April 24, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) It's still very early in the outdoor season - and the conditions were miserable Friday at the Drake Relays.

That just made Kirani James' performance in the 400 meters all the more special.

James shattered the meet record set in 1996 by American star Michael Johnson on a cold and windy night, finishing in 44.22 seconds.

It wasn't that far off the 43.94 that James posted to win the 2012 Olympics, and it was a half-second better than runner-up Yousef Ahmed Masrahi.

Johnson set the old mark of 44.41 in the same season in which he broke the Olympic record at the Atlanta Games.

''It was a very competitive field,'' James said. ''I'm very happy with my time.''

Unlike James, few gave Aleec Harris a shot at winning the 110-meter hurdles.

Harris stunned the field - and showed he's got a shot at making the U.S. team headed to Beijing for the world championships later this year.

Harris off David Oliver to win in 13:16. World-record holder Aries Merritt was fourth and Ashton Eaton, the 2012 Olympic champion in the decathlon, was seventh.

''It means a lot. That's where the pressure was really, knowing who was in the field. Those are the guys I'm going to see at (the U.S. championships),'' Harris said.

Ajee Wilson took the women's 800 in 2:00.03, the fastest time in the world so far this season.

Bershawn Jackson held off Javier Culson and Michael Tinsley, the world's top two 400 hurdlers, winning in 48.87.

Derek Drouin defended his men's high jump title by clearing 7 feet, 7.25 inches, while Katerina Stefanidi won the women's invitational pole vault with a world-leading mark of 15-5.5.


Friday night's session featured the meet's first ambulatory race, which is for impaired athletes who don't use wheelchairs. It was a 200-meter dash featuring amputee runners and American David Brown, a blind sprinter who ran with guide Jerome Avery - with the pair connected by a shoestring tied to their fingers. Brown finished third...Perhaps the biggest surprise of the meet so far was Stephen F. Austin sophomore Demi Payne. She competed in the women's pole vault invitational and nearly won it. Payne finished second at 15-3.5.


''You can't control the conditions because everyone is in it. We've just got to buckle down and run,'' James said.


The meet wraps up Saturday with the women's 100 and 400 hurdles. Dawn Harper-Nelson and Queen Harrison - who teamed up to win a shuttle hurdle relay on Friday - lead the 100 field. London Olympics silver medalist Lashinda Demus headlines the 400 field. Top-ranked Novlene Williams will be favored in the women's 400, while American record holder Chaunte Lowe will go for her fifth Drake title in the high jump.

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