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Simpson sets world lead to kick off Rio Olympic Preview action at Drake Relays


DES MOINES -- U.S. athletes had a strong showing Friday at the Drake Relays presented by Hy-Vee, with Jenny Simpson (Oviedo, Florida), Bershawn Jackson (Miami, Florida), and Tia Brooks (Grand Rapids, Michigan) all claiming individual victories in the Rio Olympic Preview events at Drake Stadium.

Action continues Saturday at 9 a.m. ET from Drake Stadium on USATF.TV +PLUS, while the Rio Olympic Preview events begin at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN directly following broadcast coverage of USA vs. the World at Penn Relays.

Simpson tallied her fourth straight Drake Relays title, opening her 2016 outdoor campaign with a world-leading 4:06.44 in the women’s 1500 meters. The race saw the top three times in the world in 2016, as Simpson smartly used the pacer and made her move with 300 meters to go to cruise to her eighth victory at Drake Stadium in nine tries.

Simpson noted she was “facing a lot of women who have been racing a lot more than I have and had good indoor seasons, so I was kind of running scared that last lap. I knew that I was going to have to take control of it and make it an honest last lap. If I left myself all the work in the last 100 or 200 meters, I may not be as sharp as the rest of the field. I felt like I took the luck and chance factor out if I started pressing from further out.”

Kate Grace (Santa Monica, California) registered the number two 1500m in the world in a personal best 4:07.15, while two-time defending Grand Blue Mile Champion Heather Kampf (Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota) turned in the world’s third-fastest 1500m in 4:07.26.

Jackson opened up his 2016 outdoor season with an all-out battle against compatriot Michael Tinsley (Little Rock, Arkansas). The duo was neck-and-neck throughout the race, but Jackson surged following the final hurdle to take his second straight Drake Relays title in 49.30. Tinsley crossed just behind him in a season’s best 49.36. Two-time Olympian Kerron Clement (LaPorte, Texas) was third in 49.86.

“(Today) was a little unusual for me,” Jackson said. “It was my season opener and I’ve never waited so long to open up. I lost my father in October; he was my support team...he was my best friend. He came with me to Beijing for the World Championships and died exactly a month after he got back from Beijing. I wear his ashes around my neck’s just been a tough start (to the season).”

In the women’s shot put, Brooks came out on top with an impressive showing against a stacked field that included reigning World Indoor Champion Michelle Carter (Ovilla, Texas), as well as two-time Olympian Jillian Camarena-Williams (Woodland, California). Brooks led from the opening throw with a mark of 19.37m/63-6.75, matching her personal best. Brooks won her fourth title at Drake Stadium, having captured three NCAA titles in Des Moines while competing collegiately at Oklahoma. Carter and Camarena-Williams finished 2-3 with their respective throws of 18.72m/61-5 and 17.95m/58-10.75.

“It’s exciting to be able to compete against the nation’s best, and the goal is always to compete well at Trials, so it’s nice to get a tune-up meet and see your competition early. It felt good to produce at a meet like this and to know I have more left,” Brooks said.

The coed shuttle-hurdle relay featured a star-studded field of world, Olympic, and Drake Relays champions competing in the unique event. The winning foursome included a trio of USATF athletes as Kristi Castlin (Atlanta), Spencer Adams (Charlotte, North Carolina) and Nia Ali (Philadelphia), anchored by USVI’s Eddie Lovett, won in a time of 54.42.

Ali, the two-time reigning World Indoor 60H champion, said that the unique format provided both nerves and excitement for the Drake Relays weekend.

“You never know who wins until the end, which is so nerve-wracking, Ali commented. “And in the end, something could go wrong. I love the unpredictability of it and it’s fun to be part of a relay for once. This whole weekend is great preparation for Trials because of the quality of the competition. People are on their ‘A’ game and that’s all you can ask at the beginning of the season.”

World-record holder and 2012 Olympic gold medalist Aries Merritt (Chicago, Illinois) anchored the second place squad of Jasmin Stowers (Pendleton, South Carolina), Jamaica’s Hansle Parchment, and Jacqueline Coward (Knoxville, Tennessee) in 54.77. All of the athletes competing in the shuttle hurdle relays will compete individually in the Rio Olympic Preview hurdles events on Saturday during the broadcast window.

In one of the most anticipated matchups of the night, Olympic champion Kirani James of Grenada and LaShawn Merritt (Portsmouth, Virginia) battled on the Blue Oval to the delight of the Drake Relays crowd. James outleaned Merritt at the finish to cross in a world-leading 44.08, marking the second-fastest 400m ever recorded before the month of May and taking down his own Drake Relays record. Merritt’s time of 44.22 is the second-fastest time in the world this season and matched James’ previous Drake Relays record.

Rio Olympic Previews continue Saturday at 3 p.m. ET with the women’s high jump and women’s pole vault, and track action kicks off at 3:12 p.m. ET with the women’s 400-meter hurdles.

Join the conversation with USATF on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #DrakeRelays.

Amanda Brooks
Marketing and Communications Manager
USA Track & Field

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