Eight years ago, when Jenny Simpson made her first appearance at the Olympics, she was just 22 years-old and known as Colorado Buffaloes star Jenny Barringer.
At the time, and understandably so, Simpson was somewhat wide-eyed during her Olympic experience in Beijing. Every small detail, from the opening ceremonies to receiving her official
U.S. uniform, was cause for inner reflection and a fresh rash of goosebumps.
Eight years later, Simpson is no less appreciative of what will be her third Olympic experience in Rio. However, this time around the bright lights and the distractions from the constant circus of pomp and circumstance no longer are experiences that need to be savored.
This time around, nothing matters beyond her preparation to toe the starting line in the 1,500-meter run.
"I hope I'm getting better as I go, and I think it is getting better as I go," Simpson said. "When you wear the red, white, and blue and you represent your country, it's an incredible feeling and you have this enormous community asking you over and over, 'What is this like? What is this like?' You're trying to experience it and articulate it at the same time.
"Being eight years removed from my first Olympic games, I think time helps us have a greater understanding of what we've experienced. I do think I appreciate a lot of my participation and the opportunity ahead of me more than I did in 2008 and more than I did in 2012. While my respect for (the Olympics) and my appreciation for it is growing, so is my ability to focus in on one thing and eliminate the distractions."
Simpson is coming off a winning performance at the U.S. Olympic Trials, where her time of 4 minutes, 4.74 seconds edged American record-holder Shannon Rowbury (4:05.39). Simpson still has work to do to put herself in medal contention. Yet after returning to the tutelage of CU coach Mark Wetmore for this Olympic run, Simpson remains confident in her chances.
"She's training very well and she's had a couple good races, but she's only the ninth-fastest runner in the world right now," Wetmore said. "Making it to the finals is the first goal, and then competing well when we get there."
Simpson competed in the steeplechase in the '08 games, finishing ninth with what then was a U.S. record of 9:22.26. At the 2012 Olympics, Simpson experienced an unforeseen setback when she failed to reach the final of the 1,500-meter run. She plans to make amends this time around.
"Reaching the Olympics, and then again reaching a final, is really a precious opportunity," Simpson said. "You have to come so far to just be on the starting line and have that chance.
"Beijing was very devastating for me. It's not about that race having gone wrong, but I had to jump through so many hoops and get through so many races and be healthy for so long just to get to that race. That was far more disappointing than (2008) because it felt like it was totally bad luck."