WRITTEN FOR TEAM 2012 VISA (ON MARCH 3RD)
In a bid to finally make her mark on the global scene, 800m runner Jemma Simpson is spending the winter Down Under in preparation for a busy two summers ahead, writes Nicola Bamford.
The 27-year-old had a varied 2010 campaign which saw her register two impressive lifetime bests but finish only fifth in the European championships, so in an effort to bridge the international gap this season, Simpson is currently training hard in the Australian heat.
Usually based in Oregon, USA, Simpson is joined by her partner, European 10,000m silver-medallist Chris Thompson during their southern-hemisphere adventure and is already feeling the benefits after two months in their new environment:
“We came to Australia to take advantage of the nice weather, allowing us to do some speed-work and take a break from our heavy winter programmes,” Simpson explains.
“Since being here, I have been combining tempo running with speed-work, track sessions and grass sessions and swimming.
I haven’t done any specific 800/1500m sessions yet, as I have been building up my fitness from my recent injury lay off.”
Guided by former Olympic 3,000m steeplechase bronze-medallist Mark Rowland, Simpson suffered a foot injury around Christmas but by her own admission, is back in shape:
“I did a great 1500m test session the other day and plan to race over the distance in Melbourne this week,” she reveals.
“I had another couple of races planned but they got cancelled due to the recent earthquake in New Zealand.”
An eight-time national champion over the two–lap distance, Simpson has been the reigning UK victor for the last four consecutive seasons yet she has also consistently finished as Britain’s number-two in both major championships and year rankings.
Sitting adrift of World and European bronze-medallist Jenny Meadows for the past two years, Simpson has struggled of late to emerge from her rival’s shadow in the big events.
Placing only fifth in the continental edition in Barcelona last July despite taking her latest domestic crown, Simpson’s frustration, though was at least dampened by her registering two lifetime bests earlier in the summer.
Recording times of 1:58.74 in Monaco and 4:06.39 in California, the St Mary’s University English graduate shot to seventh on the British all-time list for her specialist event to match her indoor all-time ranking with 2:01.25 from the 2008 season.
“2010 has mixed reviews for me,” Simpson explains.
“I moved into the 1.58 category which was a positive and I learnt a lot from my racing this season but championship wise, I really, really wanted to get a medal and was in a very strong position to obtain that but I missed out and was gutted.
However, it was my first championship final which is a step forward. My overall performance was good and I finished sixth in the world merit rankings and I also consistently ran low 1.59’s (on six occasions) which is a progression from 2009.”
On her competitive rivalry with Meadows and on competing in arguably the nation’s toughest female athletic discipline, she continues:
“Jenny and I get on well when we see each other - we have even shared a room before a competition.
When racing though, I want to beat everyone on the start-line.
The 800m and 1500m are really strong in the UK at the moment - we have some of the best performers in the world. It’s great for us as competitors and no-one can become complacent.
To be the best in Britain at the moment you have to be top 10 in the world as both Jenny Meadows and I have been in the past two years.”
Having finished only fifth in her semi-final at the 2009 World championships in Berlin and failing to progress beyond the heats of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Simpson is determined to make her mark this summer in a springboard to success for London 2012:
“My 2011 goal is to make the world championships final and hopefully medal there,” she reveals on her aims for the event in Daegu, South Korea in August.
And as the nation’s fifth-fastest 1500m performer last year, Simpson would also like to turn her attention to the metric mile – though, post-2012 of course:
“Long term, I plan to do the 800m in the Olympics then after that, start to have a crack at the 1500m and see how good I can be at that event,” she explains.
“It’s absolutely brilliant that the UK is hosting the Olympics - having a home-crowd advantage will be amazing and hopefully, there will be a real buzz for all the UK athletes.
To win a medal at these Olympics will carry a bigger thrill than any other medal I could win in my lifetime.
Chris and I have discussed the possibility of us both making it or the possibility of one of us not making it - it’s almost like we have two shots instead of one!”
One thing’s for sure, though - this Cornish ‘fastie’ will no longer be content with being overshadowed.