By Rich Sands, @Sands
NEW YORK (07-Sep) -- For most elite middle distance runners, the 2017 track and field season has ended. But a group of 45 athletes --including 29 who competed at the IAAF World Championships in London last month-- will have their final race down one of the most famous roadways in the world. Sunday's 37th running of the New Balance Fifth Avenue Mile features four medalists from London, including Americans Jenny Simpson and Emma Coburn, who are looking to put an exclamation point on an already superlative year.
PHOTO: Jenny Simpson after winning the 1500m silver medal at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
Both athletes admit that they are looking forward to crossing the finish line, skipping their standard cool down and heading into the off-season.
"That's always been part of the fun of coming to the 5th Avenue Mile, knowing that this is the last stretch before you get to put a seal on the season and turn the page and celebrate for a minute," Simpson told reporters on a conference call Thursday from New York, where she arrived earlier in the week.
As a five-time winner of the race (2011; 2013-2016), she savors the event as her season finale. And coming off a silver medal in the 1500m at the world championships --her 4th podium finish in a global championships since 2011-- Simpson is eager for one last chance to toe the line.
"London was such an incredible experience and it was such a high," she said. "But when you cross the finish line and you medal, it's not this deep breath of, 'I finally did it and now I can relax.' It's this excitement that all of your work has paid off. I get a real surge from those experiences wanting to experience that again. So the motivation is, how long can I take that motivation and race at this level?"
Coburn returns to Manhattan for the second year, fresh off a gold-medal performance in the 3000m steeplechase in London, leading a thrilling 1-2 showing for Team USA with Courtney Frerichs (who will be making her Fifth Avenue debut).
"The excitement you get when you win a medal, it definitely makes you fired up to try to keep racing at a high level," she said by telephone from Boulder, Colo., as she prepared to travel to the Big Apple. "Hopefully I can bring one more performance out for 5th Avenue."
Simpson recorded her best time in the event (4:18.3) last year, and if conditions cooperate, the course record of 4:16.68 (set by PattiSue Plummer way back in 1990) could be in jeopardy. "Having so many medalists in the field and so many people [who] are still sharp at the end of the season, that's really the recipe for a course record, so I certainly think it's possible," she said.
And while the forecast in New York looks to be ideal for racing, it's the weather in another part of the country that is of greater concern to Simpson. With Hurricane Irma currently battering the Caribbean and looking to make landfall in the U.S. shortly, her home state is very much on her mind. Simpson attended high school near Orlando and has relatives who still live in Florida and Georgia, which are expecting to be hit by the category 5 storm this weekend and early next week.
"This really hits home because in 2005 when I was graduating from high school, five different hurricanes hit land in Florida and it was a real memorable experience for me and it left a strong impact," she recalled. "We left for at least one of the storms and stayed in a shelter for several days. And we rode out one of the storms in our home. Just having those experiences really solidified for me the power of people coming together and the power in numbers. It left a love for me of the people of Florida and while they prepare I know they are totally capable of getting through this and making smart decisions. And we'll be watching and supporting them as they go through it."
The New Balance Fifth Avenue Mile takes runners from East 80th Street in Manhattan down to East 60th, and the course drops about nine meters. Other top women racing Sunday include Great Britain's Laura Weightman, who finished 6th in the London 1500; American Brenda Martinez, a 2016 Olympian in the 1500; and New York native Emily Lipari, who won the Hoka One One Long Island Mile on Wednesday evening.
The men's field also features this week's Long Island champ, Chris O'Hare of Great Britain, along with two-time Olympic 1500 medalist Nick Willis of New Zealand (a three-time winner on Fifth Avenue); Norway's Filip Ingebrigtsen, the bronze medalist in London; and top Americans Robby Andrews, Johnny Gregorek, Craig Engels and defending champion Eric Jenkins.
The races will be televised live nationally on NBC this Sunday, September 10, at 1:30 p.m. Eastern, and also streamed at nbcsports.com, on the NBC Sports app and via NBC Sports Gold's Track and Field Pass subscriptions service.