Olympic Track Medalist Jenny Simpson Reflects on Career

Jenny Simpson is an Olympic medalist in the 1,500 meters, Rising New York Road Runners Ambassador and Special Advisor, Team New Balance athlete, and six-time 5th Avenue Mile champion. Yet before securing all these accolades, Jenny was simply an aspiring athlete from Florida.

Her love of running began in elementary school during playground races. She ran through middle and high school, and eventually began to specialize in the steeplechase, a complicated and strenuous track and field event in which contestants run around a track while jumping over hurdles and running through water. Kid Reporter Riley Neubauer had the chance to sit down with Jenny during an event for Rising New York Road Runners.

What was your first thought when you stepped into the Olympic stadium?

The first time I stepped into the Olympic stadium was the opening ceremony, and for a lot of the Olympic athletes, that is the most meaningful moment of their Olympic experience. You come in as a whole team, and it is overwhelming because from a young age you see the Olympics on NBC, you see what it’s like, and then to actually walk in and be a character on that stage is just an incredible and amazing feeling of having succeeded in something. I will never forget what it felt like to walk the opening ceremony.

How did your training change once you made the Olympic team?

I think it is tempting to think that your training changes a lot when you make an Olympic team; however, it doesn’t change a lot. The intensity goes up a little bit and you have to focus on the things you are best at and make those as sharp as possible. The actual formula of how to train after you’ve made the Olympic Games is the same as what it took to get there.

How did it feel to win the bronze medal in Rio?

Winning an Olympic medal is just an incredible feeling. I remember when I crossed the finish line and I knew for sure that I had won a bronze medal in the Olympic Games. I remember thinking of my 10-year-old self who first saw the Olympic Games and imagined and wondered, “Is this possible?”

I felt that the moment on the track in my uniform before I received my medal. I felt like, “This moment is for me. This is for my younger self and my current self that believed all along that maybe I could get here.”

Then there is a second special moment when you stand on the podium and they give you your medal. I was the first American woman to ever medal in my event, so I remember standing at the podium and feeling like the moment on the track is for me, and this moment is for my coaches and for the people that have supported me and for the country.

How did your approach to the race change from your first, second, and third Olympic Games?

In my first Olympics, I wanted to make the team and then try and get through the first round…I really took it one race at a time. As I progressed in my professional career, that process has become different because I really do expect to make it to the final and hopefully to be a medal contender. Those early stages are a little different because I expect I am going to get beyond that point and make it to the final, and then I focus on how to do my best in the final.

Do you have a specific running role model?

When I was in college and made my first Olympic team in 2008, I was roommates with Shalane Flanagan, who won a silver medal in the 10K. She came back to her room and showed me her medal. That was the first Olympic medal I’d ever seen. I remember having this moment of thinking, “If she can do it, I can do it.” And sure enough, years and years later I eneded up with my own medal.

Riley Neubauer
What pieces of advice have your coaches given you that have really helped you?

I think one of the best things that my coaches have always encouraged me is that there is always another race. If this one doesn’t go the way you want, what’s the worst that can happen? The worst that can happen is you try again next time. It is different when you are at the Olympics because your next chance might not be for four years, but I think it is good to remember that there is never one moment in life that is completely the only opportunity to define your career. If this moment isn’t your moment, there is going to be another opportunity in the future.

Where do you keep your Olympic medal?

I keep it in a locked drawer in my bedroom. A lot of people ask me why it is not in my living room and why I don’t show it off. A lot of family members ask me to see it during holidays, so I will bring it out. But I don’t like to put it on display.

Do you have any pre-race rituals or superstitions?

I have a schedule that I line up. I always start from the time that the gun goes off at the start of the race and I work backwards. I figure out when I want to be ready to go to the first-call room and when I want to be done with stretching and warmup, and I work all of the way back to the beginning of the day. I have my whole day all scheduled out and it helps me relax and not worry about getting to the race on time.

What would be your first clip on your personal highlight reel?

[It would be] a really funny and pathetic seven-mile run that I did in the heat of the day where I was miserable and terrible. I think it is really awesome to see how people can transform over time. People see a set of elite athletes and they think of us as these powerful and successful people on the track, but we all came from a more similar place than [you would think].

Top photograph by Harry How/Getty Images

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