I was recently invited to attend the 101st running of the Drake Relays. Asics has been the title sponsor of the Relays for the past few years and each year they invite 1-2 Accounts to experience the event with them firsthand. This year it was myself and Bob Roncker from Ohio who were fortunate enough to attend.
I have gone to a large number of meets over the years, everything from local dual meets to the California High School State Meet to the Olympic Trials to the IAAF World Championships and everything in between, but I had never been to a meet in the midwest. I was pleasantly surprised to find Drake University to be home of a very cool track facility and great fans on top of Des Moines being a really nice city. Plenty of parks and waterways, plus a nice downtown with a good supply of restaurants to choose from.
Drake has a super stadium. It features an old brick facade that was recently remodeled in and around with modern touches, a nice courtyard that opens to campus and plaques of athletes inducted into the Relays Hall of Fame mounted on brick pillars around the courtyard. The seating inside the stadium is steep and unlike the Stadium used for the Olympic Trials in Sacramento, the site lines offers excellent viewing from all seats. The stadium is horseshoe shaped and opens to the field that house very nice hammer and discus rings.
The stadium seats a little over 14,000 people so when its filled it offers plenty of buzz but still manages to maintain an intimate feel. Drake Relays is held the same weekend as homecoming, so the event serves as a nice annual gathering point for locals and alumni alike which adds to the festive atmosphere.
On Friday night we stayed only a short time primarily to watch the 4 x 800’s We weren’t disappointed as the men’s 4 x 800 came down to 5 teams coming off the turn and Jeff See from Ohio State University outkicking the field in a 1:47 split. This was See’s second winning anchor having earlier running a 3:57 final leg to help his team win the 4 x mile.
On Saturday, Bob, Damian (the Asics Gold Account Manager) and I had a morning ran along the river, followed by breakfast and a mandatory watching the NFL Draft to see if anyone would pick up the Notre Dame QB before heading to the meet. Damian had us sitting at a table in a VIP tent that overlooked the start/finish line. It was a nice setup with drinks, snacks and lunch items available.
The meet is a fantastic high school and college relay meet with just the right amount of pro’s added to keep the individual events interesting. As you can imagine, a 101 year old event has traditions that add to the ambiance and following. I thought it was great the only high school athletes allowed to compete were kids from Iowa which really fostered fierce yelling from fans around the stadium cheering for athletes from their part of the state.
The other really impressive part of the meet was the amount of cheering the fans gave any and all events. It didn’t matter if it was a high school, college or open event; if it was a sprint, distance or field event; if an athlete competed, if they ran their hearts out they got a rousing ovation. In fact the loudest cheers where given to the winner in the women’s high jump who went 6’5″ in tough conditions. Other events that drew a particularly loud applause were the high school girls 400m hurdles, the sprint hurdle relays and the distance medleys.
The community really gets behind the event. At one point, they asked anyone who had ever competed in the Drake Relays to stand up. Over half the stadium stood up which was quite a large number of people in the stadium. This was the 45th consecutive year Drake has sold out on Saturday and the cheapest seat in the house is $40 which is almost unheard of for a meet to sell out at that price anywhere else in the country.
A funny note about the community getting behind the event is the fact most of the volunteers are from the immediate area. The woman who was volunteering to check credentials to get into the VIP tent was sitting next to me and was very focused on watching the high school boys invitational mile – her grandson was racing. She cheered him on the entire way completely ignoring the people coming into the tent and her grandson seemed to respond, finishing up 9th. After the event was complete, she asked her husband to watch the gate for a few minutes, she had to run home and feed the cat.
I was initially taken off guard when it was announced the USATF Nationals Track and Field Championships are being held at Drake this year while the NCAA’s champs are being held there in 2011 and 2013. After having spent a few days experiencing track and field at Drake, all I can say is it’s a great place to host a major track meet. Super stadium, super fans of ALL events and a nice hometown feel to it. A very nice experience.