News on the Drake Relays.

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 2017

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.

Derek Drouin-Olympic Gold Medalist 
©Mike Byrnes 2016

Drake Relays Announces Pro Mens High Jump Field

Mike Mason-Canadian Olympian ©Mike Byrnes-2016

Mike Mason-Canadian Olympian
©Mike Byrnes-2016

Derek Drouin, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, Drake Relays record holder and three-time Drake Relays champion is set to headline the men’s high jump competition at the upcoming Drake Relays presented by Hy-Vee. Drouin was one of 10 competitors announced Friday, March 31, by Drake Relays Director Blake Boldon.

Courtesy Drake Relays, click here! Feature photo: Derek Drouin-Olympic Gold Medalist  ©Mike Byrnes 2016

“I’m honored to announce the field in the high jump,” Boldon said. “My predecessor, Brian Brown, left a tremendous legacy and his specialty as an athlete was the high jump where he held the Drake Stadium record for almost 20 years. Today we’re very pleased to announce this field that has the Olympic gold medalist and the three-time Relays champion.”

In addition to Drouin, the competition will feature six other Olympians and a two-time Paralympic champion in Roderick Townsend-Roberts. Townsend-Roberts, the world record holder in the T-47 Paralympic high jump with a clearance of 6-11.5 (2.21m), competed in the event at the 2016 Relays.

Drouin, who owns the Drake Relays and Drake Stadium record in the event at 7-10.25 (2.40m), will attempt to hold off the talented field for an unprecedented fourth-straight Relays title in the event. Last summer, Drouin won his second Olympic medal with a gold medal at the Rio Olympic Games after earning the bronze medal in 2012. His personal best of 7-10.25 (2.40m), set at the Drake Relays is also the Canadian national record.

Drouin will be challenged by the likes of Ricky Robertson, who finished third at the 2016 Drake Relays and went on to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team and Bryan McBride, who finished as the runner-up in the event in both 2015 and 2016.

A former Relays Champion looking to make a comeback is also scheduled to jump. Jesse Williams, a two-time American Olympian, four-time U.S. Champion and the 2011 World Champion will return to Drake Stadium. Williams was the Relays Champion in 2009 and despite standing just six feet tall, has cleared 7-9.25 (2.37m), a 53-centimeter height differential that ranks among the top 20 all-time.

Drouin won’t be the only Canadian in the field as countryman Mike Mason, a three-time Canadian Olympian, comes back to Drake Stadium after a sixth-place finish at the 2016 Relays.

More international athletes line the field including Trevor Barry, a Bahamian Olympian, that was fourth at the 2016 Relays and competed in four World Championships for the Bahamas. Jamal Wilson, another product of the Bahamas, will try to clear bars at the Relays after representing his country at the 2016 Olympics. Another Olympian, D.J. Smith, visits Drake Stadium after representing Puerto Rico in the 2016 Olympics.

Jeron Williams, an eight-time NCAA Division II All-American and the Division II record holder completes the world-class field.

The 10 jumpers are scheduled to compete Saturday, April 29 at 2 p.m. inside Drake Stadium.

Tickets for all sessions of the 108th edition of the Drake Relays presented by Hy-Vee are available via the Drake Athletic Ticket Office and by calling 515-271-3647 or visiting DrakeTix.com/DrakeRelays.

2017-03-28_14-13-28

Next Level Iowa Podcast For March 28, 2017: Drake Relays Director Blake Boldon

Blake Boldon-Director of the Drake Relays ©Jin kirby

Blake Boldon-Director of the Drake Relays
©Jin Kirby

On this week’s edition of the Next Level Iowa Podcast we welcome back Director of the Drake Relays, Blake Boldon.  Blake talks about a new way for the Drake Relays to give back to the community through a special program called Pinky Swear.  Pinky Swear is a program designed to support children suffering from cancer and their families with financial and emotional support.  You can find out more about Pinky Swear by clicking here.  Also, you can join the Drake Relays’ in helping by clicking here. 

 

Drake_Relays_1994_Carl_Lewis

Memories From the Drake Relays: Carl Lewis’ 1994 Relays Debut

Carl Lewis 1Mike Mahon served as media coordinator of the Drake Relays from 1989-2010. He also served as press officer for the USA Track and Field Team at the 1992, 1996 and 2004 Olympic Games.

Ready. Set. Go. The 108th running of the Drake Relays is right around the corner with this year’s track and field extravaganza attracting even higher than usual interest with several invitational events featuring Olympic medalists from the 2016 Rio de Janiero Olympic Games.

It also gives us time to look back to 1994 when Carl Lewis, considered by many the greatest U.S. track and field athlete in history, made his Drake Relays debut.

Lewis’ appearance at Drake is a sports moment that Iowans still remember.

• • •

Some of the worst weather in Drake Relays history couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm and rousing support that a sellout crowd of 18,000 gave the eight-time Olympic champion, then in the twilight of his career.

He had dominated sprint events and the long jump for 10 years, winning 10 Olympic medals, including nine gold, and 10 World Championship medals, including eight gold.

His accomplishments led to numerous accolades, including being named “Sportsman of the Century” by the International Olympic Committee, “World Athlete of the Century” by the International Association of Athletics (Track) Federations and “Olympian of the Century” by Sports Illustrated.

But the events leading up to Lewis’ arrival at Drake are worth sharing. It seems as if they occurred yesterday.

It was late in the afternoon on a Monday, just 10 days away from the start of Drake Relays, when then-Relays director Bob Ehrhart called longtime statistician Mike Henderson and I into his office.

Once Henderson and I arrived at the second-floor office in the Drake Fieldhouse, Ehrhart shut the door, which was highly unusual.

Ehrhart was sporting a huge grin, somewhat like a child anxiously awaiting a head start on opening Christmas presents. Henderson and I didn’t have a clue as to what he was up to. He looked like the cat who had swallowed a canary, only we had no idea just how big that canary was.

“I just received a call,” said Ehrhart, who was marking his 25th year as Drake Relays director. “Carl Lewis wants to run in the Drake Relays. Do you think we can make room in the schedule to add an invitational 100 for him?”

Henderson, who had been known to go as many as three days without sleep during the weeks leading up to the (Drake) Relays, was speechless — for maybe the first time … ever.

But that wasn’t because he was tired. Henderson had an opinion on everything. It was a proverbial “cat got your tongue” moment that I will never forget.

Finally, the first words out of anyone’s mouth came from me: “So, how much appearance money do we have to pay him?”

“It’s a thing he (Lewis) and Joe Douglas (coach and manager of the Santa Monica Track Club) and I have worked out and it’s not a big deal, covering his travel expenses, lodging and meals,” beamed Ehrhart in a tone I had become familiar with whenever he recalled his shrewd negotiating skills in dealing with elite athletes and their agents over the years. “I’ve always wanted to have Carl here. I worked on it for a number of years. I’m never sure what’s going to hit and what’s not going to hit. This is a once-in-a-lifetime event.”

Just a day earlier, on (that) Sunday, Lewis had anchored the Santa Monica Track Club to a world record in the 4×200 relay at the Mt. SAC Relays in Walnut, Calif.

• • •

The Drake Relays would mark Lewis’ 1994 outdoor debut in the 100. Serving as an assistant sprint coach at his alma mater — Houston — Lewis also was bringing the Cougars’ 4×100 and 4×200 relay teams to Drake.

The Drake Relays schedule had been finalized two weeks earlier. So the three of us would spend the next 30 minutes meticulously working ways to add another event to the schedule of a meet that is always run in a precision-like, clockwork fashion.

After squeezing in the invitational 100 at 1:23 p.m. for the Saturday session in between the women’s university-college 4×800 and the men’s college distance medley relays, the next item on the agenda was to announce the news to the media.

It was getting late with the time nearing 5 p.m. on that Monday afternoon, which was not good for print, radio or television reporters. Having Ehrhart accessible for interviews wouldn’t be a problem, but I also wanted local media to have an opportunity to talk to Lewis as well.

Having worked at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, I had heard all sorts of horror stories about Lewis being brash with reporters or showing up more than an hour late for press conferences, his entourage in tow.

However, I had no complaints. Lewis made himself available for an interview with the Iowa media later that Monday.

“From what I hear, Drake has one of the best crowds in the country and a good atmosphere crowd perpetuates good performances,” said Lewis, who had owned the world record of 9.86 in the 100-meter dash.

“That’s the first thing. My plan was not to run the 100 meters until May, but when Drake came up, I decided I would run my 100. It was my preference this year because I hadn’t been there before and I want to try to get to some of the places I haven’t been to before I retire … I think it’s going to be a great, fun meet.”

• • •

During Ehrhart’s tenure, the Drake Relays had gained a reputation for the warm reception extended to elite athletes once they arrived in Des Moines. And Lewis received the red-carpet treatment during his weekend stay, occupying the penthouse suite at the downtown Hotel Savery.

He agreed to have a press conference once he arrived in Des Moines and was greeted by an overflow press contingent at the Savery on that Friday night before he competed. With the forecast calling for cold temperatures and a chance of rain on Saturday, one of the first questions was if there was a possibility he wouldn’t run because of the weather.

He quickly told the audience that he had run in cold conditions before in Europe. The suspense would continue on Saturday morning building up to Lewis’ race.

Snow began at mid-morning with temperatures in the mid-30s. It turned into a rain-snow mix at noon. The only good thing was a lack of wind. But the fans were there for the start of the afternoon session. The stadium sold out for a 29th consecutive Saturday.

Tom Tellez, Lewis’ personal coach, said the only way Lewis wouldn’t run was “if he would endanger himself doing so.”

Lewis had talked with Gwen Torrence, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, who was waiting to run the women’s invitational at 2:05 p.m.

“She told me she had been coming here for 10 years,” related Lewis. “The weather’s been great and it’s been terrible. This is definitely the worst but she keeps coming back. And you can see why. These Drake fans are the people who keep the sport alive. We’ll run. I’ve gone to meets where it’s 90 degrees and sunny. It’s great, it’s perfect and no one cares. If the crowd could come out and sit for hours, I could run for 10 seconds.”

Lewis’ pre-race introduction from public address announcer Tom Kroeschell lasted 90 seconds — nearly 10 times longer than his race would.

Fans applauded as Lewis and others went into the starting blocks. The noise of clapping was muffled by the fans wearing gloves to keep warm. The gun sounded and Lewis left the field behind with his long strides, winning in 10.31 seconds.

At the finish, Lewis grabbed a small Drake flag and circled the track, taking a victory lap, brushing hands with fans as applause followed.

• • •

It might have been the longest Drake Relays victory lap ever recorded, lasting nearly 10 minutes.

Lewis would never forget his first trip to the Drake Relays and Des Moines.

“When I’m in my 60s, in my rocking chair, by that time it will be two feet of snow, and they had to plow away my lane and everyone in the stands was frozen solid,” he said. “It was crazy. It’s a story for the ages. This was a typical European crowd: Filled stadium no matter what the weather … very enthusiastic and knowledgeable. If I had the time and ability, I’d like to have slapped everyone’s hands.”

Lewis would make a return appearance at the 1995 Drake Relays, running in the invitational 100 again, but had to take a back seat to Texas-El Paso sophomore Obadele Thompson, who would go on to claim a bronze medal in the 100 at the 2000 Olympics for his native Barbados.

Thompson broke ahead of the field from the start, winning in 10.19. Oregon freshman Pat Johnson squeezed past Lewis at the finish line for second in 10.26 to 10.32.

“As I grew up, he (Lewis) was my idol, more or less,” said Thompson. “No one really likes to beat his idol, but it’s part of the sport.”

• • •

Lewis’ appearance at the 1994 Drake Relays would start a three-year relationship for me with him, a period during which I served as the chief track and field press officer for the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Lewis competed at the 1995 U.S. Olympic Festival, squashing rumors that his track and field career was over by winning the long jump.

I served as the press conference moderator previewing Lewis’ last Olympic appearance ever at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

Never in my wildest dreams could I ever have imagined hosting a news conference with one of the greatest athletes in Olympic history before an overflow crowd of more than 1,000 worldwide media while listening to questions and answers being interpreted in four languages.

During a two-week stretch leading up to the start of track and field competition at the Olympics, I would field more than 100 interview requests for Lewis on a daily basis.

Becoming the only American ever to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team for a fifth time in the long jump, Lewis would close out his illustrious career by tying an Olympic record in winning his ninth career gold medal.

He became one of only three Olympians to win the same individual event four times.

As he passed through the mixed zone talking to reporters, he paused to hand me a capsule full of sand from the long jump pit as a token of appreciation over the last couple of years.

That would be the last time I talked to Carl Lewis.

Alex Gochenour-Logan Magnolia-Arkansas 
©Jim Kirby

Memories of the Drake Relays: Alex Gochenour

Alex Gochenour-Logan Magnolia-Arkansas  ©Jim Kirby

Alex Gochenour-Logan Magnolia-Arkansas
©Jim Kirby

Alex Gochenour had a tremendous high school career at Logan Magnolia before going to Arkansas and earning Indoor and Outdoor All American honors in the Pentathlon and the Heptathlon for the Razorbacks.   Alex was a 13-time state champion and a five-time Drake Relays champion.  She holds both the 1A (14.07) and 2A (14.33) state meet records in the 100 hurdles, the overall state meet record (14.07) and the Iowa All Time best, (13.90) all over the 33” hurdles.   In 2011 she was the nation’s top prep recruit in the combine events.  She won the 2011 USA Jr Heptathlon title and went finish 10th in the World Jr Championships.

 

Drake Relays.  I get butterflies in my stomach just typing those two words.  I’ve competed across the country at some of the best tracks, and there’s still no place I’d rather run than the Blue Oval.  From the level of competition, to the electric atmosphere, to the best announcer in the game, Mike Jay, announcing your name, NOTHING beats competing at Drake.

 

I always loved Drake Relays in high school, being from small-school Southwest Iowa, because I felt like I had the chance to prove myself against the larger school athletes from across the state. Regardless of what year of school I was in, I always felt like the underdog coming in. The weather never seemed to completely cooperate, but that’s honestly what I kind of loved about it.  Not only did you have to prove you were the best competitor, but you had to prove you were the toughest.

 

My favorite memory came from my junior year of high school.  I had come in second in the 100m Hurdles by a combined time of no more than a tenth of a second the previous two years.  I was determined to change the narrative of my Drake Relays carrier and FINALLY earn myself my first individual flag.  That’s all we trained for that cold spring, my first hurdle practice we scooped snow from the track.  Finally, the time had come for my redemption. It was cold and raining that day, perfect weather.  Prelims went off without a hitch, just as they had the last two years.  Before finals all I can remember was how insanely nervous I was, I wanted a flag SO badly.  I was trying to push thoughts of my hurdle crash from the previous year out of my head as I focused at the task at hand.  As I walked to check in, I got one last good luck squeeze from my coach/dad and he told me what he’s told me before every major race to this day, “Bring the Rain, A-Train.”  I remained nervous through setting my blocks and getting my run out, but the moment Mike started announcing me, the nerves suddenly disappeared and I was filled with incredible confidence.  After the gun went off, I don’t remember much until I was over the last hurdle. There were raindrops built up on my eyelashes and I was soaked to the core, but none of that mattered.  That flag was finally mine.  I crossed the finish line and immediately looked to the crowd for my dad.  I found him and immediately busted into tears and from what I remember, he was a little misty eyed himself.  It was such a relief for both of us.  I had brought the rain.  I went on to win the 400m Hurdles the next day, a complete shock, but the cherry on top none the less.

 

I hope to compete at the Drake Relays just one more time as a post-collegian athlete.  Its always like a special homecoming walking onto that Blue Oval.

Blake Boldon-Director of the Drake Relays
©Jim Kirby

What They’re Saying About Our New Relays Director

Blake Boldon-Director of the Drake Relays ©Jin kirby

Blake Boldon-Director of the Drake Relays
©Jin kirby

“Blake has contributed immeasurably to Beyond Monumental and to the CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental Marathon over his short four-year tenure. We are very sad to see him leave, but we are thankful for his passion, vision and the way he has helped grow Beyond Monumental into a premier national event and the best marathon in the state of Indiana.”
Katherine Coble, President of the Beyond Monumental Board of Directors

Courtesy Drake Relays Central, click here! 

“With passionate leadership, Blake greatly expanded the mission of the organization by working closely with the Board of Directors and the Indianapolis community, including public schools, civic leaders and businesses. His creative vision, his capability to motivate outstanding team members and work closely with the Board of Directors makes Blake Boldon truly the best of the best.”
Carlton Ray, founder of the Monumental Marathon
“As the presenting sponsor of the Drake Relays, we look forward to working with Blake and growing the rich tradition of this event for the university and track and field community. We’re hopeful that Blake’s past experience will help him continue the trajectory of the Relays and expand its visibility and reach not only within the Des Moines community, but also nationally and globally.”
Randy Edeker, Hy-Vee Chairman, CEO

“Blake has always put his heart and soul into everything he does. That being said, two of the things that Blake is extremely passionate about is the sport of track and field and being a proud Iowan. This is probably a match made in heaven for both Drake and Blake. The Drake Relays are going to be in a great hands and there will be no one that will work harder to continue and even grow the great tradition that is the Drake Relays.”
Houston Franks, Head Cross Country/Asst. Track and Field Coach at Mississippi State University

“As the director of the Penn Relays, I want to welcome Blake to the fold of meet directors. I got to know Blake when he was at Penn and I’m confident he will do a terrific job at Drake with the Drake Relays. For almost a century, the Penn Relays and Drake Relays have shared the same day. Because of that, a lot people assume we’re rivals, but that’s not really true. I’ve had great relationships [with] Drake Relays directors from Bob Ehrhart to Mark Kostek to Brian Brown, and I’m sure I will have the same type of great professional relationship with Blake.”
Dave Johnson, Director of the Penn Relays

“During his time at Penn, Blake was quick to impress. His coaching acumen, ability to relationship build with student-athletes and his relentless effort on the recruiting trail made an immediate positive impact on the success of our programs. He took his unparalleled work ethic, passion and authenticity to the IMM and I had the privilege of watching him grow professionally from a distance. Having served as the Executive Director of the Penn Relays for several years and appreciating the skill set needed to be successful, I have every confidence Blake will continue the great tradition at Drake and take the event to even greater heights.”
Alanna Shanahan, Johns Hopkins University Athletic Director, former Deputy Director of Athletics at the University of Pennsylvania
“Blake Boldon is the perfect choice to be the next Director of the Drake Relays. It is awesome that they were able to attract a person of Blake’s caliber, who not only has the necessary professional experience, but it also a native Iowan. The fact that Blake ran in the Relays as a high schooler, collegian and as a professional makes his hiring even more special. I could not be more excited for the future of the Relays.”
Jamie Pollard, Iowa State Athletic Director
“I couldn’t think of a better person to help lead the Drake Relays into a new era. I know how important the Drake Relays are to Blake and the impact it had on him growing up in Iowa. From his high school and college running days to his collegiate coaching, Blake has experienced the Relays on many levels. I couldn’t be happier for Blake and look forward to watching his leadership continue to grow and expand the Relays in years to come.”
Corey Ihmels, Head Track & Field/Cross Country Coach at Boise State
“Blake and I have become pretty good friends over the last five years and have talked extensively about this position. What Blake has done at Beyond Monumental with the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon is unprecedented. He has great marketing skills, is very personable and is an Iowan with a passion for the Relays. He is one of four Iowans to ever run a sub 4-minute mile, he’s run professionally and has contacts all over the world. I don’t think Sandy and the committee could have made a better hire in selecting someone with such passion and energy for the Drake Relays who is anxious to get track and field in front of people.”
Mike Jay, Drake Relays Public Address Announcer
“I’ve been fortunate to know every Drake Relays director since Bob Karnes. The credentials that Blake brings to the job are those needed for the Relays of the 21st century – business acumen, a competitive and coaching background and ability to further develop corporate relationships. I have no doubt he will build on what Brian Brown did and further cement the Relays’ reputation as ‘America’s Athletic Classic.’ My congratulations to Blake and to Drake on a smart hire.”
Don Kopriva, Track & Field Journalist that has covered 49 Drake Relays

Kiana Phelps, KP-WCU-Oregon and Mike Jay

Memories From the Drake Relays: Kiana Phelps

Kiana Phelps-Kingsley Pearson with her Drake Relays Flag and Next Level Iowa water bottle..two treasured items!

Kiana Phelps-Kingsley Pearson with her Drake Relays Flag and Next Level Iowa water bottle..two treasured items!

Kiana Phelps, KP-WCU graduate and a freshman at Oregon is a four-time Iowa state champion and four-time Drake Relays Champion in the discus and won the state title in the shot put as a senior.  Has the State meet record in the Discus at 172-0, the Drake Relays record of162-7 and the Iowa HS All Time best at 179-7.  She competed in the discus at the 2016 IAAF World U20 Championships, coming away with a fifth-place finish. Top-ranked prep discus thrower in the country in 2015 per Track and Field News.

Feature photo: Kiana Phelps, KP-WCU-Oregon and Mike Jay

Drake Relays is special

to my family, because we have watched and/or participated in it for almost 60 years. My older brother, myself, and my younger brother have all had extremely close calls, and for each, the other two have been right there by their side, encouraging and providing a backbone of support and courage for them.

Just as my older brother kept me calm and focused before my last throw at my first Drake Relays, I was right there by my younger brother at state when I encouraged him and told him what he needed to do on that last throw. On that final throw, he edged first place by half an inch.

Drake Relays has always been a place of many emotional moments great triumph for the Phelps family. That’s why Drake Relays will always be home to me.

Drake is special to Iowa and track in general, because without it, track wouldn’t be the most participated sport in the state. In addition to that, Drake Relays makes Iowa one of the top competitive states in the country for track and field.

Iowa has anything that compares regarding sponsorship support, local fan support, and rich tradition, all in a community that doesn’t seem too metropolitan, yet has all the amenities to entertain. Most importantly, Drake Relays is orchestrated on a first-class basis with first class people. It’s important to Iowa track people, and it shows.

Jeff Hartwig, Bubba Sparks  and Gary Hunter

Memories From the Drake Relays: Jeff Hartwig

Jeff Hartwig 3Jeff Hartwig is a symbol of all that is good about the Drake Relays.    Hartwig is a 2 time Olympian, a 6 time US champion, the IN American record holder in the Pole Vault at 19’  8 ¼” and an 8 time Drake Relays champ, including 7 in arrow from 1995-2001.  Hartwig’s winning effort of 19’  ¾ from 2007 still stands as both the Relays and Drake Stadium record. (Sam Kendricks jumped 19-1 in 2015, but the competition was held indoors that year).

Feature photo: Jeff Hartwig, Bubba Sparks and Gary Hunter 

Every year in late April hundreds of the best track and field athletes in Iowa gather on the blue oval of Drake Stadium for the annual Drake Relays.  This event not only is a culmination of the best that Iowa has to offer in high school track but many of the world’s greatest track and field athletes have competed in this iconic event.  For me Drake holds a special place in my heart with many great memories.  Drake was always the start of my outdoor season and it was the anticipation of competing in front of the great crowds at Drake that provided much motivation between the indoor season and the time I would arrive in Des Moines.  Come rain or shine I always knew the amazing crowd would show up to watch the athletes perform.

As I have moved beyond my competitive years, I am now privileged to still have the opportunity to come to Des Moines each year as coordinator of the pole vault events at the Relays.  We have seen, Olympic medalists, World Record Holders, American Record Holders and vaulters of many other great accomplishments compete at Drake.  Each year the Drake Relays continues to be a world class event with many of the sport’s greatest performers.

Jeff Hartwig 1I am envious of the many young athletes who attend and compete at the relays.  They have a unique opportunity that I never had as a kid growing up to see some of the sports great stars.  As a high school event, the Drake Relays provides a chance for Iowa’s best athletes to test themselves against competition from all classes.  This event provides the example of what track and field has to offer across all levels and its many years of success is a testament to all the great workers, volunteers, officials and athletes who make it happen.  The Drake Relays is an event that many other meets only aspire to live up to.