Drake Relays bringing in impressive set of Olympians

Nearly 70 former Olympians will take to the blue oval this weekend.

Jenny Simpson celebrates after winning the Drake Relays 1,500 in 2013. She'll be back for the race this weekend. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Jenny Simpson celebrates after winning the Drake Relays 1,500 in 2013. She'll be back for the race this weekend. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — The 2017 Drake Relays might just have one of the most talented groupings of Olympic-level athletes the event has ever seen.

There are currently 69 Olympians scheduled to compete at the April 27-29 event including 31 medalists — 10 of them gold.

There’s a whole set of rematches from last summer’s Rio Olympics in store. One, however, has really caught Drake Relays director Blake Boldon’s eye.

“The matchup in the women’s 1,500,” Boldon said. “Is a must-see event.”

The star of that particular race will be Jenny Simpson, the first American woman to ever medal in the 1,500. The Webster City native is ranked sixth in the world in the event and will be joined by five other 2016 Olympians — Brenda Martinez (USA), Marta Freitas (Portugal), Sioux City native Shelby Houlihan, Nicole Sifuentes (Canada) and Kate Grace (USA).

Houlihan and Grace ran different events at the Olympics — the 5,000 and the 800, respectively — and just add even more talent to the race.

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It’s far from the only highlight. A tremendous group of hurdlers will also be descending on Des Moines, including the 2012 and 2016 winners of the Olympic gold in the 110-meter race — Aries Merritt (USA) and Omar McLeod (Jamaica).

Merritt’s PR of 12.80 seconds is still a world record, though McLeod — who is ranked No. 1 in the world in the event — will be gunning for him. McLeod won the event last year at Drake and certainly isn’t a stranger to the Blue Oval.

The 400-meter run will be stacked as well, as three members of the U.S.’s 1,600-meter relay team that won gold at Rio will also be running in the event. LaShawn Merritt (Aries’ cousin), Tony McQuay and David Verburg are all set to compete in what should be a great race. Grenada’s Kirani James — who is ranked second in the 400 — will also be in the race, which he won in 2016.

Merritt finished second and the rematch should be quite fun to watch.

Elsewhere, the field events are also full of talent, with the high jump maybe the most so. Rio gold medalist Derek Drouin of Canada will take on three-time Olympian Mike Mason in the high jump. Drouin is ranked third in the world and two other top-15 ranked jumpers, Django Lovett (Canada) and Mike Edwards (Great Britian), will also be gunning for the Drake title.

The women’s long jump should be the other really competitive event on the field, as it includes a group of four top-10 ranked jumpers. The event is led by Lorraine Ugen (Great Britain) and Brittney Reese (USA) who went 1-2 in the Drake Relays last year.

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Boldon was able to put together the Relays in a fairly short amount of time, which makes the amount of athletes all the more impressive. With the Penn Relays this weekend as well, it will be a huge weekend for the sport of track and field.

“No one brings in Olympians like the Drake Relays,” longtime PA announcer Mike Jay said. “This is a great group, it’ll be an exciting weekend.”.

l Comments: jordan.hansen@thegazette.com



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