The U.S. had never won an Olympic medal in the women’s 1500-meter race, which debuted in 1972, going into the event in Rio de Janeiro.
That drought ended Tuesday night, courtesy of Jenny Simpson’s hard-fought finish to snag the bronze. Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon of Kenya won gold with a time of 4 minutes, 8.92 seconds, Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia won silver with 4:10.27 and Simpson placed third with a time of 4:10.53
In the semifinals Sunday, Simpson decided to handle her nerves by taking the lead early and controlling the pace of the group.
“I was thinking about, what about nervousness tips you over the edge?” she told reporters after the race. “I decided that what tips you over the edge is when nerves turn into worrying.”
“I saw the pace of the first heat was a little slow, so I thought, ‘I don’t have to worry about the pace if I take [the lead],’” she continued. “Nobody ever wants to take it, so I thought, ‘If I do it, I have a little bit of control, and I don’t have to worry about it.’”
The strategy served her well. Simpson finished fourth in the heat, with rivals Dibaba, Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands and Laura Muir of Great Britain scrambling past her in the last stretch.
“When Dibaba, Hassan and Laura went by me, I thought, ‘Those people are going to be in the top five [in the finals]. If they are ahead or behind me, I don’t have to race them tonight. I’m going to race them in two days.’”