Even among the countless big-name athletes produced by the Colorado track program, Jenny Simpson stands out.
So it seemed somewhat fitting it was Simpson who took center stage in the very first running event on Friday during the opening day of the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials. And it certainly was fitting she set a pace for the 14 current and former Buffaloes competing at the Trials to follow.
Joe Klecker certainly did.
Klecker, who finished his CU career in 2020, secured a spot for the Tokyo Games next month in the 10,000 meter run by finishing third. Klecker was ranked seventh in the event but earned his first Olympics berth in a tightly-contested race in which the first-place finisher (Woody Kincaid, 27:53.62) was only .28 ahead of Klecker’s third-place mark (27:53.90). Down the stretch, Klecker was able to hold off a crowded pack that finished about four seconds behind the lead trio.
According to Klecker’s personal Twitter account after the race, next month’s business journey to Japan will mark his first trip outside the U.S.
Simpson turned in the top time in the first round of the women’s 1,500 run at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.
The bronze medalist in the 1,500 at the Rio Olympics in 2016, Simpson surged down the stretch of the opening heat to post a time of 4 minutes, 11.34 seconds.
Simpson will be joined by another former Buffs runner in the semifinals on Saturday in Dani Jones, who finished 16th in Friday’s first round with a mark of 4:13.47. Current Buffs runner Micaela Degenero, who finished sixth in the 1,500 at the NCAA outdoor championships last week, did not advance after finishing 26th. Degenero posted a time of 4:18.33 after finishing in 4:11.26 last week in the NCAA final, which also was held at Hayward Field.
The 1,500 semifinals on Saturday (7:40 p.m. MT, NBC Sports Network) will feature two 12-runner heats, and Simpson and Jones will have to finish in the top five of their heat or turn in one of the two next-best times in order to reach the final round on Monday.
Simpson also was entered in the 5,000 meter run but did not start in order to focus on the 1,500. Yet the 5K remained a solid event for former Buffs, as Maddie Alm and Carrie Verdon advanced out of Friday’s first round. Alm, a Louisville native and a graduate of Monarch High School, finished third overall in 15:31.43, while Verdon advanced to Monday’s final round with a ninth-place finish (15:32.87).
Niwot alum and former Stanford runner Elise Cranny also advanced in the 5K, placing seventh in the first round (15:32.71).