105 years of Drake Relays tradition

BY KATRINA DO | APRIL 25, 2014 5:00 AM

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The Drake Relays is often regarded as one of the biggest track and field events in the nation.

Numerous Olympic gold medalists have competed at the meet, along with the top college and high-school athletes from around the country.  

But Drake is more than just a race for the track and field elite.

For past competitors, the most memorable part of the event is the ambiance, which may also be what sets it apart from other major track meets.

Iowa assistant coach Clive Roberts remembers the first time he set foot into Drake Stadium; he was a student-athlete competing in hurdles and relays for Central Michigan.

“You walk in, and the whole place is packed — it definitely gets you excited,” he said. “Even when I was competing at an early age, I could see how the people in Iowa supported not only the Black and Gold, the Cyclones, UNI, or Drake, but all the athletes from so many different colleges and universities.”

The fans who pack the stadium every year are what make the ambiance so remarkable. For Iowans, Drake is more than just the main event at the track, it is a weeklong tradition and source of pride for the community.

Even out-of-state athletes competing at Drake for the first time know how Iowans feel about the meet. 

“My teammates from Iowa tell me it’s really big deal,” freshman Brittany Brown said. “I’m expecting a lot.”

The week features events outside the Drake Blue Oval to involve more of the community in celebrating the tradition.

The Drake Relays kicked off the week with a high-jump competition at Hy-Vee in Waukee — the store cleared out its produce section for the event. On Wednesday, fans and shoppers gathered to watch a pole-vault event at the Jordan Creek Mall.

“Everyone, including me and my entire family, get so excited when the Drake Relays starts to roll around,” freshman Madison Rouw said. “The relays is such a big community event. I always think it’s fun watching the pole vaulters at the mall.”

Rouw, a Waukee native, is familiar with the shared feeling of excitement among members of the Des Moines community. Rouw and her family are an example of the many supporters who continue the 105-year-long tradition of Drake.  

Aside from watching Lolo Jones compete, the freshman is looking forward to competing on what feels like a home turf — Rouw competed at the meet during high school. She remembers her team’s victory lap around the track, holding their new Drake Relays champion flag with pride.

And along with Roberts, Rouw reminisced about the Drake Stadium ambiance.

“I love being at the Drake Relays, competing and watching,” she said. “It’s amazing how many people come to cheer on the athletes — the atmosphere is great.”

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