Simpson, James do not disappoint

DES MOINES – Despite only being born in Webster City and then later moving to spend most of her early career in Oviedo, Florida, a lot of Iowans still recognize the world-champion distance runner as a “hometown favorite.”

That’s why when the 2011 world champion 1,500-meter runner won the same event at the Drake Relays on Friday night, many fans – young and old – rushed to the rails to congratulate her.

Jenny Simpson took selfies with aspiring athletes and signed her bib number away to an older fan.

But when asked why she thinks so many younger girls are seeking her out at meets, she recalled an early memory of her own to explain.

“I have an enormous admiration for the teacher, the public school teacher who told me I should try running,” Simpson said. “So, I feel like I get to do exactly that on a greater scale. Having the opportunity to speak into the life of one young person, and pass on the tradition of sports and a healthy life, I was given the gift to do that for lots of people.

“It’s a sincere thrill for me every time a young person is inspired by or looks at what I do.”

Simpson said she loves thinking about how she started off just as an average distance runner until a 3rd-grade P.E. class changed all of that. In a time of 4:06.34, Simpson took first-place on a chilly night in front of a packed crowd. It wasn’t until the final lap that she was able to open up the lead and open up her outdoor season with a win.

James runs second-fasted, pre-May outdoor 400

Kirani James turned a lot of heads Friday night in the men’s 400 under the lights, in front of a lot of inspiring eyes.

James’ time of 44.08 was the second-fastest outdoor time before the month of May. In a season where many athletes are just opening their outdoor seasons, it’s a rare gem to find someone running that fast, this early.

“The 400 is awesome,” James said. “We’re happy with the time and happy with the performance. And we’re happy to be here at Drake. It shows I’m in shape, but it also shows how competitive the field is. That [time] is what it takes to win.”

LaShawn Merritt took second with a time of 44.20. He said he couldn’t feel his toes when trying to really get out and push for a kick because of how frigid – for athletes – it was Friday night.

Despite windy and cloudy conditions throughout the day, fans still packed the front stretch throughout the day that fostered high 40- to low 50-degree temperatures.