Athletes lace up their cleats and wear their school colors as they step onto the Blue Oval. The stands are full as professional athletes stroll by, preparing for their events.
For three days in April, track and field dominates the Drake campus as hundreds of athletes and thousands of spectators from all over the world converge on Des Moines for the Drake Relays.
For Drake’s own track and field athletes, the Drake Relays creates a unique atmosphere on their home track.
“It’s probably the biggest meet I’ve ever been to,” said Pierce Vincent, a senior track and field sprinter. “Track and field is popular, but to this degree? I wouldn’t say like that.”
From professional athletes to live broadcasts, this meet has become unlike any other.
“You can watch track meets on TV, and I’ve done that before,”said Rai Ahmed-Green, a sophomore sprinter. “It’s really different being the person being televised and having all the people in the stands cheering for you.”
Track and field is not exactly the national pastime, but Relays brings out the track fans in people. Attendance at the Drake Relays consistently ranks in the top 25 for U.S. track events, according to tracksuperfan.com.
“It’s the best week of the year because our sport is celebrated,” said sophomore distance runner Bailee Cofer. “When people are coming in from all over the country to watch the meet, and when people appreciate what the sport is about, it’s really cool because that’s what we dedicate a lot of our time to.”
Besides the 200-plus collegiate athletes competing, Relays draws in professional athletes looking for some high-level competition before the Olympics or those hoping to reach that qualifying time or distance. The close proximity with these stars is a surreal moment for collegiate competitors.
Ahmed-Green said that the professional athletes are usually ready to take photos and talk about race strategy because they have already accomplished what everyone else is trying to do.
“Track isn’t the biggest sport in terms of worldwide news, but for people who run track and are in it, they’re kind of like our celebrities,” Ahmed-Green said. “I feel like track is one of those guilds in which people who have made it to the top kind of understand that people trying to get to the top still need advice and still need mentorship.”
For other athletes, seeing professional runners is simply a star-struck kind of moment.
“To see (Olympians) run, to get to that level and to perform is just amazing,” Vincent said. “To see someone run that fast sometimes is just unnatural.”
Outside of the Blue Oval, festivities leading up to Relays take place all throughout the week, from the Beautiful Bulldog Contest yesterday to the pole vault at Capital Square on Wednesday, April 27. Nearly everyone on Drake’s campus takes part and that’s Cofer’s favorite part of Relays.
“Participating in relays (last year) was a huge honor,” Cofer said. “It was awesome, but I think what I enjoyed more than that was just how involved everyone on campus was in Relays. The campus is really alive with the spirit of Drake Relays. You really can’t beat that.”