In what turned out to be a battle between two Iowans, emerging middle distance star Shelby Houlihan defeated future Hall Of Famer Jenny Simpson. For the former Arizona Stater, it was her first national outdoor title at 1500 meters. And her victory denied the venerable Simpson from notching what would have been her fifth crown.
In the heats, 30 hopefuls vied for the 12 spots for the final 2 days later. Taking control early, Simpson looked strong up front in winning in 4:07.67, the fastest clocking of the day. With an energized finishing kick, former WC 800 medalist Brenda Martinez (4:10.51) prevailed in a more spirited second-section skirmish. Houlihan (4:14.79), who came back to race in her home state having captured 5 national titles in the past 16 months, displayed a powerful finish over the final furlong to complete a 59.32 last lap and win heat III.
In a final conducted under warm, dry and still conditions, Under Armour’s Rachel Schneider quickly went to the front of the tightly bunched field; 700m of casual running ensued. With 2 laps remaining the leader was Dana Giordano while the heavy hitters bided their time near the back of the crowded field.
Nervously eyeing one another, all of the runners, running laps barely under 70 seconds, were bracing for what they knew would be a furious finish. As the pace accelerated over the penultimate lap, the favorites jockeyed for position and at the bell a quartet of top contenders—Kate Grace, Martinez, Simpson, and Houlihan—were elbow-to-elbow, spread across the track, and separated by only 0.15.
On the final circuit, Olympic 800 finalist Grace struck first, quickly accelerating on the backstretch, her long stride giving her a sizable lead while her pursuers struggled to cover the Yalie’s powerful move. In the ensuing frenzy near the end of the backstretch, the BAA’s Lauren Johnson ran up on Martinez as the two got tangled amidst the traffic. Both went down. And while Johnson quickly rose to finish the race, Martinez was down for many minutes before being golf-carted out of the stadium.
Meanwhile, the battle up front raged on. Avoiding the backstretch tumble, Simpson (who was already past the scene of the accident) and Houlihan (lucky she didn’t get snared as she ran past Martinez) were at last in full flight on the curve and in pursuit of Grace, who was beginning to wobble coming into the homestretch. The pursuing duo flew by Grace at the top of the homestretch as the fans awaited a final sprint showdown between the two favorites. It was short lived. Finding a winning gear, Houlihan simply powered away from a straining Simpson to complete the final lap in an eye-popping 57.66 and capture the crown in 4:05.48. Simpson (4:06.21) and Grace (4:07.04) followed, both breaking 60 on the run for home but nonetheless losing ground to a renowned big kicker.
Undoubtedly disappointed, Simpson was nothing but gracious as she noted how her Hawkeye State square-off with Houlihan provided a special patina to the final. “You’re really close to everyone so everyone felt the thrill,” explained Simpson in citing the Drake Stadium intimacy. “And they had more than one person to root for. That made a difference. I had family here. People were rooting for me and for Shelby and for other people in the field.”
Before heading off to cool down, recover, and get ready for the next day’s 5000 final, an animated Houlihan—whose winning time of 3:59.06 in the Pre Classic remains the yearly American leader—took a moment to reveal what her home-state victory meant to her. “That was really up towards the top,” declared the happy champion. “I feel like I’ve come down a few times for the Drake Relays and stuff and I couldn’t place as well as I wanted to. So to come out here in front of my home crowd and my family and [to do well] is pretty cool.”
USATF WOMEN’S 1500 RESULTS
FINAL (June 23)
1. Shelby Houlihan (BowTC) 4:05.48
(50.56, 69.50 [2:00.06], 67.76 [3:07.82], 57.66)
(14.0, 28.2, 57.66, 2:05.42, 3:14.92);
2. Jenny Simpson (NBal) 4:06.21
(14.9, 29.1, 58.49, 2:06.05, 3:15.59);
3. Kate Grace (BowTC) 4:07.04
(15.6, 30.7, 59.37, 2:07.22, 3:16.68);
4. Rachel Schneider (UArm) 4:08.33
(15.4, 60.13, 2:09.10, 3:18.89);
5. Dani Jones (Co) 4:09.16
(61.16, 2:09.27, 3:19.00);
6. Elinor Purrier (NBal) 4:09.30
(60.97, 2:09.87, 3:19.58);
7. Shannon Osika (Nik) 4:09.64
(61.56, 2:10.05, 3:19.47);
8. Helen Schlachtenhaufen (SaucFr) 4:11.33;
9. Nikki Hiltz (Ar) 4:15.03;
10. Dana Giordano (unat) 4:16.76;
11. Lauren Johnson (BAA) 4:18.64;
… dnf—Brenda Martinez (NBal).
HEATS (June 21)
I–1. Simpson 4:07.67; 2. Johnson 4:08.21; 3. Purrier 4:08.24; 4. Schlachtenhaufen 4:08.27; 5. Giordano 4:08.62; 6. Jones 4:08.82;
7. Stephanie Brown (unat) 4:09.25; 8. Danielle Aragon (HokaNJNY) 4:10.45; 9. Grace Barnett (Clem) 4:12.54; 10. Sara Vaughn (NYAC) 4:16.50.
II–1. Martinez 4:10.51; 2. Schneider 4:10.64; 3. Osika 4:10.65;
4. Christina Aragon (Stan) 4:11.64; 5. Emily Lipari (adi) 4:12.15; 6. Sarah Brown (NBal) 4:13.41; 7. Sara Sutherland (Sauc) 4:14.17; 8. Rebecca Addison (Sauc) 4:15.61; 9. Amanda Eccleston (Brk) 4:20.24; 10. Janelle Noe (Tol) 4:25.38.
III–1. Houlihan 4:14.79; 2. Grace 4:14.95; 3. Hiltz 4:15.29;
4. Cory McGee (NBal) 4:15.66; 5. Alexa Efraimson (Nik) 4:15.90; 6. Nicole Tully (HokaNJNY) 4:16.82; 7. Eleanor Fulton (HighP) 4:17.24; 8. Elise Cranny (Stan) 4:17.37; 9. Megan Mansy (HokaNJNY) 4:18.49; 10. Jamie Morrissey (Mi) 4:24.09.□