The American is a regular competitor at street athletics exhibition events, having won the New Balance 5th Avenue Mile for a fifth time
Olympic 1500m bronze medallist Jenny Simpson believes it’s vital for athletics to continue to capitalise on the popularity of its street events after enjoying yet another season-ending victory in New York.
Simpson, the world 1500m champion from 2011 and first ever American female to win a 1500m Olympic medal, has become accustomed to success at exhibition events on the road at the season’s climax, with victory last Saturday at the New Balance 5th Avenue Mile being the fifth time she has taken the title.
As the eighth edition of the Great North CityGames approaches, an event the American competed at in 2012, the spotlight in Britain is again thrown upon the unique atmosphere athletics can create when taken from its more familiar confines of a 400m track in a stadium and spread across a more accessible landscape.
Unsurprisingly given the regularity of her participation in such events, Simpson is an advocate of street athletics and believes the format is crucial for the sport to enable it to widen its fan base and engage with new people.
“I competed in a Great CityGames several years ago and so I have experience of that event and it has a very similar feel to the 5th Avenue Mile. These sorts of events are really critical to growing and connecting with the fan base of our sport,” Simpson said.
“I’m a huge proponent of having these events where it takes athletes who are often at arm’s length in a stadium and bringing them much closer to their fans and into a much more relatable context on a road where other people can run the exact same race.
“I think it’s such a great way to take the top echelon of the world and make them very relatable.
“The track is my home. That’s what I do best and what I do over and over, all season long. When I’m able to take myself out of that disciplined context of three and three-quarter laps and I’m able to do my event back on the roads, among fans who love the sport, it’s incredible.
“To take my sport, put it out of the stadium and on to the streets where literally thousands of people who can both cheer for us but also participate in it, it’s an incredible celebration of community participation and such a great way to celebrate our sport.”
Simpson’s season-ending victory was made all the more special considering the class of competition she faced, including British 1500m record-holder Laura Muir whom she held off by one-tenth of a second to win in a best of 4:18.3.
In Rio a dramatic final 800 metres saw Simpson clock a 1:59 split and out-kick 2015 world bronze medallist Sifan Hassan and fellow American Shannon Rowbury on the home straight, having already hunted down Muir with half a lap remaining.
“I got to beat some really meaningful competitors. You care a lot about the Olympic Games and you care a lot about the Diamond Leagues throughout the year and put out the best effort you can, but there’s something about the 5th Avenue Mile,” she added.
“I’ve done it and been victorious so many times, so it meant a lot to me to come back here to win a fifth title. I don’t know where I found the extra energy but I definitely knew standing on the start line that I had to be someone who cared about the race the most today.”