News on the Drake Relays.

Jenny Simpson and Mike Mahon
©Jim Kirby-2013

Memories From the Drake Relays: Mike Mahon

Mike Mahon ©Special to Next Level Iowa

Mike Mahon
©Special to Next Level Iowa

I’ve attended several World Series, Olympics, numerous NCAA Final Fours and NCAA Championships but the Drake Relays always holds a fond spot in my heart.

Feature photo: Jenny Simpson and Mike Mahon ©Jim Kirby-2013

First and foremost it’s the oldest and best sports tradition in Iowa. There’s no other sporting event in the Hawkeye state where fans can see annually the best athletes in the world, including numerous Olympic gold medalists, perform in front of them forming memories to last a lifetime.

Any native Iowan who has achieved success in track and field on the international level — Rex Harvey, Rick Wanamaker, Randy Wilson, Natasha Kaiser, Kevin Little, Joey Woody, Kip Janvrin, Kim Carson, Lolo Jones, Al Feuerbach, Shelby Houlihan — will be the first to tell you that participating in the Drake Relays as a prep was their first exposure to big time track and field ultimately giving them a career goal to achieve.

This weekend will mark my 46th Drake Relays so to pick one favorite Drake Relays moment is impossible.

I served  as media coordinator for the Drake Relays for 22 years (1989-2010) which also paved the way for me to serve as a press officer for numerous U.S. Track and Field teams at the international level including the 1992, 1996 and 2004 Summer Olympics.

I was able to develop friendships with numerous Olympians who competed at the Drake Relays.

I was fortunate to serve as chairman of the Drake Relays executive committee in 1996 which was special because Michael Johnson – voted the Drake Relays Athlete of the Century – was inducted into the Drake Relays Hall of Fame that year.

On that Saturday session of the Drake Relays  the Olympic torch had landed in Los Angeles from Athens, Greece – the birthplace of the Olympics – to begin its long cross country torch run eventually to Atlanta where the Olympics would be held later that sumer.

Johnson made it no secret that he would attempt to be the first sprinter ever to win the 200 and 400 at the same Olympics. His historic quest would began with his season outdoor opener running the invitational 400 at the 1996 Drake Relays.

He shattered the Drake Relays 400 record, winning in :44.41. The race helped put Johnson on a course to the Atlanta Olympic Games where he solidified his No. 1 world ranking by winning the gold medal in the 200 in a world record :19.32. For frosting, Johnson won the 400 in :43.49 – an Olympic record.

“It was my first 400 of the season and I’m pleased,” said Johnson, while saluting the Drake Relays fans. “They love track and field and make you feel appreciated. These people know the difference between a :44.30 and a :$5.30. You don’t see that often in the states. “

Johnson would return to the Drake Relays  one last time – the following year – after being named the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year in 1996.

Drake Relays fans had vivid memories of Johnson’s heroics in the 1996 Atlanta Games as well as his unbeaten record in Drake Relays individualindividual events.

This time he arrived in a limosine entering Drake Stadium along the Clark Street entrance before a standing room only crowd. The weather was near perfect and the track side gauge showed zero wind. It was dead quiet as runners came to the set position. The gun cracked and the crowd roared

Wearing gold shoes, Johnson won the invitational 200 in :20.05 – another Drake Relays record.

He took a victory lap, raising both arms, but he was unable to complete it as he headed down the final straightaway being mobbed by fans.

We made eye contact and he sprinted with me to the southwest tunnel where he was able to savor the moment before conducting a press conference.

During his Drake Relays career Johnson won four invitational 400s, two invitational 400 and led Baylor to two victories apiece in the 4×200 and 4×400 relays.

At the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece where I introduced myself to Nawal El Moutawakil, who was in the mixed zone at Olympic Stadium as a member of the International Olympic Committee.

As a freshman at Iowa State in the 1984 Drake Relays, she set a national collegiate record of :55.37 in the women’s 400 hurdles.  Later that summer she would win the inaugural women’s 400 hurdles event at the 1984  Olympics, becoming the first Moroccan and the first woman from a Muslim majority country to win an Olympic gold medal

When Nawal found out I was associated with the Drake Relays, she hugged me and became emotional with tears of joy telling me she owed all of her success in track to the Drake Relays. She told how she passed down her Drake Relays watch to her oldest daughter.

I fondly recall the first Drake Relays I attended as a sophomore in high school watching Brigham Young’s Ralph Mann setting a Drake Relays, American and national collegiate record in the 440 yard hurdles of 49.4 seconds  at the 1970 Drake Relays.

He returned a month later to Drake Stadium setting a  world record at 1970 NCAA Outdoor Championships in :48.8 – the second of three straight NCAA titles. He would go on to earn a silver medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Here are some other magical moments from my Drake Relays memory bank.

—In 1977 the Drake Relays invitational 800 featured former world record holder and two-time Olympian Rick Wohlhuter, Kenya’s Mike Boit, who won the bronze medal in the 1972 Olympics; and Oklahoma’s Randy WIlson, a native of Knoxville, Iowa.

The taller Wilson, who had earlier anchored Oklahoma to a sprint medley relay victory, surprised Boit and Wohlhuter in the final meters to win in 1:46.06. Boit was second in 1:46.13 and Wohlhuter third in 1:46.14.

A year later Wilson outdueled Boit again with his long strides shading Boit at the tape in a record 1:45.86—  that still stands today.

Boit returned to Drake Stadium in 2009 being honored as one of the top 10 Drake Relays Athletes of the Century. I set up a surprise reunion of Wilson and Boit with the rivals meeting each other for the first time in more than 30 years.

—Steve Scott running the first sub-4 minute mile in Drake Relays history in 1979 in 3:55.26, the first individual sub-4 minute race in 70 years of Drake Relays competition.

He had emerged as America’s top miler in the 1970s. He had promised to run in the 1978 Drake Relays but was injured. He did come to Drake, however, and told the crowd over the public address that he would return in 1979 “to break that record.”

Now it’s 1979 and Scott was back, but as he stepped onto the track he murmured,  “Oh, no!” as he felt wind gusting to 32 miles per hour.  But he took charge running the first 440 in a crisp :57.6 followed by a 1:59.5 that got the crowd into the race. Booming sound followed him throughout the final leg, the sub-4 in sight. Fans were on their feet yelling, ignoring a Relays tradition of remaining seated so all could see.

He came off the final curve in a long hard sprint to the finish. He broke the tape, looked back at the scoreboard and raised his arms, grinning widely.

—Nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis made his Drake Relays debut in 1994, winning the invitational 100.

—Gwen Torrence became the all-time women’s victory leader at eight during the 1995 Drake Relays after winning the invitational 400. After the race she delighted the crowd by tossing her shoes into the stands.

Torrence, who closed out her Drake Relays career winning the 200 in 1996, won a won a combined three gold medals and three silver medals at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics.

—WIth victory laps becoming a long Drake Relays tradition, I have to admit it was emotional to see Bob Ehrhart’s 31-year reign as the longest Drake Relays director come to an end at 5:33 p.m. on Saturday April 29,2000 when he took a ride in a golf cart around the track saluting the fans  for their support in making the Drake Relays “America’s Athletic Classic.”

His first Relays as director in 1970 attracted 2,763 athletes; by 2000 9,185 athletes competed in Ehrhart’s farewell Relays. That meet was the 34th Saturday sellout – 31 under Ehrhart’s direction.

—Who can ever forget Mark Kostek’s first year as Drake Relays director in 2001 when four records were set within a 50-minute stretch around the entire configuration of the track.

Behind the quartet of twin sisters Jenny and Susanna Kallur, Camee’ Williams and anchor Perdita Felicien, Illinois opened the Saturday afternoon portion of the Drake Relays setting a meet, national collegiate and world record in the women’s shuttle hurdle relay of 56.04.

Twenty minutes later across the east side of Drake Stadium Kellie Suttle became the fourth woman in the world to clear 15 feet in the pole vault and the first at Drake, setting a meet record at 15-0 1/4.

Fans had trouble shuttling between the final stages of Suttle’s vaulting and the high jump at the north end where two-time Olympian Amy Acuff made a conspicuous Drake Relays debut soaring 6-3 3/4 for another meet record.

If that wasn’t enough, completing a full circle around the track, on her sixth and final throw Terry Tunks drew a roar from the crowd setting a Drake Stadium record in the women’s shot put at 63-0 1/4.

—The 2003 finale at the Drake Relays had never seen a closer finish as Arizona State won the men’s university 4×400 relay by one-hundredth of a second, 3:02.81 to Baylor’s 3:02.82. Baylor’s anchor Jeremy Wariner would go on to win the gold medal in the 400 at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

—Alan Webb breaking Steve Scott’s prized  30-year-old record in mile at the 2007 Drake Relays in 3:51.71 – the fastest time ever record in the mile in the month of April in track history with the mark still standing today

Webb’s opening 1:55.4 for the first-half mile got fans into it. Webb’s rhythmic, confident strides carried him to a 2:55.9 clocking after three quarters. He accelerated off the final curve “feeling” the booming support of the sold out crowd. He hit the finish line and checked the scoreboard, his final quarter in 57.6.

Three months later Webb would eventually break Scott’s 25-year-old American record in the mile, running 3:46.91 in Brasschaat, Belgium.

—Iowa’s Anthuan Maybank named outstanding performer of 1993 Drake Relays after becoming first person ever to run sub 45-second 400 and long jump over 26 feet in same meet.

Steve Roth-Washington High School

Memories From the Drake Relays: Steve Roth

Steve Roth-Washington HS ©Special to Next Level Iowa

Steve Roth-Washington HS
©Special to Next Level Iowa

Steve Roth is a state championship winning coach at Washington High School and is entering his 41st year as head coach of the Demons.  Roth is a very active Track and Field official working many collegiate meets across Iowa and currently holds the office of President of the Iowa Association of Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches.

I have been attending the Drake Relays for 45 years and it just gets better and better every year.  I never got to participate as an athlete.  I have been coaching track and field for the Washington Demons for 41 years and in those years, there have only been two that we did not qualify an event for the Drake Relays.

I can remember sitting on the back stretch with hundreds of college and high school athletes watching Herschel Walker come around the 1st turn looking like his body was going to explode.  He was so big and fast.  Eating 25 cent hamburger with top notch college coaches listening to their stories and trying to pick up some little bit of knowledge that would make me a better coach.

At Washington, we have 3 parts to our season.  First is getting as many kids to the Drake Relays as possible.  I think it’s very important to run against the best athletes in the state at mid- season.  Drake is an all-star show case with the best against the best.  No matter how they do they will be prepared to get back to the Blue Oval for the state meet.  We have had some outstanding athletes compete at the Drake Relays and to win an event, I believe, ranks as one of the highest achievements you can get in Iowa track and field. Why?  Because it’s all 4 classes competing against each other.  Yes, I do put a lot of emphasis on the Drake Relays and it has made my athletes better and more confident as we move on to the conference meet and then to the state qualifying meet.

Lastly, I have also officiated the last 17 years at the Drake Relays.  The officials take pride in making it a great event.  I have learned so much on both sides of the Drake Relays, coaching and officiating.

Paul Morrison
©Drake Athletics

Memories From the Drake Relays: Paul Morrison

Paul Morrison ©Drake Athletics

Paul Morrison
©Drake Athletics

Paul Morrison graduated from Drake with a degree in journalism in 1939 and briefly returned to his hometown of Cedar Rapids to work for the The Gazette.

Upon his return from World War II he resumed his position with The Gazette before being hired as the first full-time director of the Drake News Bureau on Dec. 15, 1945. He later would serve as the athletics business manager before beginning a lengthy run as sports information director.

Morrison retired from his full-time position with Drake in 1986, and has continued to serve the university by volunteering his time in the athletic department as historian and consultant.

Morrison, commonly referred to as “Mr. Drake” was inducted into the 2014 Des Moines Register Iowa Sports Hall of Fame

Morrison, 99, will be attending his 80th Drake Relays this year.

“The Drake Relays is Drake’s window to the world. Barnum and Bailey use to say their circus was the greatest show on earth but they wrong because the Drake Relays is the greatest show on earth.

“I attended my first Drake Relays in 1934 to watch my high school team – Cedar Rapids Washington – compete. I can remember watching Jim LuValle (eventual 1935 NCAA 440 yd. champ) anchor UCLA to the first of two straight mile relay titles at the Drake Relays. We didn’t get UCLA to attend the Drake Relays often so that was unusual in itself.

“I didn’t know at the time that I would eventually be attending Drake as a student. I watched UCLA win the mile relay again as a freshman at Drake in 1935, sitting on the east side of the stadium. It was a really hot Saturday and I remember my lips got sunburned.

“Back in 1961 sprinter Wilma Rudolph, who won three gold medals at the 1960 Rome Olympics, became the first woman ever to compete at the Drake Relays. She wandered through the stadium looking for a dressing room. At the time, the Relays did not have regularly scheduled events for female athletes. So, there was no women’s locker room.

“People can’t believe that now. When we developed women’s track at the Relays, it was the turning point.”

“I would rank the 1951 Drake Relays as my all-time favorite because that was the year five runners led Drake to three titles in the 440 yard, 880 yard and mile relays in a period of 95 minutes and Jim Lavery anchored them all.

“Jim Ford, Ray Eiland, Jack Kelly and Lavery set a Drake Relays record in the preliminaries of the 880-yard relay (1:25.5) on that Friday. Fans were excited for Saturday’s session since the Bulldogs were in the finals of the 440, 880 and mile relays.

“Ford, George Nichols (who ran for North High School), and Eiland gave Lavery a slim lead when he got the baton to anchor the 440 and he outran Iowa’s anchorman to the tape in 41.7, giving Drake its first ever victory in the 440-yard relay in Drake Relays history.

After setting a record in Friday’s prelims, Drake was favored to win the 880-yard relay final and didn’t disappoint with Lavery winning by five yards in 1:25.9 – the school’s first 880-yard relay win since 1913.

The final event of every Drake Relays is the John L. Griffith University mile relay. Oklahoma and Texas A&M were the favorites. Ford led off for Drake followed by Eiland and Kelly. They ran well but Oklahoma had a five-yard led over Lavery at the final exchange.

Lavery cut the deficit to nothing on the first curve, hugging Oklahoma’s Jerry Meander’s heels. The Sooner responded and clung to the lead into the final curve. Behind the roar of the crowd, Lavery turned it on, took the lead and powered over the finish line, nearly three yards ahead.

It was an unforgettable moment. Lavery joined his teammates in celebration. It was the first mile relay victory for Drake since the first Relays in 1910. The 3:15.0 time was third fastest in Relays history.

The crowd stood and saluted the five athletes who had given Drake its biggest day ever in its own relays.

Lavery would go on to compete for Canadian Olympic Team at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland.

Coach Ira Dunsworth and wife Dolly

Memories From the Drake Relays: Coach Ira Dunsworth

A young Coach Ira Dunsworth

A young Coach Ira Dunsworth

Ira Dunsworth was an All-State 400-800 runner at Davenport High School who then went to be an All Big 10 performer and NCAA qualifier at the University of Iowa.  After graduating from Iowa, Dunsworth went back to the Quad Cities to teach and coach track at Davenport Central.  At Central, Dunsworth had a Hall of Fame career and developed and coached track talent as well anyone before or since.  His Blue Devil teams won 7 state team titles and were runners-up 7 times.  He coached 31 state individual and 22 relay state champions.  His Blue Devil athletes won a total of 35 Drake Relays titles and were runners-up 20 times.  He was on the Drake Relays high school jury of appeals from 1978-2003.  He was named the boys Referee in 2004, a position he still holds.  Dunsworth is a member of the IATC Hall of Fame and the Drake Relays Wall of Honor.

Feature photo: Coach Ira Dunsworth and wife Dolly

“In 1950, my sophomore year at Davenport High, we qualified to run the 2-mile relay at Drake by winning the State Indoor meet.   Our team shared a bus with Clinton, making the trip to Des Moines and staying overnight in the old Brown Hotel on Keosauqua Avenue.  We awoke that Friday morning to 3-4” of snow!  By the time we ran in the early afternoon the track was a quagmire.  I never ate so many cinders in my life and we didn’t place, Dunsworth recalled.”

“In my junior year, 1951, I anchored both the mile relay and 2-mile relay to runner-up finishes at Drake.  It was quite a feeling to get my first Drake Relays medals.  In 1952, my senior year, I anchored both relays to victories and along with them, the thrill of winning 2 Drake Relays gold medals, Dunsworth added.”

Upon graduating from Davenport High, Ira enrolled at the University of Iowa.  His sophomore year, 1954, the Hawkeyes got beat at the wire in the mile relay at the Kansas Relays.  They were anxious to be running at the Drake Relays the next weekend, where they would finish 3rd and Dunsworth would receive his first Drake Relays medal as a collegiate.

During, 1956, his senior season at Iowa, Des Moines had a torrential rainstorm.  That was the year that Bobby Morrow, who would win 3 gold medals in the 1956 Olympics, and Dave Sime, the 1960 Olympic silver medalist in the 100 went at it.  Sime, of Duke, would edge out Morrow, Abilene Christian, running 9.4, in route to a new Drake Relays 100-yard dash record.

Dunsworth ran on Iowa’s Distance Medley that year, with future Hawkeye head coach Ted Wheeler on the anchor.   Iowa would win and Dunsworth would receive his first Drake Relays watch.  Wheeler made the US Olympic team in the 1500 meters that year along with teammate Deacon Jones who represented the USA in the Steeplechase.

Shelby Houlihan-SC East-ASU
©Mike Mahon

Drake Relays: Wow! What a Men’s and Women’s 1500m Field Set For the Relays!

Jenny Simpson-Webster City-Colorado ©Jim Kirby

Jenny Simpson-Webster City-Colorado
©Jim Kirby

Blake Boldon, the Franklin P. Johnson Director of the Drake Relays, announced the addition of 18 more Olympians to the 2017 Drake Relays presented by Hy-Vee lineup during a press conference Wednesday, April 12.

Wednesday’s announcement brings the total up to 51 Olympians slated to compete inside Drake Stadium April 26-29 with more fields still scheduled to be revealed.

Courtesy Drake Relays, click here!  Feature photo: Shelby Houlihan-SC East-ASU ©Mike Mahon

Boldon unveiled the field for the men’s 400-meter hurdles including four-time World Champion, 2008 Olympic bronze medalist and two-time Drake Relays champion Bershawn Jackson as well as the men’s and women’s 1,500 meters. The women’s 1,500 meters is headlined by seven Olympians including Drake Relays fan-favorites in Olympians Jenny Simpson and Shelby Houlihan. Simpson returns to Drake Stadium as the reigning Olympic bronze medalist in the event while Houlihan is one of the most decorated athletes in the history of the Drake Relays having won seven titles while competing at Sioux City East High School.

The Relays Director also announced the addition of another world-class invitational event to the schedule with the women’s high jump featuring 2012 Olympic silver medalist Brigetta Barrett and 2016 Olympic finalist Alyx Treasure of Canada. Reigning NCAA Champion Kimberly Williamson and 2017 U.S. Champion in the indoor pentathlon, Erica Bougard, are also in the high jump field.

Bershawn Jackson joined Wednesday’s announcement via video conference to also announce his retirement from competitive track and field and that the 2017 Drake Relays will be his last. The Drake Relays legend owns the Drake Stadium record in the 400-meter hurdles at 47.32, just shy of his personal best of 47.30, the 11th fastest time ever by an American in the event. He will be joined by four other Olympians in the event including Jamaican Olympic finalist Annsert Whyte, who finished fifth at the Rio Olympic games. Michael Tinsley, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, also returns to Drake Stadium where he has won two Drake Relays titles. Another Drake Relays regular, Javier Culson of Puerto Rico, makes his fifth Drake Relays appearance as a three-time Olympian and two-time World Champion silver medalist. Two-time Olympian Jehue Gordon is also in the star-studded field to make Jackson’s final lap around the Blue Oval an event not to be missed.

Jenny Simpson-Colorado-Professional Athlete ©Jim Kirby

Jenny Simpson-Colorado-Professional Athlete
©Jim Kirby

Boldon also announced one of the strongest women’s 1,500-meter fields to ever race at the Blue Oval. The field includes seven Olympians with reigning bronze medalist and 2016 Drake Relays champion Jenny Simpson leading the pack. Simpson won’t have an easy race to her fourth Drake Relays title though with Houlihan and Canada’s Nicole Sifuentes on her heels. Sifuentes is a two-time Olympic semifinalist in the event while Houlihan was the fastest American in the 5,000 meters at last summer’s Olympics. Brenda Martinez, a 2016 Olympic finalist in the 1,500 meters will be joined by Kate Grace, who finished eighth in the 800 meters at the Rio Olympics and was the top-ranked American at that distance last season. Completing the field is Charlene Lipsey who recently ran the second-fastest indoor 800 meters by an American ever as well as winning the USATF indoor title in the 1,000 meters. American junior record holder Alexa Efraimson is scheduled to make her Drake Relays debut in the event also as one of the top American junior competitors.

The men’s 1,500 meters includes a trio of Olympians led by Clayton Murphy, the 2016 Drake Relays champion and Olympic bronze medalist in the 800 meters. Veteran Leo Manzano also returns to the Blue Oval. The 2012 Olympic silver medalist in the event owns the eighth fastest time ever by an American in the 1,500 meters and was a Drake Relays champion in the mile in 2015.

Shelby Houlihan-SC East-Bowerman track Club ©Michael Scott http://miscottrunningphoto.shutterfly.com

Shelby Houlihan-SC East-Bowerman track Club
©Michael Scott http://miscottrunningphoto.shutterfly.com

Those runners and entire field will have one of the Drake Relays’ oldest records in their sites as they try to shatter Steve Scott’s Drake Stadium and Drake Relays record of 3:28.27 set in 1984.

They will be joined by a bevy of up-and-coming runners including Chad Noelle, who made his professional debut at the 2016 Drake Relays and was the Grand Blue Mile Champion and Johnny Gregorek who finished sixth at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials. Iowa State product and 2016 Olympic steeplechase finalist Hillary Bor returns to the Blue Oval as well to aim for the historic record.

The 2017 Drake Relays presented by Hy-Vee begin April 26 inside Drake Stadium. Tickets are on sale for all sessions of the Drake Relays by visiting the Drake Athletic Ticket Office, calling 515-271-3647 or using DrakeTix.com.

Lorraine Ugen-Olympian
©Jim Kirby 2016

Olympic Jumpers Coming Back to Drake

Lorraine Ugen-Olympian ©Jim Kirby 2016

Lorraine Ugen-Olympian
©Jim Kirby 2016

Brittney Reese, a three-time Olympian and two-time Olympic medalist, is set to headline a field of some of the world’s top long jumpers for the 2017 Drake Relays presented by Hy-Vee, the Franklin P. Johnson Director of the Drake Relays, Blake Boldon, announced Thursday, April 6.

Courtesy Drake Relays, click here! Feature photo: Lorraine Ugen-Olympian ©Jim Kirby 2016

Reese is one of six Olympians Boldon has lined up to compete in the Rio Olympic Games Rematch long jump including three Olympic finalists. Reese returns to Drake Stadium after winning the silver medal in the event at the 2016 Olympics. In 2012 she was the Olympic gold medalist and is a six-time world champion. Her personal best of 23-11.75 (7.31m) is the ninth best all-time in the event and tied for the second-longest mark by an American. Reese is also the American record holder in the indoor long jump. Last season, she finished the year ranked No. 1 in the world for the 10th time in her career after beginning her outdoor season with a second-place finish at the 2016 Drake Relays.

Last year’s Drake Relays champion, Lorraine Ugen of Great Britain, returns in defense of her title after advancing to the Olympic finals last summer and more recently taking silver at the 2017 European Indoor Championships. Ese Brume, another international competitor from Nigeria, makes her Drake Stadium debut after finishing fifth at the 2016 Olympics. A two-time African Champion in the event, Brume began her career a five-time African Junior Champion.

Yvonne Trevino is another Drake Relays newcomer that brings a resume of tremendous international success to Drake Stadium. The Mexican national record holder in the event at 21-11.75 (6.70m), she bettered her own record multiple times during the 2016 season en route to an appearance at the 2016 Olympics to become the first Mexican woman to compete in the event on the Olympic stage in 48 years.

Canadian national record holder Christabel Nettey joins the field after a 2016 Olympic appearance and a 2016 Pan-Am Games gold medal. She also finished fourth at the 2015 World Championship.

American multi-event athlete Sharon Day-Monroe will return to Drake Stadium as the American record holder in the indoor pentathlon and a 2008 Olympian in the high jump and a 2012 Olympian in the heptathlon. Day-Monroe has been a part of four World Championship teams.

Completing the veteran field is American Jesse Gaines. Gaines recently finished second at the U.S. Indoor Championships and own a personal best of 21-6 (6.55m).

The addition of six Olympians for the women’s long jump Rio Olympic Rematch, brings the total number of Olympians set to compete at the Blue Oval up to 30 with seven more elite event fields to be announced.

The Rio Olympics Rematch women’s long jump is scheduled for 2:45 p.m. Saturday, April 29. Tickets for all sessions of the 2017 Drake Relays presented by Hy-Vee are available through the Drake Athletic Ticket Office in person, by calling 515-271-3647 or visiting DrakeTix.com.

Name Country PR Olympics 2016 Drake Relays Finish
Brittney Reese USA

  • PR 23-11.75 (7.31m)
  • Olympics:  2016 (Silver), 2012 (Gold), 2008
  • Drake Finish 2016: 2nd

Lorraine Ugen Great Britain

  • PR: 22-8.5 (6.92m)
  • Olympics: 2016
  • Drake Finish 2016 1st

Christabel Nettey Canada

  • PR: 22-11.25 (6.99m)
  • Olympics: 2016

Yvonne Trevino Mexico

  • PR: 21-11.75 (6.70m)
  • Olympics: 2016

Ese Brume Nigeria

  • PR: 22-5 (6.83m)
  • Olympics: 2016

Sharon Day-Monroe USA

  • PR: 20-2.25 (6.15m)
  • Olympics: 2012 (Heptathlon), 2008 (High Jump)

Jessie Gaines USA

  • PR: 21-6 (6.55m)
Dani Bunch
©Jim Kirby-2016

Some of America’s Best Throwers Coming to Drake

Felisha Johnson-Olympian ©Mike Byrnes

Felisha Johnson-Olympian
©Mike Byrnes

Seven of the best American throwers and a Brazilian Olympic finalist will step inside the Drake Stadium circle for the women’s shot put at the upcoming 2017 Drake Relays presented by Hy-Vee, the Franklin P. Johnson Director of the Relays Blake Boldon announced Friday, April 7.

Courtesy Drake Relays, click here! Feature photo: Dani Bunch ©Jim Kirby-2016

Geisa Arcanjo will make her Drake Stadium debut after advancing to the finals of the 2016 Rio Olympics in her native Brazil and a sixth-place finish at the 2012 Olympics. With a personal best of 62-5 (19.02m) she is also a three-time South American champion.

American Olympian Felisha Johnson returns to Drake Stadium for the 2017 Relays after recently finishing third at the recent 2017 U.S. Indoor Championships as does Jeneva Stevens. A versatile thrower, Stevens was fourth at the 2017 U.S. Indoor Championships and eighth at last summer’s U.S. Olympic Trials. As a collegian at Southern Illinois, Stevens was a 13-time Missouri Valley Conference champion and a seven-time All-American in the throws.

Kelsey Card, who competed in the 2016 Olympics in the discus, joins the field after collecting an eighth place finish at the 2017 U.S. Indoor Championships in the shot put. Brittany Smith, who was second at the U.S. Indoor Championship, is also scheduled to compete with a personal best of 62-2.5 (18.96m). Tina Hillman, who was a two-time NCAA champion at Iowa State who finished ninth at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials will challenge the field as will Dani Bunch, a 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials finalist.

Jessica Ramsey, a U.S. Olympic Trials competitor in both the shot put and hammer throw completes the field for the 2017 Drake Relays Presented by Hy-Vee.

The women’s shot put is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 28, inside Drake Stadium as part of Hy-Vee Night at the Relays. Tickets for all sessions of the 2017 Drake Relays presented by Hy-Vee are available through the Drake Athletic Ticket Office in person, by calling 515-271-3647 or visiting DrakeTix.com.

Derek Miles

Memories of the Drake Relays: Derek Miles

Derek Miles-Olympian

Derek Miles-Olympian

Derek Miles will go down in Track and Field history as one the best Pole Vaulters.  Ever.  During his outstanding career the University of South Dakota alum was: a 5X All American at USD, a 3X US Olympian and 6X World Championships team member, a 3X Drake Relays Special Invite champion, and a 2X Drake Relays Pole Vault in the Mall champion.  Miles is in his 14th season as a member of the USD coaching staff.  His lifetime best in

the Pole Vault is 19’  2 ½”.

I distinctly remember my first Drake relays experience for multiple reasons.  It was my junior year and I finally jumped high enough to sneak into the bottom of the field.  I was certainly outclassed by the talent in the field but was so excited to have the opportunity and I can recall matching my seasons best but more importantly, seeing firsthand what that level of competition looked like.  I also remember jumping inside due to weather and being amazed to see Carl Lewis being escorted across the runway in front of me after having raced outside in the cold rain.  The following day I got to watch an elite pole vault competition where the best of the United States jumped.  All 3 things happened in one Drake relays experience and I can remember it like it was yesterday.  I remember even buying sunglasses later very similar to ones worn by one of the elite vaulters that day!  I had the opportunity to get autographs from a few of the athletes that I would be fortunate enough to jump against in future Olympic Trials.  Those types of experiences don’t happen very often but sure impact young athletes.

Drake has always been a special meet in the fact that they have worked tirelessly to make the next relays even more special then the last for all athletes from high school to elite.  To compete with, and then watch the best that the NCAA and professional ranks have to offer is something very rare for young athletes.  I thoroughly enjoyed competing at the Relays not only a collegiate athlete but as a professional as well.  Amazing mall vaults and Saturday elite competitions will forever hold a special place in my mental mantle.

Omar McLeod-Olympic Gold Medalist
©Mike Byrnes

Drake Relays-Two Days, Two Big Announcements

Omar McLeod-Olympic Gold Medalist ©Jim Kirby

Omar McLeod-Olympic Gold Medalist
©Mike Byrnes

Omar McLeod, the 2016 Rio Olympic Games gold medalist in the men’s 110-meter hurdles, is set to lead a field of the world’s top hurdlers at the 2017 Drake Relays presented by Hy-Vee. As the reigning Drake Relays champion in the event, McLeod is one of six Olympians in the Rio Olympic Games Rematch that includes fan-favorite and world record holder Aries Merritt.

Courtesy Drake Relays, click here!  Feature photo: Omar McLeod ©Mike Byrnes

Last year, McLeod also set the Drake Relays record in the event at 13.08 and later took Olympic gold in 13.05 for Jamaica. Merritt, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist was fifth at the Relays last season and has run five of the top-15 110-meter hurdle times in U.S. history, including his world and American record time of 12.80.

Merritt is joined by another of the greatest American hurdlers ever in the event in David Oliver. The Drake Stadium record holder at 12.93, Oliver has the second-fastest 110-meter hurdle time ever by an American and seventh fastest in the world. He was the 2016 Drake Relays runner-up behind McLeod, the 2013 World Champion and a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist.

Also joining the field is Andrew Riley, a two-time Olympian from Jamaica, was the 2013 Drake Relays champion and has extensive experience on the Blue Oval, winning multiple Relays and NCAA titles as a collegian at Illinois. Andrew Pozzi, a two-time Olympian from Great Britain, will make his Drake Relays debut in the event after winning the 60-meter hurdles at the 2017 European Indoor Championship and finishing fourth in the world in the event in 2012 and 2014.

American Ronnie Ash, an Olympic semifinalist in 2016 is also in the field and boasts a sub-13 second personal best in the event as is Spencer Adams, who was fourth at the Drake Relays in 2016. Finishing behind Adams in seventh last year at the Drake Relays was Aleec Harris who also returns to the Blue Oval.

The men’s 110-meter hurdles is scheduled for 2:51 p.m. Saturday, April 29, inside Drake Stadium. Tickets for all sessions of the 2017 Drake Relays presented by Hy-Vee are available through the Drake Athletic Ticket Office in person, by calling 515-271-3647 or visiting DrakeTix.com.

2017 Drake Relays Presented by Hy-Vee Men’s 110-Meter Hurdles Rio Olympic Rematch
Name Country PR Olympics 2016 Drake Relays Finish
Omar McLeod Jamaica 12.97 2016 (Gold) 1st
Aries Merritt USA 12.80*^ 2012 (Gold) 5th
David Oliver USA 12.89 2008 (Bronze) 2nd
Aleec Harris USA 13.11 7th
Andrew Riley Jamaica 13.14 2012, 2016
Andrew Pozzi Great Britain 13.19 2012, 2016
Spencer Adams USA 13.33 4th
Ronnie Ash USA 12.99 2016 * World Record
^ National Record

2016 Olympic bronze medalist Ashley Spencer leads a field that includes six Olympians set to race in the women’s 400-meter hurdles Rio Olympic Rematch at the 2017 Drake Relays presented by Hy-Vee, Franklin P. Johnson Director of the Relays Blake Boldon announced Monday, April 2.

Spencer returns to Drake Stadium, where she won three titles on relays teams while competing for Illinois before earning a bronze medal at last summer’s Olympic games. In addition to her newly minted bronze medal, she owns a personal best of 53.72 and was the 2016 World Indoor Championships silver medalist and a three-time NCAA champion at Illinois.

Spencer will face four other competitors that competed in Rio including Canadian Noelle Montcalm, who was a semifinalist in Rio as was Sparkle McKnight and Leah Nugent. Nugent, a Jamaican, was sixth in the Olympic finals. Kemi Adekoya, a native of Nigeria who competes for Bahrain, also joins the field to try her hand at the 400-meter hurdles. She is coming off a semifinal appearance in the 400 meters at the Rio Olympics and was a two-time Asian Games champion in the 400-meter hurdles.

A trio of the top American hurdlers complete the field including Relays regular, Georganne Moline. Moline, a three-time U.S. Championship runner-up placed fifth at the 2012 Olympics. Kori Carter finished fourth at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials and was 2015 World Championship semifinalist. A 2013 NCAA Champion at Stanford, she also owns the NCAA record of 53.21 in the event. Cassandra Tate finished just behind Carter at the U.S. Olympic Trials after winning a U.S. Championship in the event in 2015 and a bronze medal at the 2015 World Championship.

The women’s 400-meter hurdles Rio Olympic Rematch is scheduled for 2:02 p.m. Saturday, April 29 at Drake Stadium. Tickets for all sessions of the 2017 Drake Relays presented by Hy-Vee are available through the Drake Athletic Ticket Office in person, by calling 515-271-3647 or visiting DrakeTix.com.

Chris Van Auken Columbus-Drake
Jumping in the Drake Field House

Memories of the Drake Relays: Chris Van Auken

Chris Van Auken Columbus-Drake

Chris Van Auken Columbus-Drake

No matter where you call home, if you are a high school track and field athlete you work hard to run faster, jump farther, leap higher, or throw farther, maybe setting a record or qualifying for your state meet along the way.

If you are a high school track and field athlete in Iowa, you work hard to accomplish all the above, plus attain the crown jewel: qualifying for the Drake Relays and perhaps even placing among the state’s best during that last full weekend in April.

Chris Van Auken was successful at most everything our great sport offered him while a student-athlete at Columbus Community High School in Columbus Junction during the early 1970s. He was a Drake Relays champion, an Iowa state champion, and went on to become a Missouri Valley Conference champion while a Drake Bulldog.

But it is the battle he won against cancer that has allowed him to appreciate more, to recognize what he has, and to be thankful for everything.

Van Auken was one of the best all-around athletes to ever attend Columbus Community High School.  At 6-feet-4-inches tall and 180 pounds, he excelled in football, basketball and baseball, but it was early on that he discovered he had serious track and field talent.

“Growing up we had a decorative wooden fence in our yard, between our yard and the neighbors’.  I remember jumping over that fence and my mother scolding me because I was trampling her flowers,” recalls Van Auken. “As far as anything organized, that didn’t come until junior high. I was growing fast at the time and was a little on the gangly side. I wasn’t fast, but I liked the high jump and had a little ability there.”

“During junior high I ran the hurdles and high jumped.  I pretty much stuck to those two events until the end of my sophomore year in high school. We had three different hurdle races back then: 120-yard-highs, the 120-yard lows, and the 180-yard lows, but the lows were the only two included at the state meet,” says Van Auken. “During my junior season, I began throwing the discus and even tripled jumped once. It was at a meet at Pekin and I ended up going 42-feet-5 ½ inches”. I actually received nearly as much national recognition for the triple jump as I did the high jump.”

But the high jump was Van Auken’s bread and butter.

Van Auken only competed at the Drake Relays once, as a senior in 1973. He qualified in 1972, but elected to stay home and compete with his team at a re-scheduled meet.  At that time, an athlete could not compete at Drake and another meet on the same day. Van Auken would make the most of 1973 appearance, claiming a coveted Drake Relays gold medal with a clearance of 6-feet-4 inches.”

“I think back and wonder what if I’d gone to the Relays in ’72, but I know I made the right decision,” adds Van Auken. “I went into Drake my senior year ranked No. 1. I went out attempting a new Drake Relays record and was fortunate enough to win gold.”

“I hadn’t realized that the Drake Relays were such a big deal. I knew it was a big meet, bigger than most, but I didn’t come to realize how big until several years later,” thinks Van Auken. “I would sit at the Relays, in the same seats near the finish line, year after year watching the big high schools win most of the events. Occasionally, a small school will win and that is always special to me. It has been 44 years since I won a Drake title for Class-B CCHS!”

He qualified for state as a sophomore and a senior. A broken arm during his junior season kept it from competing (and qualifying) during conference and district meets.

Van Auken didn’t place as a sophomore in 1971, but claimed the 1973 state title, setting a new Class B record in memorable fashion after the high jump competition was moved inside the Drake Fieldhouse because of rain. All four classes competed at the same time, meaning Van Auken took his first jump then waited almost three hours before jumping again. His long-awaited jump of 6-feet-6-inches equaled the best effort at the state meet that year.

Van Auken went on to finish fifth at the All-American High School National Championships that year and graduated in 1973 with a recorded best jump of 6-feet-7 ¼-inches.”

He credits his high school success to the outstanding coaching and the thinking outside of the box approach to high jumping and hurdling of his high school coaches Ken Purdy, Dick Peterson, and Jim Gorham.  Purdy would spend hours with Chris watching the great Dick Fosbury,using his new “flop” technique rather than the Western Roll.  Peterson would work with him on his approach and body positioning over the bar.  Gorham would tape a quarter, in the “stand up” position on the top of the high hurdle board and challenge Van Auken to knock the quarter flat without touching the board while clearing the hurdle.

After graduating from Columbus, Van Auken attended Drake University.

“I was recruited by Coach Bob Earhart. He found me after I won the Relays my senior year,” says Van Auken. “We sat and talked for an hour on the old steps on the front stretch, by the long jump area.”

During Van Auken’s freshman year he jumped 7-feet at a meet at Notre Dame. The bar height was not measured with a tape measure, only the standards, so it was not recognized as tying the Drake school record held at the time by another Iowan, Iowa Valley’s Rick Wanamaker, an NCAA and Pan-American Games Decathlon champion.

Chris Van Auken Columbus-Drake

Chris Van Auken Columbus-Drake

Van Auken went on, that year, to win the Missouri Valley Conference indoor title.  He finished second in the MVC Outdoor Championships while battling shin splints.

In 1975, his sophomore year at Drake, Van Auken cleared 7-feet in practice, two days before the MVC Indoor. The next day he broke his foot and never jumped again.

Chris has only missed attending the Relays four times since 1971.

When asked about his greatest Drake Relays memories, Van Auken is quick to mention watching Jim Ryun, Randy Wilson, Mike Boit, Dwight Stones, Harvey Glance, Herschel Walker and Michael Johnson.

He said his biggest fan while a Drake athlete was the infamous Relays announcer, Jim Duncan.

“The first time I met him was at the All-American meet at Drake in 1973.  I carried the Iowa flag in the Grand March. I would talk to him daily while a Drake student. He would run in the fieldhouse or on the track. During the Friday lunch break at the Relays I would go down on the track and visit with him. He always remembered me. He was a special person.”

Van Auken hopes to attend the Relays this year with his wife Deb, who he says has been “my rock” though his battle with Stage-Three colorectal cancer that was diagnosed in December 2014. After the diagnosis, Van Auken received 28 days of radiation treatment followed by chemotherapy.  Surgery to remove the tumor was performed the Monday following the 2015 Relays. After two more surgeries came five more months of chemo and one final surgery.

Van Auken, now 62, is retired from Monsanto and has been declared cancer free. He says he feels “pretty good most of the time” and works daily to regain the strength and weight he lost during his battle. He is back to playing golf, attending his grandchildren’s’ activities, and fishing with Deb.

Prior to cancer, Van Auken spent time as an assistant track coach at Columbus Community High School and even had the opportunity to coach his son Sean in the hurdles and the high jump.

The Iowa track community greatly hopes Chris recovers fully and can once again share his talents and abilities. Somewhere out there a kid is jumping over fences and trampling flowers who could benefit from hearing Van Auken’s story and discovering that anything can be accomplished with hard work, desire and coaches who are committed to helping others make it the Blue Oval on the last full weekend in April.