Drake Relays Pros — A Nifty Homecoming for Jenny Simpson

Iowa native Simpson has never lost a race on the Drake oval. (DRAKE ATHLETICS)

Des Moines, Iowa, April 25-28—A miserable month of Midwest weather dawned clear and sunny for April’s last weekend, just in time for the professionals to do their thing at the 109th Drake Relays.

Lured by the big bucks offered by Relays sponsor Hy-Vee for the top three performances, pros have in recent years found Des Moines a lucrative and ideal spot to kick-start their outdoor campaigns.

And that they have, with 5 American outdoor leaders and a host of other national-class marks a harbinger of what could be on tap at the USATF Championships here in late June.

It’s hard to pick what was first among equals, but “home-state girl returns and makes good (again)” isn’t a bad story line. Right, Jenny Simpson?

All that the state’s (and Webster City’s) favorite track daughter did was run a world-leading 9:16.78 in the seldom-run 2-mile in the first time the distance has been run at Drake. If USATF recognized the event as an American Record, this would have been it (although Regina Jacobs did run 9:11.75 in a mixed-sex race back in ’99).

Unpressured, Simpson steadily built her lead, passed through the mile in 4:33.4 and had enough in her tank for a 63.5 closing quartermile over a good field that included Rachel Schneider (9:31.89), Brenda Martinez (9:37.82) and Stephanie Garcia (9:37.86).

“I knew with 400 meters to go, with 200 meters to go, how much I had to go to get the record,” Simpson said. “It was really windy, and I was out there on my own. I talked to my coach about how I was really putting myself in a vulnerable position by going out hard and being alone with all the wind. But I really wanted to do it for the fans, even though the conditions weren’t perfect.

Referring to the crowd’s standing ovation as she finished, she continued, “It feels like these people have been on a journey with me. I felt a story here and the fans are a big part of it.”

It was Simpson’s sixth Drake title and 11th win overall—against no losses—on the Drake oval, including 3 steeple wins as a Colorado collegian.

Traditionally, the hurdles and pole vault have been good events for the pros here, and popular with the fans, and again they didn’t disappoint.

Kendra Harrison zipped a windy (2.5) 12.37 to claim the straightaway hurdles while Georganne Moline successfully defended in the longer version at 54.86.

Devon Allen surprised a little with his legal 13.42 highs win over Aries Merritt (13.45) and Jeffery Gibson smoked a good field with a 49.02 1-lap hurdles victory.

Said Harrison, “I’m really happy. My coach told me to come out here and get my rhythm. This race is definitely one that I needed and is going to set me up for my next one. This track brings me luck.”

The men’s vault, never disappointing even when weather has forced it indoors, produced a U.S. outdoor leader at 19-1½ (5.83) by Sam Kendricks, who took his third Drake win, this time over up-and-coming South Dakota soph Chris Nilsen (a near PR at 18-11½/5.78), Scott Houston and Shawn Barber. The three pros had “warmed up” indoors for the real event with a “mall vault” three days earlier won by Andrew Irwin at 18-4½ (5.60).

Kendricks said that the strong tailwind “really favors the experienced athlete. I was really pushed by that young kid and I had to make a lot of bars.”

No less competitive was the women’s PV, where Sandi Morris jumped 16-0 (4.88) to get the better of Jenn Suhr’s 15-5 (4.70).

Vashti Cunningham, now 20, high jumped 6-4¼ (1.94) to claim the U.S. outdoor lead and move to No. 2 on the yearly global list. Inika McPherson pressured her by jumping 6-3¼ (1.91), which Cunningham had to clear on her final attempt.

“I don’t like when Inika puts the pressure on me like that but she’s going to do it. I just have to react with her,” Cunningham said. “I felt good in my first two attempts at 1.91 but that last jump [at 1.94] made up for it. I love when the competition is up there with me. I need that.”

The men’s shot was on fire. Ryan Crouser burned his opponents with a U.S.-leading 72-2½ (22.01) to kick off the event; despite 5 following fouls, it was enough to win as the rest of the field played catch-up.

But his mark gave the rest a good target and they responded, with world champ New Zealander Tom Walsh putting 71-7¼ (21.82) on his second effort and uncorking four more 70+ throws. Curt Jensen nailed down third with a 69-6 (21.18) PR on his final heave.

Said Crouser, “It was really good for me. I’ve been out and this is the latest I’ve ever started. I had 8 weeks off with the hand injury and then 5 weeks to get back into shape. I’m not quite there but it’s a sign of good things to come.

“One throw and five fouls,” he laughed. “That shows the inconsistency that’s there, but this is only my third day of throwing hard. There’s a lot to work on but it’s always good to have a 22-meter opener.”

The mile, always a crowd favorite, produced the sub-4:00 race that fans never tire of seeing. Eric Avila and Drew Hunter waged a spirited see-saw battle down the homestretch, with the former hanging on by an eyelash in 3:58.81 to the latter’s 3:58.83.

Brannon Kidder also went under at 3:59.86 while 800 specialist Erik Sowinski clocked a creditable 4:01.44 in his first pro effort in the mile.


Des Moines, Iowa, April 25-28—

DRAKE INVITATIONAL MEN’S RESULTS

(4/27—PV)

100(1.9): 1. Isiah Young (Nik) 10.02; 2. Mike Rodgers (Nik) 10.03; 3. CJ Ujah’ (GB) 10.13; 4. Andre De Grasse’ (Can) 10.15; 5. Brandon Carnes (adi) 10.19; 6. Ameer Webb (Nik) 10.20; 7. Kemar Hyman’ (Cay) 10.24; 8. Jak Ali Harvey’ (Tur) 10.30.

Mile: 1. Eric Avila (unat) 3:58.81; 2. Drew Hunter (adi) 3:58.83; 3. Brannon Kidder (BB) 3:59.86; 4. Leo Manzano (Hoka) 4:00.49; 5. Eric Sowinski (Nik) 4:01.44; 6. Dylan Blankenbaker (adi) 4:01.94; 7. Daniel Herrera’ (Mex) 4:02.30; 8. Graham Crawford (HokaNJNY) 4:02.64; 9. Sam Parsons (unat) 4:03.22.

110H(-1.3): 1. Devon Allen (Nik) 13.42; 2. Aries Merritt (Nik) 13.45; 3. Freddie Crittenden (unat) 13.55; 4. Aleec Harris (adi) 13.55; 5. Milan Ristic’ (Ser) 13.62; 6. Jarret Eaton (Basics) 13.65; 7. Johnathan Cabral’ (Can) 13.66.

400H: 1. Jeffery Gibson’ (Bah) 49.09; 2. Michael Stigler (adi) 49.24; 3. TJ Holmes (Nik) 49.29; 4. Annsert Whyte’ (Jam) 49.34; 5. Bershawn Jackson (Nik) 49.64; 6. Javier Culson’ (PR) 49.99; 7. Andre Clarke’ (Jam) 50.06; 8. Eric Cray’ (Phi) 51.34.

Field Events

Mall Vault (4/25): 1. Andrew Irwin (unat) 18-4½ (5.60); 2. Shawn Barber’ (Can) 18-4½; 3. Sam Kendricks (Nik) 18-½ (5.50); 4. Mike Arnold (Nik) 18-½; 5. Scott Houston (Shore) 17-8½ (5.40).

PV: 1. Kendricks 19-1½ (5.83) (out AL) (17-6½, 18-½, 18-4½, 18-8¼, 18-11½, 19-1½ [2]) (5.35, 5.50, 5.60, 5.70, 5.78, 5.83 [2]);

2. **Chris Nilsen (SD) 18-11½ (5.78); 3. Houston 18-8¼ (5.70); 4. Barber’ 18-½ (5.50); 5. German Chiaraviglio’ (Arg) 18-½.

SP: 1. Ryan Crouser (Nik) 72-2½ (22.01) (AL) (72-2½, f, f, f, f, f) (22.01, f, f, f, f, f);

2. Tom Walsh’ (NZ) 71-7¼ (21.82) (69-3¼, 71-7¼, 70-9¾, 70-10½, 71-5¼, 70-3¾) (21.11, 21.82, 21.58, 21.60, 21.77, 21.43); 3. Curt Jensen (Vel) 69-6 (21.18) PR; 4. Chuk Enekwechi’ (Ngr) 67-8¾ (20.64); 5. Darrell Hill (Nik) 66-10¾ (20.39); 6. Ryan Whiting (Nik) 66-5¼ (20.25);7. Josh Freeman (Iron) 63-¼ (19.21); 8. Jon Murasky (Vel) 62-8½ (19.11); 9. Alex Renner (Vel) 61-¾ (18.61).

DT: 1. Reggie Jagers (CVE) 211-11 (64.59); 2. Traves Smikle’ (Jam) 210-2 (64.07); 3. Jarred Schuurmans (unat) 201-1 (61.29).

DRAKE INVITATIONAL WOMEN’S RESULTS

(4/27—3K, 2M, HJ)

2M: 1. Jenny Simpson (NBal) 9:16.78 (2, 2 A) (8:43.39 out WL, AL)

(67.6, 73.3 [2:20.9], 11.7 [2:32.6], 2:10.8 [4:43.4], 69.2 [5:52.6], 71.1 [7:03.7], 69.6 [8:13.3], 63.5) (63.5, 2:13.1, 4:33.4) (4:43.4/4:33.4); 2. Rachel Schneider (UArm) 9:31.89 (8, 11 A) (8:56.75 PR); 3. Brenda Martinez (NBal) 9:32.82 (9, 12 A) (8:57.30 PR);

4. Stephanie Garcia (NBal) 9:37.86 (8:57.09); 5. Alexa Efraimson (Nik) 9:51.23 (9:12.21 PR); 6. Sara Vaughn (NYAC) 9:55.45 (9:15.99 PR); 7. Shannon Osika (Nik) 9:58.10 (9:19.17 PR).