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As a nationally ranked runner and an Olympic hopeful, Delilah DiCrescenzo is used to being chased — but by other athletes, not by pop singers from Chicago. But, she said on Wednesday, she doesn’t mind the attention the chase has brought her.
“What I really hope through all of this is that it spotlights track and field, and it gives the sport a face, which is really important to us athletes in an Olympic year,” the woman who inspired Song of the Year nominee “Hey There Delilah” told TODAY co-hosts Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer on Wednesday.
It’s been a long chase both for her and for Tom Higgenson, lead singer for the Plain White T’s, who wrote the song five years ago after being introduced to DiCrescenzo by a friend. Higgenson was smitten and even though she had a boyfriend, he told her he was going to write a song about her.
“I thought he was just being flirtatious and leading me along,” the 24-year-old athlete told Lauer and Vieira. “I had a boyfriend at the time, so I really didn’t believe him.”
Higgenson and his band played the song for years at club dates and concerts, and it became a favorite with their fans. But it wasn’t until last summer that it broke out into the mainstream and began climbing the charts until it was the nation’s top single. That was when Higgenson performed the song on TODAY and told Ann Curry the story of unrequited love that had inspired it.
DiCrescenzo, meanwhile, remained all but anonymous. A graduate of Columbia University, she had returned to her native Chicago to work. A good but not great runner in high school and college, she gave the 3,000-meter steeplechase a try in 2006 and found that she was good enough in the grueling race to think about trying to make the Olympic team this year. To pursue that dream, she moved to Conshohocken, Pa., where she trains full-time while working as an assistant track and cross-country coach at Bryn Mawr.
She kept casually in touch with Higgenson, mostly through e-mails and instant messages. When the song was nominated for a Grammy as Song of the Year, he called and invited her to come to the Feb. 11 ceremony with him. With her boyfriend’s blessing, she accepted and found herself in the spotlight.
She said it’s something of a relief to go public with her identity and to clear up any confusion about her role in a love song whose lyrics seem unequivocal:
Hey there Delilah, I’ve got so much left to say
If every simple song I wrote to you
Would take your breath away, I’d write it all
Even more in love with me you’d fall, we’d have it all.
“I knew it was fictionalized, and I’m glad that I finally get the opportunity to say I do have a boyfriend and it is romanticized,” she said. “The song means so much to so many different people. I’m just happy that it’s had so much success, and I don’t mind playing along with it.”
Her boyfriend, who did have bouts of jealousy when the song came out, is also relieved. “He’s a lot happier now that I get a chance to clear up the confusion,” she said. “He’s been a good sport through the whole thing.”
She hasn’t gotten a dress for the occasion yet. “I’ve been concentrating on my training for the Olympics,” she admitted. Her event, the steeplechase, is contested over hurdles and a water hazard. For the first time at this year’s Olympics, it will be run by women as well as by men, and DiCrescenzo will compete in the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in June. The top three finishers at the trials will go to Beijing in August.
Asked by Lauer which would be more exciting, seeing Higgenson win the Grammy or making the Olympic team, DiCrescenzo chose to be diplomatic.
“I want both,” she said.