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Simeon Birnbaum, Gracelyn Leiseth named Gatorade track and field athletes of the year in South Dakota

Both standouts are juniors, set to return to competition in the Rushmore State in 2023

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Simeon Birnbaum set an all-class prep record Friday, May 27, 2022 at the state track and field meet in the 800-meter dash, recording the second-fastest time in South Dakota's history at 1:51:03.
Hunter Dunteman / Mitchell Republic
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RAPID CITY — Nationally renowned junior athletes have been recognized as the South Dakota Gatorade Players of the Year for boys and girls track and field, it was announced June 29 and 30.

Rapid City Stevens' Simeon Birnbaum won the boys honor, with Hamlin's Gracelyn Leiseth claiming the girls award for the second year in a row.

Birnbaum, a 6-foot, 145-pound distance runner and the 2021 Gatorade boys cross country runner of the year in the state, became the 16th high-school-age boy in history to break 4 minutes in the mile run this past year. Birnbaum crossed the line in 3:59.51 to win the mile at the Brooks PR Invitational, setting a state record with a time that ranked No. 5 nationally among prep competitors in 2022 at the time of his selection.

“Simeon dominated this year. He is not only a strong runner, he is good at race tactics. It will be fun to see how far running will take him,” Aberdeen Central coach Greg Murley said.

Birnbaum set a state record when he finished second in the 800-meter run in 1:50.12 at Nike Outdoor Nationals, and he produced another state-best mark with a winning time of 8:55.22 in the 3,200-meter run at the Howard Wood Relays. He swept the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 at the Class AA state meet, leading the Raiders to a second-place finish as a team.

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Hamlin's Gracelyn Leiseth is recognized at the South Dakota State Track and Field meet as the Class A most outstanding field athlete at Howard Wood Field in Sioux Falls.
South Dakota Public Broadcasting photo

Leiseth, a 5-foot-11 thrower, set a state record in the shot put at the Class A state meet in 2022. At the time of her selection, Leiseth’s winning throw of 52 feet, 6.75 inches ranked No. 1 nationally among girls prep competitors in 2022. She finished second in the discus with a toss of 160-11, which ranked No. 12 in the country. In 2021, she swept both Class A shot put and discus events.

She is second-straight South Dakota girl to win the award back to back years, joining Sioux Falls Roosevelt's Jasmine Greer, and Pierre's Cortney Dowling also won the award three times in the last 10 years (2013, 2014 and 2016). Other recent multi-time winners include Rapid City Central's Jasmine King in 2009 and 2010 and Sioux Falls Washington's Kari Heck in 2011 and 2012.

“Gracelyn had an incredible track season,” said Don Sutera, head coach of Sioux Valley High School. “She is a really neat athlete in that you wouldn’t know that she is elite in how she conducts herself. She is really low-key and goes about her business in a professional manner.”

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