April 22, 2009

 

By Brett Hess
Special to NCAA.com

The first Drake Relays, in 1910, had only 82 athletes and barely more spectators (around 100).

The latter number resonates in this, the meet's centennial celebration.

The annual event, one of track and field's most storied and annually celebrated meets, begins a four-day run in Des Moines, Iowa. There will be a few more athletes (7,000) and a sell-out crowd for the 44th straight year. Four-day totals will exceed 45,000 fans.

Among the top collegians expected to participate are Texas high jumper Destinee Hooker and Baylor sprinter Trey Harts. There will also be several 2008 Olympians competing in the Special Invitational events for post-collegians. High-profile programs such as Stanford, Texas, Wisconsin, Baylor and Nebraska will compete.

But this year will about looking back as much as looking on. The Drake Relays is unveiling its "Athletes of the Century", a hall-of-fame list of 10 men and 10 women who have made their marks at the blue oval in Des Moines. Topping the list are Michael Johnson and Gwen Torrence, who will be honored as the overall "Athletes of the Century" at a ceremony Thursday evening. Of the 20, 15 will be present; three are deceased and will be represented by family members. The other two will be represented by teammates or a coach.

"You never see 15 athletes of this magnitude on one stage," said Carolyn Hill, assistant Drake Relays director. "It's going to be quite a celebration."

Hill said the Drake Relays are to Drake what a typical fall homecoming is at other universities.

"Instead of coming back in the fall and watching a football game, we have people come back for The Relays," Hill said. "We have alumni come each year for reunions and we have ticket-holders of 30, 40 even 50 years."

As for the community, well, Des Moines puts it's best foot forward, so to speak.

"The town, the businesses, everyone really embraces The Drake Relays," Hill said. "The town supports it; it's our defining aspect, our event of the year."
 
Hooker holds the Drake Stadium record of 6-feet-4 will be competing against 2008 U.S. Olympian Chauntee Howard. The pair share the 2009 outdoor world best right now at 6-2.75.

Harts won the 200 last week at the Michael Johnson Invitational in nation-leading time of 20.29. Harts is also the 2009 NCAA Indoor champ in the event.

Harts' teammates in the 4x400-meter relay have won a record 39 straight races against collegiate competition. The relay currently has the nation's top time this season with a 3:00.
   
ATHLETES OF THE CENTURY

Men

Michael Johnson
Jesse Owens
Jeff Hartwig
Mel Lattany
Mike Boit
Calvin Smith
Al Oerter
Rodney Milburn
Steve Scott
Kip Janvrin
 
Women

Gwen Torrence
Merlene Ottey
Lolo Jones
Natasha Kaiser-Brown
Lillie Leatherwood
Suzy Favor Hamilton
Essie Kelley Washington
Jill Lancaster
Amy Acuff
Cindy Bremser