Kirani James of Grenada

Kirani James ran a world-leading 44.08 seconds to beat rival LaShawn Merritt and win the Rio Olympics Preview men’s 400m at the 2016 Drake Relays presented by Hy-Vee in Des Moines, IA.

The Grenadian Olympic champion improved his own world-leading mark of 44.36, which was set at the Chris Brown Invitational on April 16.

The time posted by James Friday in very chilly conditions also smashed his own meeting record of 44.22 which was set when winning at the Relays last year.

American Merritt opened his season over the distance with a very fast 44.22 secs, despite admitting that he struggled to code with the low temperatures.

“I wanted to win the race. But I didn’t want to kill myself,” said Merritt. “My toes felt frozen.

“So when I tried to like really push at certain parts, I felt like I was just tip-toeing. But I finished up healthy.”

Friday’s win now sees James taking an 11-7 lead over Merritt in their head-to-head meetings (finals).

The 23-year-old star is building towards defend his Olympic title in Rio, last this summer and he believes he’s in preparations are right on track.

“It just shows I’m in great shape,” James said. “But it also shows how competitive the field is, that a time like that was what it was going to take to win the majority of the races going forward this year.”

James beat Merritt at last year’s meeting as well, with the USA Beijing Olympic champion finishing in fifth place that time.

Another Grenada quarter-miler, Bralon Taplin finished third in 44.92, while USA’s David Verburg was fourth in 45.03.

Chris Brown from the Bahamas was fifth in 45.82.

In the men’s 400m hurdles, Bershawn Jackson won with a time of 49.30 secs and led an American top three sweep of the event, with Michael Tinsley coming home just behind him in second place with 49.36 and Kerron Clement, third in 49.86.

Jeffery Gibson from the Bahamas was fourth in a time of 49.98, while Olympic Games bronze medallist Javier Culson of Puerto Rico strolled home seventh in 50.44.

In the women’s 1500m, 2011 IAAF World Championships gold medallist Jenny Simpson of USA opened her campaign on Friday night at Drake Relays with a 2016 world best time of 4:06.44 to win her main event.

Her compatriot Kate Grace clocked an outdoor personal best of 4:07.15 when finishing second, with third going to Heather Kampf in 4:07.26.

Notable, 2013 IAAF World Championships bronze medallist Brenda Martinez of USA was only ninth in 4:14.21, with the talented Mary Cain from the Nike Oregon Project, eight in 4:12.62.

In field event action, world champion Shawnacy Barber of Canada won the men’s pole vault with a clearance of 5.50m, his countryman Derek Drouin, a world champion as well in Beijing, last year, took the men’s high jump with the clearance of 2.24m, while world indoor bronze medallist Lorraine Ugen of USA took advantage of a +3.5 m/s wind to beat Olympic champion and three-time world indoor and outdoor champion Brittney Reese (USA).

Ugen got the aid of a strong wind in the first round and she used it to stretch out to 6.82m to beat Reese, who had a legal mark of 6.74m, despite being bothered by a left ankle problem.

Nigerian Blessing Okagbare struggled for consistency on the board and she could only manage an effort of 6.25m for fourth.

Tia Brooks won the women’s shot put with heave of 19.37m, which matched her personal best, while beating Portland 2016 IAAF World Indoor champion Michelle Carter, 18.72m.

Men 400 M Rio Olympics Preview RESULTS
2016 Drake Relays

1 James, Kirani Nike 44.08D
2 Merritt, LaShawn Nike 44.22D
3 Taplin, Bralon Grenada 44.92
4 Verburg, David United States 45.03
5 Brown, Chris adidas 45.82
6 Yousif, Rabah Great Britain 46.14
7 Al-Masrahi, Yousef Nike 46.38
— Santos, Luguelin Puma DNF

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