ONLINE EXCLUSIVE BY ADAM ROGAN
Despite captivating the world’s attention once every four years, Olympians sometimes find it hard to pull in large audiences or fill stadiums in the U.S. At the Drake Relays, this is hardly the case.
The Relays continually rank among the most attended track events in the country, with attendance usually coming in above 10,000 people per day. Considering the fact that Drake Stadium seats less than 15,000, the packed stadium creates a competitive atmosphere that the athletes can use to their advantage in terms of motivating fan support.
“Every time I’m at the starting line I can always a fan screaming literally right there,” said Queen Harrison, an Olympic hurdler and Relays veteran. “(The Drake Relays) has a touch of a personal feel.”
“I like the hometown feel,” added Olympian and American shot put record holder Michelle Carter. “I feel very welcomed here and the crowd is very into what you’re doing and they cheer you on along the way.”
Part of those positive feelings result from the Drake Relays being held in the United States, whereas high-level, well-attended track and field events are more common across the Atlantic.
“It’s one of those elite meets that you actually get to do on U.S. soil, we don’t have a lot of those,” Harrison said. “Most of the time we have to go to Europe or other countries in order to get this level of competition. It’s right in our backyard, why not come here?”
Even if track and field athletes oftentimes appear to be more well known and appreciated overseas, that is sometimes preferred by American athletes, such as David Oliver, 2008 Olympic bronze medalist in the 110-meter hurdles.
“I like my privacy and being relatively anonymous in the states. It’s cool,” Oliver said. “I wouldn’t want to be somebody that people are harassing when you go shopping or something or something like that, that’s not really the lifestyle I’m in to. It’s cool to be in Europe and we get that type of love, but then you can come home and just be normal.”
On the competitive side, the Drake Relays acts as a benchmark for athletes to see where they stand early in the outdoor season, with the Olympic trials coming up in July.
“This is actually a good test to see where my strength is,” said Brittney Reese, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist in the long jump. “This will help me see what I have to focus on for the season, which will actually be really, really important.”
As world-class athletes only have the opportunity to lineup against one another a few times each year, the Drake Relays provides an opportunity both for fans who want to see competition of this caliber without travelling the 5,000-plus miles to Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics and for competitors to see where they stand with less than four months left until Rio.