World Track Championships

Simpson leads gold rush

Her 1,500 win is first for US in 28 years

Jenny Barringer Simpson used her sister as motivation to pull away and capture the 1,500 meters. Jenny Barringer Simpson used her sister as motivation to pull away and capture the 1,500 meters. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)
By Pat Graham
Associated Press / September 2, 2011

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DAEGU, South Korea - For nearly three decades, Mary Slaney owned this territory. No American had been able to equal her success at 1,500 meters at the world championships.

Now there’s Jenny Barringer Simpson.

With one powerful surge on the homestretch, Simpson looked every bit as dominant as Slaney once was, winning on a marvelous night for the Americans, highlighted by three gold medals in an exhilarating 30-minute stretch.

Simpson is the first American woman to win the world title in the 1,500 since Slaney - Decker back then - in 1983. In those worlds, Slaney also won the 3,000. A year earlier, she set six world records at distances ranging from a mile to 10,000 meters.

“It’s very exciting to follow in her footsteps and bring the US back to that level,’’ Simpson said.

Jesse Williams started the winning spree by capturing the high jump, the first American to do so since Charles Austin in 1991. Simpson soon followed with the unexpected win and Lashinda Demus completed the night with victory in the 400 hurdles.

Bursting across the finish line, Simpson’s eyes grew wide in amazement. She looked around the stadium, then blew kisses to the crowd.

Given the team’s expanding talent in the 1,500, the US team figured to have a contender for a medal, but it looked as if it would be Morgan Uceny, not Simpson. Uceny, however, became entangled just before the final lap and fell, ending her chances for a medal.

Simpson had a strong motivation pulling her toward the finish - her sister who’s serving in the Army and stationed in Alabama.

“I thought, ‘If I win gold, I get to play the national anthem for her,’ ’’ said Simpson, who was married last October. “Coming down the last 100 meters, I was thinking of my little sister and thought, ‘Let’s get that song playing.’ ’’

Other winners included Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya (steeplechase), David Greene of Britain (400 hurdles), and Olha Saladuha of Ukraine (triple jump).

Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee sprinter known as the “Blade Runner,’’ helped South Africa reach the final in the 1,600-meter relay, but was left off the four-man team for the today’s race.

Pistorius wrote in a Twitter message that he was “Pretty Guttered.’’ Instead of Pistorius, 400 hurdles bronze medalist L.J. van Zyl will run.

Team manager Magda Botha said the decision was based on “factual information and knowledge’’ after a meeting with the athletes.

After making a historic breakthrough for Paralympic athletes by reaching the semifinals of the 400 this week, Pistorius ran a strong opening leg on the tough inside lane yesterday to help South Africa to a third-place finish in the heats and a South African record of 2:59.21.

“It’s unbelievable to be part of one of the four names on the list to run a national record,’’ Pistorius said.

The United States and Jamaica led qualifying, just ahead of South Africa.

South African teammate Caster Semenya began her quest to defend her 800 title by advancing to the semifinals. Two years ago in Berlin, Semenya captured the event as a little-known teenager but was embroiled in a controversy over her gender. She was forced out of competition for 11 months following gender tests before being cleared to compete again.

In the 400 hurdles, Demus and defending champion Melaine Walker were close through the last barrier, but Demus moved ahead with a fantastic kick. Her time of 52.47 seconds was an American record and the third fastest in history.

In the morning, Bernard Lagat posted the top time of the qualifying round in the 5,000, striding around the track to the sounds of his young son yelling, “Go, daddy.’’

Lagat arrived at the track without the beard he grew to make the youthful 36-year-old appear older.

“Now, I’m serious,’’ Lagat said with a chuckle.