Merritt cruises to 400-meter win at Drake Relays
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) The Drake Relays served as a reunion of sorts for the 1,600-meter relay team from the U.S. that won gold at the Rio Olympics.
True to form, the anchor of those Olympic champions came out on top in Iowa.
LaShawn Merritt held off Rio relay teammate Tony McQuay and 2012 silver medalist Kirani James of Grenada to win the men's 400 on Friday.
Merritt came in first in 45.41 seconds. McQuay was third at 45.89 and James, the 400 winner at the London Games in 2008, was sixth in 46.21.
''No new faces. Same guys,'' Merritt said. ''It's cold here, but that's part of the job. It's not always going to be ideal weather.''
It wasn't even close to ideal on Drake's signature blue oval.
The temperature was just 44 degrees when the gun went off for the 400, just a week after the U.S. team competed in the Bahamas and a week before the world's best kick off Diamond League action in Doha, Qatar - where Friday's high was 97 degrees.
Merritt has raced at Drake for years, even though he knows that miserable conditions are always a possibility.
But for Merritt and many of the other Americans, Drake represents a rare chance to compete in their home country in front of a healthy crowd and in a televised meet.
''It's a town where people know their track and field,'' Merritt said.
The women's 1,500 was expected to be a coronation of sorts for Jenny Simpson, a native Iowan and the only U.S. woman to medal in an Olympics in the event.
Instead, Simpson was forced to survive a furious challenge from a surprisingly stout field.
Simpson won in 4:16.10 - just three-tenths of a second ahead of Brenda Martinez. The next six finishers were within 2 seconds of Simpson, who won bronze in Rio and took first at Drake for the fifth year in a row.
''I was thinking `Not everyone is going to be able to keep this up,''' Simpson said of the field making a late push just before the final turn.
The men's 400-meter hurdles went to former Kansas star Michael Stigler - whose goal of making the Olympics was derailed when he injured his right hamstring last summer - in an impressive 49.07.
Bershawn Jackson, who won bronze for the U.S. in London five years ago, was second in 49.70.
''I'm very satisfied with my time and where we are in my training,'' Stigler said.
Two-time defending Olympic champion Christian Taylor won the men's long jump in 55 feet, 6 1/2 inches.
American Sandi Morris, who won silver at the Rio Olympics, took the women's pole vault in 15-5 3/4, an event moved indoors because of the weather.
Lavern Spencer won the high jump in 6-3 1/4, and the women's shot put went to Dani Bunch in 60-10 1/2.