DES MOINES — It was all Iowa down the final home stretch of the women’s 1,500-meter race at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships.
Webster City native Jenny Simpson led Sioux City native Shelby Houlihan at Drake Stadium in on Saturday; Simpson isn’t used to getting out-kicked, but Houlihan was even with Simpson with 60 meters to go. With 50 meters left, Houlihan completed her kick and beat Simpson.
Houlihan finished with a time of 4:05.48 and Simpson finished in 4:06.21.
“I was just hoping she wouldn’t be able to respond to my last kick,” Houlihan said. “I never felt like I really had it because I know she’s a fighter and she was probably right behind me.”
Both athletes are used to competing on the blue oval. They both ran in state track meets in high school at Drake Stadium and they’ve both competed at the Drake Relays for a number of years. It’s something Houlihan was thinking about before the event.
“It doesn’t feel like that long ago I was doing this in high school — warming up for the state meet,” Houlihan said. “That went through my head — a little nostalgia — just to reflect on how far I’ve come. It’s really humbling.”
Simpson had beaten Houlihan in eight straight races, but in the last month, Houlihan has now beat Simpson twice. She doesn’t think it’s a rivalry.
“I’m hesitant to call it a rivalry because she’s an awesome competitor and she definitely brings her ‘A game’ all the time,” Houlihan said. “I’ve looked up to her as a runner throughout high school. She’s someone that’s talked about throughout Iowa. To come out here and race against her and put on a good show is really cool.”
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Simpson is a 2016 Olympic bronze medalist, 2011 world gold medalist and 2013 and 2017 world silver medalist. She also holds the American record in the two-mile race with a time of 9:16.78, which she set at the Drake Relays earlier this year.
“The last few steps, what went through my mind was, ‘Finish as hard as you can,’” Simpson said. “In championship races like this, it feels like a zero-sum game — you either win or you don’t. I really wanted to defend my title.”
While she didn’t win, the crowd and the state of Iowa was bound to win. And the fans knew it. They pushed both Houlihan and Simpson the last 100 meters.
“I don’t think the crowd could lose today with me and Shelby duking it out the last 100 meters,” Simpson said. “I really hope everyone felt like it was a thrill. It made a difference to be here, I had family and friends here. I knew people were rooting equally for me and Shelby.”
Houlihan, a 2016 Olympian in the 5,000-meter race, felt the same thing Simpson did on the home stretch.
“That was pretty awesome,” Houlihan said. “To come out here and win in front of all my family and friends and a bunch of Iowa people who were definitely fans — you could hear it on the line, it was really cool.”
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