ONLINE EXCLUSIVE ARTICLE BY ADAM ROGAN
Drake Relays Director Brian Brown addressed the media today in the Paul Morrison Room in the Bell Center, making four major announcements.
Hy-Vee partnership lengthened
Hy-Vee has been the flagship sponsor of The Drake Relays since 2012 and, after seeing the event’s continued success over the past three years, has agreed to extend its support through 2021, a five-year extension of the current arrangement.
“We’re proud to lock arms with Hy-Vee and head down this road for another five years,” Brown said. “They come aboard as a partner, not as a sponsor.”
Brown stressed that Drake University and Hy-Vee are both community-based organizations and strive to have The Drake Relays reflect that as an event that brings in students, alumni and the Des Moines community.
Women’s high jump added
Until today, an event that had been missing from The Drake Relays schedule was the women’s high jump. Three athletes have already been confirmed for the new event.
18-year-old Vashti Cunningham will be jumping in her first major event since the USA Indoor Track and Field Championships on March 12, where she won gold with a height of 1.96-meters, the youngest woman to win the event in history. She officially turned pro less than two weeks later by signing a deal with Nike.
Brown, a former high jumper himself, had attended the Championships in Portland, Oregon, saw Cunningham jump and was impressed by her talent, especially at such a young age. Cunningham’s father, retired NFL all-pro Randall Cunningham, sought Brown out hoping of getting his daughter to jump at The Drake Relays.
Brown said that if Vashti Cunningham were willing to compete, he’d make it happen.
“It’s not an exhibit,” Brown said of The Drake Relays. “It’s a competition.”
A veteran field featuring two American Olympians will challenge the teenager.
Chaunté Lowe has been to the Olympics three times and is the current American record holder in the high jump, both in indoor (2.02 meters) and outdoor (2.05 meters). Lowe is also the record holder at The Drake Relays, which she set in 2012 with a jump of 1.98 meters, the same year she won the World Indoor Championships.
Amy Acuff will be “a blast from the past,” as Brown called her. The 40-year-old Acuff has competed in every Olympics since 1996 and is pursuing her sixth invite to the Olympics. A quality performance in Des Moines this week could make or break her chances of heading to Rio.
The competition will take place at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 30.
First-ever world-class coed shuttle hurdle relay
In a new event to both the Drake Relays and the world stage, Brown announced a coed shuttle hurdle relay race, featuring some of the world’s top hurdlers.
There will be four different teams, composed of two men and two women members each, competing in two heats.
The women on team one are Jasmin Stowers, a Relays record holder and defending champion in the 100-meter hurdles, and Jackie Coward. They will team up with Aries Merritt, the current world record holder and 2012 Olympic gold medalist in the 110-meter hurdles, and Hansle Parchment, who finished two spots behind Merritt in 2012.
Team two features two-time Olympian Dawn Harper-Nelson, 2008 Olympian Queen Harrison, Andrew Riley and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist in the 110-meter hurdles David Oliver.
Team three is made up of 2016 American indoor 60-meter hurdles champ Nia Ali, Kristi Castlin, Ronnie Ash and Spencer Adams. They will be running against 2013 World champ in the 100-meter hurdles Brianna Rollins. Rollins is teamed up with Kendra Harrison, Aleec Harrison and Omar McLeod.
According to Brown, this will be the first event of its kind with this level of talent.
“And why not here, in America’s Athletic Classic?” Brown posed.
Lolo drops out of Relays
Hometown favorite Lolo Jones, a Des Moines native and two-time Olympian, will no longer be hurdling in the 2016 Drake Relays. This is the second time that Jones has withdrawn from The Drake Relays from injury.
She recently sustained a minor injury to her hamstring and doesn’t want to run without being 100 percent, according to Brown.
“It’s difficult for her to come when she’s not at her best,” Brown said.
The women’s 100-meter hurdles will still feature a world-class field with Jones, Stowers and Rollins, even if Jones’ lane will be empty for the second straight year.