I'm a little late in catching this article about Jenny Barringer in the USA Today. As you know, I ranked her as the most valuable distance runner in the US prior to the outdoor season, and she most certainly did not disappoint. She broke six collegiate records, won a US championship, and has to be considered a threat to medal at the World Championships.
She lost only one race during the year--the 1500m at the Pre Classic--but it was such a breakthrough and took place on such a big stage that it will always be the race that defined her senior season. I was as amazed as anyone that she broke the 4-minute barrier--she clocked 3:59.90--and gave Gelete Burka a run for her money, but I think it was clear even before the race that she'd be equal to her American counterparts, all of whom broke 4:04.
So why did Barringer, an athlete who I don't believe is any more tough or talented than Anna Willard, Shannon Rowbury and Christin Wurth-Thomas, leave them in the dust in that race? I'd argue it was her mindset going into the race, which was wholy about competing and not about time. As she says in the USA Today article:
I went to a place of competition within myself that needed to be found and needed to come out. I just totally let go of splits and was competitive.
When you rewatch the race (embedded below), take a look at where each athlete positioned themselves during the race. What you see is Jenny Barringer moving up to 4th at 800m and staying close to the front on that third lap--splits be damned--while Willard seemed to take a look at the clock and hold back, saving something for her kick. (It should be noted that Rowbury ran a great race, but simply didn't have it at the finish.) I noticed this during the race as my friend Scott and I both thought she was running a pretty risky race.
Neither Willard nor Wurth-Thomas ran poorly. They just ran safe. They had an idea of how fast they could run, of what they could split, and they constantly measured their performances throughout the race. Barringer didn't do that. She blasted through 800m close to her personal best, and simply willed herself to stay in contention. A lot of that must be due to the confidence she'd gained throughout the year. But another part of it is the willingness to fail, to go for it without guarantee of success.
Maybe I'm oversimplifying the race, but you can't tell me there was any difference between Willard and Barringer that day in terms of fitness, confidence or race-sharpness. The difference was that Willard raced the clock and her competitors, while Barringer simply raced her competitors. The irony is that it's often by ignoring the clock entirely that you beat it most soundly.