Sports

U.S. track and field championships feature best of the best

It will be 'the best track you've ever seen' at Drake Stadium

Runners compete at the Drake Relays in Des Moines on April 27. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Runners compete at the Drake Relays in Des Moines on April 27. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Blake Boldon admits he’s a bit surprised.

“I’m not shocked,” he said. “But I’m pleasantly surprised.”

Boldon is director of the Drake Relays, the state’s biggest and best track and field meet held each April at Drake Stadium in Des Moines. It’s a role he relishes, growing up in Iowa and winning a state high school title in 1998.

He gets to rub elbows with some of the best athletes in the world every year.

But he came to Cedar Rapids last week promoting something different — the USA Outdoor Track and Feld Championships. This is the biggest meet in the United States and it’s coming to Des Moines this week, running Thursday through Sunday on and around the blue oval.

It doesn’t get any bigger in this sport, unless you’re hosting an Olympic Games or World Championship.

But that’s also the problem with the event this year. There are no Olympics, no World Championships. This meet isn’t a qualifier for anything “prestigious.”

Still, it has attracted a who’s who in the sport.

There will be six gold medalists from the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics, four silver medalists and four bronze medalists. There are 12 athletes who currently hold American records in their events.

This is big.

“Event by event, by event by event, it’s the world’s best and the U.S.’s best,” said Boldon, who is on the local USATF Organizing Committee. “I didn’t imagine that.”

Boldon, a standout runner in his day who once competed in these kind of meets, said there’s a good reason most of this country’s top runners, throwers and jumpers are coming to Des Moines. Money.

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Track and field athletes make their most money competing in Europe over the summer. And having a U.S. title is a “nice feather in their cap,” but also can boost appearance fees.

“If you win at this meet ... you’ll make the most money for the rest of the European circuit,” Boldon said. “If you’re a U.S. champion ... you’re going to get a lane.”

Track and field doesn’t have too many household names, but even casual fans likely have heard of Tyson Gay, who holds the U.S. record in the 100-meter dash at 9.69 seconds. Some may know Aries Merritt, the U.S. record holder in the 110 high hurdles (12.8). Or how about Christian Taylor, the American record-holder in the triple jump who also is trying to break 45 seconds in the 400 dash.

Ajee’ Wilson owns a 1:55.61 800 best, the fastest half mile ever run by an American woman.

If you’re a fan of the throwing events, you can’t get much better than shot putters Ryan Crouser and Joe Kavacs. They went 1-2 in Rio. Michelle Carter won the women’s gold in 2016.

This list goes on and on — and they’re all coming to Iowa.

“It will be a treat for those die-hard track fans that are out there and really know these folks,” Boldon said. “You get to see truly the world’s best in every event.”

But, Boldon warns, this is not the Drake Relays or a state meet. Those events give fans “jam-packed constant action.” These championships are more “deliberate” with seven or eight minutes between events.

“It’s scheduled for television,” Boldon said.

The meet starts Thursday with finals in six events, including the men’s and women’s 10,000-meter runs. The 100-meter dash finals are Friday night, the 400 dashes Saturday afternoon. Sunday offers the 800 finals, among many others.

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“All four days are going to be some of the best track you’ve ever seen,” Boldon said.

l Comments: (319) 368-8696; jr.ogden@thegazette.com

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