New York City, September 09—Jenny Simpson’s reign as the top-ranked American miler may be in jeopardy, but she refuses to cede her title as the queen of one of New York’s famous streets. On an unseasonably chilly afternoon, the 32-year-old Olympic bronze medalist claimed her seventh victory—and sixth in a row—in the 5th Avenue Mile, a perennial season-ending fixture down the iconic Manhattan street. She was joined in the winners circle by Scotland’s Jake Wightman, who capped a stellar year by unseating 4-time men’s winner Nick Willis.
Simpson’s up-and-down season featured a PR 4:17.30 in the mile in London (improving her hold on the No. 2 spot on the U.S. all-time list), an end to her 4-year run of USATF 1500 titles in June (thanks to Shelby Houlihan) and a disappointing way-back-in-the-pack finish in the Diamond League finals the week before her New York victory. “In sports, bad days are inevitable and today was a bad day for me,” she tweeted after that race at the Van Damme Memorial, where she finished 10th. But by the next day she had recovered her trademark optimism. “A good fighter takes a few punches even in a winning round,” she tweeted. “I love getting into the ring. I love seeing how good I can be. I can’t wait for 5th Ave Mile!”
Through a light but steady rain shower and 60-degree temperatures she delivered with a front-running strategy that dared her opponents to threaten her on a rolling course she has dominated since ’11. The entire field appeared hesitant to challenge her until the final stages, when fellow Americans Colleen Quigley (fresh off a string of PRs in Europe), Alexa Efraimson and Emma Coburn—along with Brits Melissa Courtney and Sarah McDonald—were in the hunt for the win. In the end, Simpson found her trademark acceleration to hold off Quigley, 4:18.9–4:19.2. Courtney, the bronze medalist at the Commonwealth Games 1500 back in April, held on for 3rd in 4:20.3, just ahead of steeplechase world champ Coburn (4:20.5).
After the race Simpson admitted that strategy is as important to her success on 5th Avenue as her leg speed. “I don’t just think ‘What would Jenny do?,’ I think if I was a competitor how would I try to beat me,” said the Olympic bronze medalist in Rio and a 3-time world championships medalist. “In that last 300, 200 meters I have to be ready for the person who held on the best to be right there to say ‘this is my chance to break her streak. I just try to know that and be ready for that at all times.”
Willis has used similar tactical savvy to win this race 4 times since ’08, and hoped his 35-year-old legs would have the final answer in the closing stretch. After a slow early pace, a trio of young Scots broke the race open with 300m to go. First Chris O’Hare came charging from the far right side of the roadway to take a lead, with Wightman and Neil Gourley covering the strike best, and Willis moving into position.
Wightman passed O’Hare in the final 200 and showed off the gears that earned him an 800 PR of 1:44.61 earlier this summer. He hit the tape in 3:53.5, comfortably clear of Willis (3:54.2). Gourley (3:55.3) took 3rd, just ahead of fast-closing American Eric Avila (3:55.5), while O’Hare faded to 6th in 3:56.2.
“I’m relieved I can end my season on a high,” said the winner, who took bronze medals in the 1500 at both the Commonwealth Games and European Championships this year. “Usually when I race this sort of race I make mistakes, but I don’t feel like I did that today. When there’s someone like Nick coming from behind you there’s never a guarantee you’re going to hold on.”
Both winners picked up $5000 checks, and were eager to get started on fall vacations while savoring the confidence boost of a season-ending victory. “That’s a big part of me fighting so hard for the win here,” Simpson said. “Now I can go into 4 months away from racing and just have this sense of satisfaction and momentum going into the off-season. I definitely use the ego boost from here.”
5TH AVENUE MILE MEN’S RESULTS
New York City, September 09—
Mile: 1. Jake Wightman (GB) 3:53.5 ($5000); 2. Nick Willis (NZ) 3:54.2; 3. Neil Gourley (GB) 3:55.3; 4. Eric Avila (adi) 3:55.5; 5. Sam McEntee (Aus) 3:56.0; 6. Chris O’Hare (GB) 3:56.2; 7. Charlie Grice (GB) 3:56.6; 8. Craig Engels (NikOP) 3:56.8; 9. Johnny Gregorek (Asics) 3:56.9; 10. Riley Masters (Nik) 3:56.9;
11. Ben Blankenship (OTC) 3:57.1; 12. Ben True (Sauc) 3:57.3; 13. Sam Prakel (adi) 3:57.6; 14. Sam Parsons (adi) 3:57.7; 15. Andreas Bube (Den) 3:58.8; 16. Matthew Centrowitz (NikOP) 4:00.2; 17. Graham Crawford (HokaNJNY) 4:00.3; 18. Lopez Lomong (BowTC) 4:01.3; 19. Rob Napolitano (HokaNJNY) 4:02.1; 20. Boris Berian (NBal) 4:16.2; 21. Drew Windle (Brk) 4:23.3.
5TH AVENUE MILE WOMEN’S RESULTS
Mile: 1. Jenny Simpson (NBal) 4:18.8 (7th win, 6th in a row) ($5000); 2. Colleen Quigley (BowTC) 4:19.2; 3. Melissa Courtney (GB) 4:20.2; 4. Emma Coburn (NBal) 4:20.5; 5. Alexa Efraimson (Nik) 4:20.9; 6. Emily Lipari (adi) 4:21.6; 7. Laura Weightman (GB) 4:21.7; 8. Cory McGee (NBal) 4:24.1; 9. Nicole Sifuentes (Can) 4:24.2; 10. Sarah McDonald (GB) 4:24.5;
11. Shannon Osika (Nik) 4:25.2; 12. Adelle Tracey (GB) 4:25.5; 13. Katie Mackey (BrkB) 4:25.6; 14. Steph Twell (GB) 4:27.2; 15. Kate Grace (BowTC) 4:28.4; 16. Dominique Scott (SA) 4:28.7; 17. Helen Schlachtenhaufen (SaucF) 4:29.4; 18. Sara Vaughn (NYAC) 4:32.8; 19. Rachel Schneider (UArm) 4:32.9; 20. Kim Conley (NBal) 4:33.7; 21. Katrina Coogan (NBal) 4:33.9; 22. Marta Pen (Por) 4:35.9; 23. Ce’Aira Brown (HokaNJNY) 4:42.8. □