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An all-star foursome of American Olympians—Emma Coburn, Sydney McLaughlin, Brenda Martinez and Jenny Simpson—lowered the world indoor best for the 4,000-meter distance medley relay at the 22nd New Balance Indoor Grand Prix. Urged on by a raucous, sold-out crowd of 4,500, which rose to its feet on Simpson’s anchor leg, the team stopped the clock at 10:40.31, about two seconds faster than the previous best of 10:42.57 set on the same Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center track two years ago.
“It was a lot of pressure,” said a relieved Simpson who ran the anchor 1600m leg in 4:27.66. “I was really surprised earlier today how nervous I was getting.”
The team got off to a conservative start when Coburn, the Rio Olympic steeplechase bronze medalist, ran the 1200m leg in 3:18.40, three seconds down on the opening split of the previous record. Training in cold and snowy conditions in Boulder, Colo., Coburn admitted that she was not sharp and was hoping her strength would carry her through an uncomfortably short distance.
“I just wanted to give Sydney the lead,” Coburn told reporters, wearing a special white bow in her hair that the 17-year-old McLaughlin had made for each of her teammates. “Jenny made a really good point in our press conference (yesterday). After all four of us had the Olympics and a long season… it is weird to get back into race mode. She continued: “It was a bit of a harsh entry back into speedwork.”
Coburn accomplished her goal, giving her USA team a slight lead over the European team going into the second 400-meter leg. McLaughlin ran hard, but got a good challenge from Esther Guerrero of Spain who passed the teenager on the second lap, before McLaughlin retook the lead, 52.32 to 52.43.
“I got out pretty well,” McLaughlin told the media. “I knew that the European team was going to have a fast girl so when she came on me, it kind of pushed me to go faster. Coming down the backstretch I wanted to get that lead back for Brenda to give it to her in a good position.”
Martinez grabbed the stick and hit the gas, hard. Soon she was running alone, knowing the team needed to make up valuable seconds, even with Simpson on the anchor.
“Any time you’re on a relay team you’re trying to give your best effort, so sometimes you’re just racing the clock,” Martinez explained. “Sometimes you don’t even know what pace you’re going.” She continued: “We just gave it our fullest and our best today, and that’s all that counts.”
After Martinez handed the baton to Simpson—who admitted she hadn’t received a baton in a relay since college—the 2011 world 1500m champion just tried to keep her cool. Like Coburn, Simpson had been training in snowy Boulder and hadn’t done any speedwork. She didn’t want to try to crush it, fearing she might blow up. She ran cautiously, but was determined to bring the record home.
“It was so not about my running; it was about preserving what everyone had done up to that point and making sure we got the record,” Simpson said. “I went out really conservative, not what I would have done if I was on the starting line racing a group of 1,500-meter, 1,600-meter women.”
Simpson ran lap after lap, alone. Urged on by the public address announcer, the crowd got louder and louder and Simpson tried to stay focused and keep calm.
“I know I cut it a little bit close,” she admitted. “But, a lot of that was out of design, saying all we needed to do was be under 10:42.”