Stadium to get new track, turf, scoreboard

DES MOINES, Iowa -- The old brick stadium at Drake
University is about to get a makeover.

The home of the Drake Relays will be getting a new track, an
infield with artificial turf, a high-tech scoreboard, better seats
and a new area for throwing events just beyond the open end of the
horseshoe-shaped stadium.

By next year, Drake Stadium will be fit to host just about any
kind of track meet short of the Olympics, not to mention football
and soccer games. The 18,000-seat stadium, dedicated in 1925, has
hosted countless elite runners, from Jesse Owens and Wilma Rudolph
to Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson.

The $13 million renovation will start after the state track meet
ends May 21. The idea is to turn the stadium into a venue suitable
for other world-class events, such as the NCAA championships, U.S.
championships and Olympic trials.

Craig Masback, head of USA Track & Field, said the stadium is
crucial for landing top events, although his organization also
considers hotels, transportation, local economy and community
experience with major events.

"Clearly, Des Moines is one that could make it," he said.

One stadium feature is the track's outside lane, which is next
to the first row of seats. Runners invariably slap hands with fans
on victory laps. Male fans have stopped Suzy Favor Hamilton for
pictures. Some runners have thrown shoes into the stands.

The challenge is to maintain that intimacy while making the
track safer and more equitable for runners in that outside lane.
That will be done by removing the first three rows of seats,
widening lanes from 42 to 48 inches and creating a gap of at least
a yard between the outside lane and stadium wall.

"People are still going to be able to have contact with the
athletes," Drake Relays director Mark Kostek said. "So I don't
think we've lost any of the intimacy. We've just enhanced
competitive opportunities."

The new track will have a surface like the ones at Olympic
stadiums. It is expected to be faster because the curves will be
similar to those in the Olympics.

"I think the upgrade will do a lot," said Jeremy Wariner, the
400-meter Olympic champion who will run at this year's Drake
Relays. "Probably a lot more athletes might want to go there
because of that. With the way athletes are running now, there's no
telling what will happen."