POCATELLO — When an elite distance runner missed her qualifying race during last year’s Simplot Games because her team bus broke down, Rick Phillips recalls the stage was set for a memorable display of sportsmanship.
The Simplot Games will be hosted for the 42nd time at Idaho State University’s Holt Arena from Thursday through Saturday, drawing roughly 2,300 top high school track athletes from throughout the world.
Phillips, public affairs manager with Simplot, said that after the scheduled events were over on the opening day of last year’s games, the meet director allowed Sydney Thorvaldson, of Rawlins, Wyo., to run the 3,200 meters by herself.
The other athletes gathered around the track and clapped and cheered as Thorvaldson came close to breaking the event record.
“It was a cool moment for all of the athletes on the track,” Phillips said, explaining they cheered for Thorvaldson as if she were a teammate even though they didn’t know her.
Thorvaldson blew past the competition during the Saturday finals, and in record time. She’ll make her return to the Simplot Games at 5:40 p.m. Thursday for the 3,200 meter preliminary and is a favorite in the finals at 3:40 p.m. Saturday.
“She will break the record again. She’s going to be fantastic,” Lisa Woodland, executive director of the games, boldly predicted.
Phillips said the games are free to the public to attend and draw athletes from about 23 states, with Rhode Island scheduled to participate for the first time this year. Utah draws the most competitors annually, followed by Idaho, Colorado and Wyoming. Athletes also come from foreign countries, including Australia and Canada.
“You get these high, top-ranked athletes who come because they need it for their resume, but then you have some kid who comes from Jerome, Idaho, who is in cheap gym shoes, and he’ll line up and give this kid from New York the race of his life,” Phillips said, explaining what makes the games special.
The most recent economic impact study of the games was conducted 12 years ago, finding they infuse $3.6 million into the local economy.
Woodland said about 300 volunteers and several local businesses also pitch in to make the games possible. For example, Hirning Buick GMC provides vehicles to transport the athletes, and businesses such as Butterburr’s and Geronimo’s Trampoline Park make donations, such as gift certificates that are dropped on the crowd from a remote-controlled blimp.
Several Olympians will also participate in the games as dignitaries. This year’s slate, recruited by 1968 high jump gold medalist Dick Fosbury, includes Andre Phillips, 1988 400 meter hurdles gold medalist; Stacy Dragila, 2000 pole vault gold medalist; Willie Banks, 1980, 1984 and 1988 Olympian in the triple jump; and Tyson Gunter, a 2016 Paralympian who competes in high jump.
John Register, a silver medalist in long jump during the 2000 Paralympic Games, will be the featured speaker at 7 a.m. Friday in the ISU Student Union Ballroom during Breakfast with Fosbury and Friends.
Register, who was a track star at University of Arkansas, served six years in the U.S. Army and is a veteran of Desert Storm and Desert Shield. He qualified for the Olympic trials in the 110 meter hurdles in 1988 and in the 400 meter hurdles in 1992.
While training for the 1996 Olympics, however, he injured his leg in training; ultimately the leg had to be amputated. He made his comeback to track and field after he was fitted with a running prosthesis, culminating with his medal in the 2000 Paralympic Games.