116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Drake Relays remain a major event
Ogden column: While NFL Draft and NBA, NHL playoffs garner national attention, big track and field meet in Des Moines stands tall
The NFL Draft, which begins Thursday in Kansas City, has become a major event within America’s favorite sport.
The NBA and NHL are holding their playoffs, although still in the first rounds. They don’t compare to the three days of the NFL Draft.
It’s gotten that big.
But, here in flyover Iowa, we have our own major event starting Thursday and running through Saturday, just like that NFL Draft thing. It’s Drake Relays week, which is bigger than any draft or professional playoff. IMO.
The Drake Relays officially kicked off Sunday with the Drake Road Races, a sold out 5K, 10K and half-marathon. Tuesday is the Grand Blue Mile in downtown Des Moines.
Wednesday is the start of the heptathlon and decathlon and Thursday, things really get cranking with the final day of those two multisport events and the “Distance Carnival.”
It’s literally a three-ring circus of activity for three days — running events on the track, jumps inside the blue oval and throws at an adjacent field.
It’s high school, college and professional athletes converging in one place and striding on the same surface, throwing in the same circle and landing on the same mats.
There’s nothing better for the athletes and the fans, who show up every year on warm days, cold days, in rain or even snow.
But, alas, like many events since the COVID pandemic three years ago, the Relays have gone through some rough times — and have had to change with those times.
That’s not a bad thing. It’s just a different thing.
“We had a great track meet in 2021,” Blake Boldon said during a recent stop in Cedar Rapids. Boldon has been the director of the Drake Relays since 2016 and, before that, ran on the blue oval in high school (he won a Class 3A state title for Clarke) and in college (he won the 1,500 at the Relays while at Missouri State).
That 2021 meet was the “restart” after the 2020 meet was canceled. They had a high school “day” and college events that year, but Big Ten teams were not allowed to participate, including Iowa, and “it was not what we think of as the Drake Relays.”
Last year was “back on track” and “everybody came back ... and it was a terrific return,” he said.
This year is a “reset in many levels.”
But while this easily could be the most “normal” Drake Relays in recent memory, there will be some changes — differences Boldon and his staff have little influence over.
College track and field has gone through some changes since the pandemic — and very likely before that season was wiped out.
“The emphasis is on high performance — fast times, far distances or high heights,” said Boldon, who likened the new approach to “time trials.”
“It’s all about performance and all about getting the marks to qualify for the nationals.”
Meets like the Drake Relays, where time and performance often took a back seat to simply competing and winning, have had to make changes to schedules, tweaking an event here or there.
“That’s what we’re trying to do in the middle of April, in Iowa,” Boldon said.
A nice warm, sunny weekend would be ideal. But, as he said, it’s April in Iowa and anything can happen. The forecast in Des Moines indicates warmish temperatures with chance of rain Friday and Saturday.
“That’s something we can’t control, but I do think we’re due” nice weather, Boldon said.
So while some university relay events — like the 800, 3,200 or “4 mile” — may not draw some of the best athletes any longer, the individual events should be special, along with the 400 and 1,600 relays, events run at the NCAA championships.
“There was a time when anchoring a distance medley relay or running a 4-by-2 at the Drake Relays was as important as ... anything else,” Boldon said.
But it’s still the Drake Relays and there always will be special performances, maybe even an American or World record. And there will be high school athletes who shine brighter than they ever have.
“There’s no one single event” that stands out, Boldon said, “Just being there to witness an athlete doing something they didn’t expect they could do.”
That what it’s all about. That is the Drake Relays.
Comments: (319) 398-8461; firstname.lastname@example.org