Drake’s Mike Mahon Does the Numbers Drake Relay Alums and Olympians

 Former Drake sports information director Mike Mahon takes a look at the Drake Relays connections to the 2012 Olympics. Mahon served as press officer for  Team USA track and field teams at the 1992, 1996 and 2004 Olympics.

DES MOINES, IOWA — With 113 Drake Relays alumni competing, track and field fans across the Midwest have a vested interested in the sport during its 10-day run in the Summer Olympics in London, England.

Expectations were high entering the Olympics considering there were nine Drake Relays alumni who had combined to account for 16 medals in previous Olympics.

There are 46 athletes on Team USA who have made appearances in the Drake Relays, including 21 who were at the 2012 Drake Relays. That number nearly doubles the 27 Drake Relays alumni who competed for Team USA track and field squad at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Led by gold-medal winner Kirani James of Grenada, an additional 67 foreign athletes (34 men, 33 women), who have competed at the Drake Relays, also are performing at London’s Olympic Stadium with a strong contingent contending for medals.

No fewer than 11 Drake Relays alumni currently own an American record indoors or outdoors, including Wallace Spearmon, Bernard Lagat, Brad WalkerAllyson Felix, Lolo Jones,  Jenny Simpson, Jenn Suhr, Chaunte’ Lowe, Jillian Camarena-Williams, Stephanie Brown-Trafton and Kara Patterson.

Patterson and Lowe set their U.S. marks in the women’s high jump and javelin, respectively, at the 2010 U.S. Championships held at Drake Stadium.

Fresh off of 2011 world championship titles, three athletes look to take their supremacy to the Olympic level: Simpson (women’s 1500), Brittney Reese (women’s long jump) and Jesse Williams (men’s high jump).

Taking a closer look on Drake Relays connections these Olympians have is fascinating. Shot putter Christian Cantwell,  high jumper Amy Acuff and sprinter Debbie Ferguson-Mckenzie from the Bahamas are members of the Drake Relays Athletes Hall of Fame. Acuff, who owns four Drake Relays titles, is appearing in her fifth straight Olympics for Team USA joining Ferguson-McKenzie, a former multi-NCAA champ for Georgia, who also is in her fifth Olympics.

Cantwell also is one of nine Olympians who have been named outstanding performers of Drake Relays. Dating back to 2006 the last seven recipients of the women’s outstanding performer award at the Drake Relays are competing in the Olympics. Two-time defending Drake Relays women’s 1,500 champion Jenny Simpson, named the outstanding women’s performer of the 2011 Drake Relays, will run in the semifinals of the 1,500 Wednesday.

Eleven Olympians own Drake Stadium records, while six Olympians hold Drake Relays records. Suhr, Cantwell, along with Lowe and Spearmon are the only Olympians that can boast that they were named Drake Relays outstanding performers, and also own both Drake Relays and Drake Stadium marks. Suhr was named the outstanding women’s performer of this year’s Drake Relays after setting a meet record in the women’s invitational pole vault as well as winning the “Pole Vault in the Mall”.

While Suhr and Cantwell have concluded competition at the Olympics, Lowe and Spearmon are on track to achieve their goals of earning Olympic medals in their specialities of the women’s high jump and men’s 200, respectively.

If that’s not enough, there are a whopping 18 Olympians competing who won NCAA Outdoor individual champion titles at Drake Stadium in Des Moines this past June with six collegiate underclassmen expected to return to defend their crowns in 2013.

In the last two days Drake Relays alumni have combined to win five medals, capped by gold-medal winning performances on Monday night from Jenn Suhr in the women’s pole vault and Kirani James in the men’s 400. Puerto Rico’s Javier Culson, a two-time defending Drake Relays champion, earned the bronze medal in the men’s 400 hurdles Monday night.

Three-time Drake Relays champion Reese Hoffa was the first Drake Relays alum to earn a medal at the Olympics by capturing the bronze in the men’s shot put last Saturday.

With five Drake Relays alumni performing in the men’s high jump final Tuesday night, it was a sure bet that more medals would be accumulated. Kansas State junior Erik Kynard didn’t disappoint by jumping 7-7.75 to earn a silver medal. Indiana junior Derek Drouin, representing Canada, collected a bronze after going 7-6 to tie with Robert Grabarz from Great Britain and Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar. Sporting American flag knee socks, the 21-year old Kynard entered the high jump final tied with the seventh-best personal best in the field. His skill, with perhaps a motivational assist from the socks, propelled him to an unexpected silver medal behind gold medalist Ivan Ukov of Russia (7-7.75). Kynard had only one miss in the competition while clearing four heights.

Kynard was second in the invitational high jump at the 2011 Drake Relays and then turned around to set a Drake Stadium record and personal best of 7-8 en route to winning the NCAA Outdoor Championships June 7. Drouin, who finished runner-up to Kynard at the 2012 NCAA Championships, won the 2009 Drake Relays university-college high jump.

Jamie Nieto, who is the defending Drake Relays invitational high jump champ, finished sixth at 7-6.  Williams tied for ninth at  7-4.5, while  Mickael Hanany from France was 14th at  7-2.5. Nieto was fourth at the 2004 Olympics, while Williams won the 2009 Drake Relays invitational high jump. Hanany won the 2006 Drake Relays invitational high jump, while competing for Texas-El Paso and would go on to win the 2008 NCAA Outdoor Championships setting a then Drake Stadium mark of 7-7.25.

One of the sport’s most highly anticipated finals, the women’s 100 hurdles played out in spectacular fashion Tuesday night, pitting the defending gold medalist Dawn Harper against the heavily favored world champion Sally Pearson of Australia. Des Moines native Lolo Jones, a four-time Drake Relays champion, also was looking for redemption after placing seventh in the 2008 Olympics.

Pearson set an Olympic record in 12.35 to edge Harper (12.37). Jones, a two-time world indoor 60 hurdler winner, ran a season best 12.58 but fell ten-hundreths of a second shy of collecting the bronze medal.

During Tuesday morning’s session, 2011 World Outdoor champion Christian Taylor needed just one jump to automatically qualify into Thursday’s finals in the triple jump, leaping 56-5.75. Taylor set a Drake Stadium record in that event at 57-1 en route to winning the 2011 NCAA Outdoor title while competing for Florida.

In women’s javelin qualifying, 2012 Drake Relays champ Brittany Borman had a best mark of 194-5, while 2009 Drake Relays champ Kara Patterson had a best of 184-5. Patterson revealed after the competition that she was competing with a torn ACL in her left leg from an injury she sustained at the Olympic Trials in June.

Potential For Four Medals During Wednesday Session

Wednesday’s session will feature finals in four events with Drake Relays alumni having the potential to claim as many as four medals.

Two-time world indoor and outdoor champ Brittney Reese will try to end a 16-year Team USA medal drought in the women’s long jump, and she has the best mark in the world this year at 23-5.5 from the U.S. Olympic Trials. A three-time Drake Relays champion while competing for Mississippi, Reese was fifth in the 2008 Olympics. Janay DeLoach, a former Colorado State standout who competed at the 2006 and 2007 Drake Relays, won the silver medal at the 2012 World Indoor Championships and posted the second best qualifying mark on Tuesday at 22-4.25 despite jumping into a stiff wind.

Will it be third time lucky for Allyson Felix, who competed in the 2006 Drake Relays? She missed out on the Olympic 200 gold medal by one place in both Beijing 2008 and Athens 2004, but Wednesday night she will line up for the final of the half-lap sprint as she bids once more to win her first individual Olympic gold.  Felix ran a personal best of 10.89 to finish fifth in the 100 finals.

It will not be easy though, as she faces the woman who beat her in the past two Olympic 200 finals, Veronica Campbell-Brown, as well as the top two from the Olympic 100 final – Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Carmelita Jeter – and 400 champion Sanya Richards-Ross.

Nigeria’s Ajoke Odumosu set a national record in the semifinal round of qualifying in the women’s 400 hurdles at 54.40 and hopes to medal in the finals. The former NCAA champ from South Alabama was named the outstanding women’s performer of the 2007 Drake Relays.

The semifinals and final of the men’s 110 hurdles also will take place where Jamaica’s Richard Phillips, who was fourth in the 2008 Drake Relays, looks to improve on a seventh-place finish in the 2008 Olympics.

Qualifying also will be held in the men’s pole vault, men’s javelin and women’s hammer throw, while opening heats in the men’s 5,000 and women’s 800 will be run along with the semifinal round of the women’s 1,500 and the men’s 200.

All three vaulters – Derek Miles, Jeremy Scott, Brad Walker – from Team USA have combined to capture six individual Drake Relays pole vault titles. Miles, who won Drake Relay crowns in 2002, 2008, 2009, is the oldest member of the men’s squad at 39 years old. He is competing in his third straight Olympics with a top placing of fourth in 2008. Walker is the U.S. record holder at 19-9.75.

Jenny Simpson, who was born in Webster City, Iowa, will run in the second semifinal heat with Ethiopian record-holder Abeba Aregawi, World Indoor champion Hellen Obiri, two-time World champion Maryam Jamal, and 2004 Olympic silver medallist Tatyana Tomashova. Last year Simpson become only the second American world champion in the women’s 1,500 since Mary Decker in 1983. She also owns the Drake Stadium record in the 3,000 steeplechase set in the 2008 NCAA Championships, while running for Colorado.

Wallace Spearmon represents America’s best shot at medaling: he ran the third-fastest time in Beijing in 2008 and expected to claim a bronze medal but was disqualified for accidentally stepping into the lane of a fellow competitor on the turn. Spearman, who was named the outstanding men’s performer of this year’s Drake Relays after setting a meet record in the invitational 200, will run in the semis of the 200 Wednesday facing World 100 champion Yohan Blake and World 200 bronze medalist Christophe Lemaitre in his heat.

Isiah Young, who won the 2012 Drake Relays university-college 100 while competing for Mississippi, also will run in the second semifinal heat of the 200. Churandy Martina of The Netherlands is in heat three. He won the 2005 Drake Relays invitational 100 while representing Texas-El Paso.

Two-time World champion Bernard Lagat, who won the mile at the 2002 and 2004 Drake Relays, will run a semifinal heat of the men’s 5,000 Wednesday morning in his quest for his third Olympic medal after earning a bronze (2000) and silver (2004) in the 1,500.

Previews For Remainder Of Olympic track and field

Thursday, August 9
Besides the finals of the men’s 200 featuring three-time world outdoor medalist Wallace Spearmon, 2011 World Outdoor champion Christian Taylor hopes to add Olympic champion to his resume in the finals of the men’s triple jump. He is the world leader in 2012, soaring 57-10.25 at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Team USA hasn’t captured a gold medal in the men’s triple jump since Kenny Harrison accomplished the feat in 1996.

Heats will be held in the men’s 4×400 relay as well as the women’s 4×100 relay. Team USA has captured gold medals in the men’s 4×400 relay in the last seven Olympics dating back to 1984.

Friday, August 10
An American woman has never medaled in the Olympic 1500. Can either reigning world champ Jenny Simpson or Morgan Uceny, who ended the 2011 season ranked No. 1 in the world, end the drought? Finals also will be held in the men’s pole vault, men’s 4×400 relay and women’s 4×100 relay. Look for 2006 Drake Relays champ Jeremy Wariner to earn his fifth career Olympic medal including gold on the 2004 and 2008 4×400 relays.

Saturday, August 11
In 1988 Louise Ritter won the last women’s high jump gold for Team USA. 24 years later, American record-holder Chaunte Lowe is poised to match that achievement. Lowe is currently No. 2 on the world list and won the world indoor title in March. Arizona’s Brigetta Barrett, who won the 2012 NCAA title at Drake Stadium, is tied with Lowe in the rankings at 6-7. Lowe was sixth in the 2008 Olympics. Amy Acuff was fifth in the 2004 Olympics.

It has been 48 years since a U.S. man won an Olympic medal in the 5,000. In 1964 Bob Schul and Bill Dellinger went 1-3. American record-holder and 2011 world runner-up Bernard Lagat has demonstrated a knack for being in the medal hunt, with a 2007 world championship and a 2009 silver.

Finals also will be held in the men’s 4×100 relay as well as the women’s 4×400 relay in which Allyson Felix is expected to run a leg for Team USA.

Sunday, August 12

The Olympics conclude with the men’s marathon where four-time Olympian Abdi Abdirahman of Team USA will run. The former Arizona NCAA champ won the Drake Relays invitational 5,000 in 2001. Former Iowa State runner Guor Marial, competing under the Independent Olympic Athletes, also will run through the streets of London.

Suhr, World Champ James Keys Drake Relays Alumni in Monday’s Events

Long the best pole vaulter in the United States, Jenn Suhr officially became the best pole vaulter in the world Monday nightwinning the gold medal at 15-7 beating world record holder and defending gold medalist Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia.

Having recovered from a 2012 season that saw her struggle with achilles problems in the indoor season and quad problems this outdoor season, Suhr  jumped efficiently, strategically and well throughout the windy, blustery night. By the time the 2008 silver medalist entered the competition and recorded a first-attempt clearance at 14-11, she was already in the top four, and Drake Relays alum Becky Holliday had placed ninth with a best clearance of 14-7.25. With her victory, Suhr joined Stacy Dragila (2000) – whose American records she has rewritten – as American Olympic gold medalists in the event.

Kirani James, the reigning World Outdoor champion, became Grenada’s first ever Olympic medal winner, capturing the gold medal in the men’s 400 finals in a world leading 43.94 seconds. James ran for Alabama at the 2010 Drake Relays and then captured the 400 title at the 2011 NCAA Outdoor Championships at Drake Stadium.

Puerto Rico’s Javier Culson, a two-time defending Drake Relays champion, earned a bronze medal in the men’s 400 hurdles, finishing third in 48.10 He was the 2012 world leader entering the Olympics with a top time of 47.78.

Michelle Carter logged the best Olympic showing by a U.S. women’s shot putter in 16 years, placing sixth at 63-8.75 for the highest finish by a U.S. woman since Connie Price-Smith, a Drake Relays Athletes Hall of Fame inductee. Carter, a former NCAA champion from Texas, won the women’s university-college shot put at the 2007 Drake Relays.

American record holder and World Championship bronze medalist Jillian Camarena-Williams  was unable to advance to the final. She had been battling a back injury for a few weeks and was only able to throw 59-9.5. First-time Olympian Tia Brooks recorded a throw of 58-1.75 on her second attempt. Brooks set a Drake Relays women’s university-college shot put record this past April while competing for Oklahoma and would go on to win the NCAA title at Drake Stadium in June. Three-time World championships silver medalist Nadine Kleinert from Germany, who set a meet record in her only Drake Relays appearance in 2011, did not qualify for finals after throwing 60-3.

Sunday, Day 3 Recap

Called the greatest 100-meter dash ever raced, former Texas-El Paso sprinter Churandy Martina, competing for The Netherlands, finished sixth in the finals in 9.94 seconds. Martina won the 2005 Drake Relays invitational 100. First through seventh all were the best marks for place in Olympic history with Jamaica’s Ussin Bolt defending his title in an Olympic record 9.62

Saturday, Day 2 Recap
2004 Olympics silver medallist Austra Skujyte of Lithuania finished fifth in the heptathlon with a personal best 6,599 points, just 19 points from the bronze medal. The former Kansas State NCAA champ has competed in several Drake Relays.

2008 Olympic champion Stephanie Brown-Trafton opened the women’s discus with a throw of 206-8 to sit in fifth place after one round; that mark was to remain her best of the day and she finished eighth. Brown-Trafton set the American record of  222-3 earlier this season.

Another Drake Relays regular, Sharon Day, had the third-best performance of her career in the heptathlon, scoring 6,232 points to place 16th. Former Nebraska star Chantae McMillan ended up 29th with 5,688 points, while Drake Stadium record holder Hyleas Fountain withdrew prior to the 800 meters with lower back pain.  Fountain, a former NCAA champ for Georgia, won the silver medal in the heptathlon at the 2008 Olympics.

Friday, August 3 Recap
Competing in his third Olympics, Reese Hoffa finally captured his first Olympic medal earning a bronze with a best mark of 69-8. Cantwell, a seven-time Drake Relays champ, was fourth at 69-6.25, while Ryan Whiting was ninth at 67-8.75. Cantwell had won the silver medal at the 2008 Olympics.

Hoffa, a three-time Drake Relays winner, kept the U.S. streak alive in shot put medals dating back to 1984. Other than the boycotted Games of 1980, the U.S. has failed to win a medal in the event only twice – 1936 and 1976. In both years, the top American placed fourth.


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