LONDON -- The Olympics may help bring nations together, but when it comes to the 1,500 meters it's every woman for herself. And it can get downright nasty.
Jenny Simpson, a former Colorado Buff and the reigning world champion from Monument, decided to avoid the potential disaster at the front of the pack by running from the back in Monday's first round, and it almost cost her dearly.
In 11th place with 150 meters to go, Simpson had to kick with everything she had to secure the sixth and final spot in Wednesday's semifinal. After crossing the finish line, she had some anxious moments waiting to see the results on the scoreboard.
"Waiting for the names to come up on the board, I'm thinking, 'What a mistake, what a stupid mistake,'" Simpson said of the tactical decision to lay back that nearly backfired. "But then, once it comes up, I look on the positive: I move on to the next two rounds and I ran the slowest, easiest race to get in."
Simpson's margin in grabbing that last spot in the semi was 0.05 of a second over Ekaterina Martynova of Russia.
"It was so physical up front that I thought, 'Maybe if I let them go a little bit, I won't be tangled up when half the field goes down,'" Simpson said. "I thought, 'I'm running really comfortable so I'll just get close with 200-300 meters to go,' which is such a dumb thing to do. I knew with 100 meters to go, 'I gotta pull out something here, or I'm going to be sitting in my apartment in two days.'"
Simpson's experience illustrates the unpredictability of the 1,500 meters. Paces vary, collisions happen, favorites fail to reach finals. Simpson's heat was won in 4:13:55 by Lisa Dobriskey of Great Britain. The first heat went in 4:04.55 to Abeba Aregfawi of Ethiopia.
"At 4:13 pace, everyone can run that pace, and everyone can be really tactical and be ready to run (late in the race)," Simpson said. "Everyone's trying to get in good position, and at that point, like I showed in maybe not a great way, positioning is the most important thing when it's a slow race."
What's it like with all those sleek athletes crammed together at the front, running 14 mph, jostling and elbowing?
"It's not anything goes, but you have to stand your ground, you have to be willing to defend your space and be aggressive," Simpson said. "I don't think there was anything in the race that wasn't appropriate, it's just everyone's running within themselves, together, trying to get in position, and it just gets physical.
"When people dramatically go to the outside or dramatically make any sort of move, you can cut people off and you can cause a crash."
Simpson got away with a mistake once. She knows she won't get away with it again.
"Coming into the semi," she said, "if I want to make it to the final I cannot, under any circumstances, let that sort of gap exist."