ISU track and field preps for Drake Relays, biggest meet in the state


Photo: Jonathan Krueger/Iowa Sta

Senior Eseroghene Okoro crosses the finish line first in her heat of the women’s 400-meter hurdles race at the Drake Relays on April 27, 2013, at Drake Stadium. Okoro won her heat and the race with the time of 57.43.

Chris Wolff

Like many of her teammates, Ese Okoro has been looking forward to the Drake Relays. The biggest meet in the state of Iowa is often a favorite amongst ISU athletes, given the proximity, the crowd and the atmosphere.

“Ah, the Drake Relays,” Okoro, senior sprinter, said with a smile about this week’s meet. “The good ol’ Drake Relays … It’s always fun.”

The Drake Relays attracts high school, college and professional level athletes, as well as a huge crowd year in and year out.

“It’s a huge crowd compared to other most other meets,” said Ryan Sander, senior sprinter. “Other places, there will be a few fans here and there, but the Drake Relays has a whole different feel to it.”

Many of those fans are ISU supporters. With Iowa State traveling to warmer areas of the country for much of the outdoor season, this is often one of the only opportunities for local fans to support their hometown team.

“It’s really special, especially being from Iowa,” said Hannah Willms, junior high jumper. “Local fans can come out and watch us, it’s such a nice stadium, and we don’t have to travel very far.”

The lack of travel is an added benefit for the team because it is on the road so much during the outdoor season.

The team doesn’t have to travel days ahead of time, and the athletes get to sleep in their own bed the night before competition. It’s a more normal routine, which Sander said is a nice change from constantly being on the road.

It also doesn’t hurt that the Drake Relays are the most prestigious meet in the state of Iowa, and top-level athletes from all over the country flock to Des Moines to compete in the meet.

For members of the team who are native Iowans, it’s a special experience. Many athletes competed at the Drake Relays throughout their high school careers and now get the chance to do the same as a college athlete.

“It’s a real honor to be able to do this at the college level,” said Willms, a Waterloo, Iowa, native. “I competed at the Drake Relays all throughout high school and to get the chance to compete at the blue oval again is really special for athletes and for the fans that get to watch us.”

Sander also competed at the Drake Relays in his high school career as a native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He said competing at the meet in college is a lot different than competing as a high schooler.

“In high school, you never see a crowd like that at a track meet and it’s really cool because it’s the best meet in the state and the competition level is so high,” Sander said. “Now as a college athlete, we’re a little more used to competing against that elite level of competition week in and week out.”

Willms said she found the meet more “intimidating” as a college athlete than as a high school athlete because of the higher competition levels and the pressure of competing on a local track once again.

“It’s kind of intimidating just because before I was just a high schooler, but now, being in college, there’s a little more pressure and the competition level is higher,” Willms said.

While Sander and Willms are familiar with the Drake Relays by being native Iowans, it can be a unique experience for out-of-state athletes who have never competed at the meet before and never experienced a meet of that magnitude.

“It’s cool for all the people who have never been at the Drake Relays before to get that experience,” Willms said. “And it’s cool for those of us who have before, because we get to see all the locals who now compete out of state comeback and we get to compete against them again.”