WRITTEN FOR SKYSPORTS
In an effort to qualify for and hit this summer’s European championships in razor-sharp form, 800m runner Jemma Simpson has been sleeping in an altitude tent and had access to anti-gravity and underwater treadmills to improve her performance, writes Nicola Bamford.
Adapting to such unusual training methods is testament to the 26-year-old athlete’s dedication to propel herself from regular semi-finalist to medal contender for next month’s continental championships in Barcelona, in an event where Team GB could have two runners atop of the podium.
Simpson will this weekend attempt to qualify for the Spanish event alongside world outdoor bronze-medallist Jenny Meadows. Despite being crowned the 2007 and 2009 British champion, Simpson will be hard-pushed to take the scalp of her more be-medalled rival, though the Cornwall-born runner should provide a good race for her money:
“With two of us currently ranked in the top eight in the world, it’s better than any other country has got,” Simpson explained.
“There used to be a larger crop of us but people have been hampered with injuries and have struggled to progress. I'm happy with where I am at the moment; I constantly look at the bigger picture and always keep 2012 in my mind. This enables me to progress at a steady rate to the peak of my career.”
Indeed, Simpson’s career has been getting hotter as the weeks progress this summer; as she has recently catapulted herself into third-place on the current European rankings list. Solid clockings of 2:02.88 and 2:00.31 in Hengelo and Prague, respectively followed a 4:06.39 new personal best over 1500m in California before the two-lapper stormed to 1:59.58 in the Rome leg of the IAAF Diamond League for fifth place behind Meadows in third.
Coached by 1988 Olympic steeplechase bronze-medallist Mark Rowland in Oregon, USA for much of the year, Simpson gave her thoughts on her early-season promise:
“I am thrilled to have got off to a good start this year. My coach and I decided to do more 1500m training leading into the track season hence my new PB over 1500m. I went into Rome having barely touched speed-work yet; these races have given me the confidence that there is a lot more to come this year. With the 800m, I want to be dipping under two-minutes every time I race now; I was pleased to see a 1.59.5 great start.
My winter training has gone well, despite a few minor niggles. I am putting together year upon year of consistent training now which is building me a great foundation for the 2012 Olympics. Each year I hope to make consistent improvements mentally and physically in the build up to the games.”
Simpson is certainly an excellent example of gradual progression, too. A natural talent, the Newquay and Par runner took a plethora of national junior titles in her youth and became the Commonwealth Youth champion in 2000.
With a mother who competed internationally at karate, strong sporting prowess is evidently in the family genes and Simpson went onto place fourth in the 2002 World junior championships before taking European bronze and silver medals at junior and under23 level, respectively.
As a senior, Simpson has completed her track apprenticeship in the last four-year cycle quite admirably. In the 2006 continental championships, she finished sixth in her semi-final and replicated that same position in the Commonwealth Games of that year and the World championships in 2007.
A minor blip on an otherwise impressive athletic CV was failing to make it through the heats of the 2008 Olympics but Simpson bounced back in 2009 to place fifth in her semi-final in a personal best of 1:59.07.
The girlfriend of GB 10,000m man Chris Thompson, Simpson revealed her thoughts on her 2009 campaign and her goals for 2010:
“My 2009 season was going very well; I was consistent and running better than ever before, but I fell at the last hurdle and didn't progress through to the final at the world champs. I hope to rectify that this year. I know I can run quicker I just need it to all come together at the right time. I really want to make the (European) final and get a medal. I’m undecided on the Commonwealths (in New Delhi in October) yet; it's a funny time of year to be competing at your best.”
Not in need of any extra motivation to finally make the step up into senior championship medal class, Simpson does have the added advantage of having the aforementioned Thompson for an additional source of inspiration.
Back in May, the 29-year-old registered the third-fastest time ever for 10,000m by a British man when clocking a scintillating 27:29.61 in America after years of injury woes – Simpson, too hopes that 2010 will be the year in which she makes her own breakthrough:
“We have been together for two years now. We make a great team; supporting each other and helping each other out whilst trying to equally pursue international athletic careers. So far, so good; we are both on the up.
He is everything to me including my personal comedian. He's hilarious, a great quality in a guy, a pleasure to have around. Much of my steady running is done with Chris; we usually chat away on our runs and get much of it done without even thinking about it.”
Sponsorship giant Nike have put their faith in Simpson for the past seven years and this belief may well be rewarded in spades this year, as this ‘Jem of a runner’ attempts to crash the Spanish party en route to achieving her ultimate goal of gold in 2012.