Simpson focuses on race as fires burn near home
EUGENE, Ore. (AP)
For four minutes, Jenny Simpson was focused on a race and not a raging wildfire back home in Colorado.
The 1,500-meter runner was all business in her heat Thursday night at the Olympic track trials. But after crossing the finish line, all she could think about was the fire near Colorado Springs that has forced more than 30,000 residents from their homes.
Simpson lives a little bit north in Monument. She doesn't think her home is affected, but is only getting sporadic updates from a house sitter.
''I'm suspicious everyone wants me to focus on my racing here. I'll find out the state of my home when I get home,'' she said.
Simpson easily made it through qualifying. She finished in 4 minutes, 16.70 seconds, taking second in her heat behind Shannon Rowbury to advance on to the semifinals.
''The rounds are always scary, because there's so much jockeying around and you know it's not going to be fast,'' Simpson said. ''I really planned on holding back, but with 800 to go, I thought everyone was still there. I thought, `Just go to front and know you're in.'
''But (the fires), that's what we really should be talking about.''
There have been an estimated 346 homes destroyed this week, making it the most destructive fire in the western state's history, officials said. A fire in northern Colorado, which is still burning, destroyed 257 homes and until Thursday was the most destructive in state history.
Amid the devastation in the foothills of Colorado Springs, there were hopeful signs. The flames that were advancing on the U.S. Air Force Academy were stopped and cooler conditions could help slow the fire.
The U.S. Olympic Committee headquarters and an athlete training center are in Colorado Springs, but appear safe.
However, about 40 USOC employees were evacuated from their Colorado Springs homes ahead of the fire.
''It's really scary,'' Simpson said. ''There are a lot of friends and family involved.''
After the trials, Simpson doesn't plan on returning to Colorado to train. She could possibly work out in Europe, since she's headed there anyway for some competitions.
This was a daunting day on the track for Simpson, especially since Mary Slaney was supposed to be in the crowd to watch her race.
Last summer, Simpson became the first American woman to win a world title in the 1,500 since Slaney - Decker back then - in 1983.
''Knowing Mary is in the stands, it almost makes me want to stop and take it in myself,'' Simpson said. ''But no, focus, focus, I have a job to do. I'm very honored she's there watching us.''
Associated Press writers P. Solomon Banda and Thomas Peipert in Colorado Springs contributed.