Drake Relays may get soggy start

Updated: April 24, 2007, 9:07 PM ET
Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Drake Relays officials are all too familiar with bad weather, after watching rain and heavy winds drench athletes and fans alike last year.

The forecast for the opening of the 2007 Relays doesn't look good, either, with precipitation expected through Thursday. But meet director Brian Brown is holding out hope that the weather won't put a damper on one of the nation's oldest and most prestigious track meets.

"I can see a little bit of sun shining through the windows," Brown said Tuesday. "I think it is a foreshadowing of what's to come."

The 98th edition of the Relays begins Wednesday with a limited schedule. The meet will run through Saturday at Drake Stadium, which will host the event for the first time since it completed a $17 million facelift.

Relays officials expect nearly 8,000 athletes to compete, as well as the 42nd straight sellout crowd for the Saturday session.

The field will again be highlighted by some of the nation's top athletes, including Jeremy Wariner, Alan Webb, Lolo Jones, Amy Acuff and Christian Cantwell.

Wariner was named the 2006 U.S. Athlete of the Year by Track and Field News. He will be back in Des Moines to defend his title in the men's invitational 200-meter dash, which will be held Saturday. Wariner won two gold medals at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, and was ranked No. 1 in the world at 400 meters for the third straight year in 2006.

Webb, one of the nation's top distance runners, will run the invitational mile during his first stop at the Relays. Webb won the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials 1,500-meter race, but faltered in Athens. Injuries derailed him in 2006, which is why he has gotten off to an early start this season. Webb has already won the mile at the USA, Boston and New Balance Indoor Games.

Webb, who is skipping the Penn Relays for Drake, will try to break the meet record of 3 minutes, 55.26 seconds set by Steve Scott in 1979.

"I've never done Drake. I wanted to mix it up a little bit," Webb said. "I always ran Penn in high school and my only year in college and even did it after college. It's time for a little bit of change."

Jones is no stranger to Des Moines, her hometown. The former Roosevelt High star won the 100-meter hurdles at last year's Relays in 12.95, after setting the meet record of 12.93 in 2005.

Jones enters this year's meet running as well as she ever has. She won the 60-meter hurdles at the U.S. Indoor Championships on Feb. 25, capturing her first national title in a blistering 7.88 seconds.

Acuff, a three-time Olympic high jumper, set the meet record of 6-4 in the women's invitational high jump last year. She's shooting for her fourth straight Relays title.

Cantwell was named the outstanding men's performer of last year's meet after breaking one of Drake Relays' oldest marks, the shot put. Cantwell's winning put of 72-6 1/4 shattered a record that had stood since 1972.

"Any time Christian Cantwell is in the competition, it's possible that a record could fall," Brown said.

Prep fans will have their eyes on Brooke Dinsdale, a junior at North Tama High and one of the nation's top distance threats. She set the meet's high school girls' 800-meter run mark in 2006 with a time of 2:10.35, and was named the outstanding performer of the 2006 AAU Junior Olympics in Norfolk, Va.

On the college side, Ohio State will send its men's team for the first time since 1987, and the vaunted Florida women's squad will make its debut in Des Moines.

South Alabama will send a pair of the nation's best collegiate athletes in distance runner Vincent Rono and hurdler Ajoke Odumosu. Rono won the 2006 NCAA outdoor title in the 1,500 meters at 3:44.07, and Odumosu ran the fastest 400-meter time in the world this year, 50.46, on April 15.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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