of high altitude living in the Big Bear, Calif. she should be able to mark a spot on the trip to London. Without a vast depth of international experience, gong to World Indoors will add some racing savvy to a runner whose ability to both lead like at MSG and to have a kick like at nationals proves that versatility is a unquestioned asset. Do not be shocked by Martinez being in the mix at the Trials and later joining the world’s best in London this summer.