It’s not Morgan Uceny’s loss in her world championship race that had folks around the Plymouth area all upset Thursday morning.
It’s knowing that she never got a chance to win.
Uceny, a 2003 Plymouth High School graduate, became entangled with another runner and fell to the ground with 1½ laps remaining in the women’s 1500-meter final at the IAAF World Track & Field Championships in Daegu, South Korea.
She got up and eventually finished a distant 10th, jogging across the finish line.
Meanwhile, the other American in the field, Jenny (Barringer) Simpson of Colorado, managed to avoid the pileup and took home the gold medal with a furious homestretch sprint.
Simpson — who had not been expected to place among the top three by most track experts — stared at the scoreboard wide-eyed in disbelief after crossing the finish line, then jumped up and down in celebration. Her winning time was 4:05.40.
Two-time defending champion Maryam Yusuf Jamal of Bahrain — the favorite heading into the race — ended up, like Uceny, not being a factor. She was walking at the end and officially finished last.
Afterwards, Uceny kept her composure, though she was emotionally drained.
“I felt fine. It was a comfortable race,” said Uceny in a post-race interview on the Website, Flotrack.org.
“You never know what can happen,” she said. “Maybe I wouldn’t have been in the top anyway, but it just sucks to have the opportunity taken away.”
A worldwide audience watching live on television and the Internet weren’t sure what happened until excited sportscasters figured out who had gone down. “Oh my goodness, it appears to be the American, Uceny,” said British announcers on the Eurosport channel.
After a slow initial two laps, the 12-runner field was tightly bunched. Elbows were flying as runners jockeyed back and forth for position. Near the front, Jamal tried to force her way outside with about 500 meters left. But in doing so, she apparently tripped Kenya’s Hellen Onsando Obiri.
The Kenyan fell immediately in front of Uceny, who had no way to avoid a collision.
“With 500 meters to go, people are trying to get fancy,” said Uceny in a statement posted by U.S. Track Field. “Someone brushed me at the wrong place and at the wrong time and I got cut off. I had no time to react.
“It’s no one’s fault. It’s the nature of the beast,” added Uceny. “When you get in these big races, you have to learn to get in a different spot.”
Simpson, who was pacing along the rail at the rear of the pack when Uceny fell, moved outside with 300 meters to go and swung wide coming off the final turn. She slowly angled toward the outside lanes and sprinted down the homestretch, passing Spain’s Natalia Rodriguez about 50 meters from the finish.
“(My coach) has been talking to me so much about not making any abrupt moves and just fading to the outside,” Simpson said in a prophetic statement on Flotrack. “That’s important because when it gets so tight and everyone’s so close, its so easy to do an abrupt move and mess everything up.
“I was just kind of fading out and all of a sudden, I could see the finish line, and there’s not many people in my vision,” said Simpson, a former All-American at the University of Colorado. “Then all of a sudden, there’s nobody in my vision, and I’m like, ‘I think I’m winning!’ I just felt like, I couldn’t believe it.”
“It was just unlucky for me, but, you know, Jenny had a great race,” said Uceny. “I’m really happy for her.”
While Uceny is denied a world title — at least, this year — she still has the remainder of the Diamond League season in front of her.
“I’ve got Zurich and Brussels left, so, hopefully, I will make something happen,” she said.
And then, of course — there’s the 2012 Olympics in London.