Dueling relays: Penn, Drake share weekend again

Franklin Field during the Penn Relays. (Matt Rourke/AP)
Franklin Field during the Penn Relays. (Matt Rourke/AP)
Posted: April 24, 2014

Year after year, the Penn Relays and the Drake Relays are conducted on the same late April weekend, one in a huge Eastern metropolis, the other in a relatively quiet Midwestern burg, two cities about 1,000 miles apart.

Track aficionados annually check out the results from both Penn and Drake to compare times and to check which meet has the most star athletes. Many like to think that the two meets compete for teams, athletes, and attention.

However, if you listen to the directors of the two meets, they only want to see track and field thrive. And the sport that has endured some rough going in the United States thrives substantially on this weekend every year in Philadelphia and Des Moines, Iowa.

"We're really not competing," said Dave Johnson, director of the Penn Relays, who noted that Drake has more field events and more individual events, while Penn is heavy on relays.

"I always tell coaches, 'Do what is best for your own team.' Maybe you're stronger in the field events, so maybe you'll go to Drake. Maybe you want a matchup against a certain school that's always here or at Drake. Or maybe you've never been to one or the other, and before you retire you want to go to it. More often than not, it has nothing to do with competition between the two meets."

Brian Brown, director of the Drake Relays, said everybody wins when both meets are doing well, bursting with talented athletes.

"For the sport of track and field, it's important that Penn is successful," he told the Des Moines Register. "It's important they have a good event. That's what keeps us viable among the other sports. I don't wish them any ill will. I just wish the Drake Relays well."

The two meets have been around for a long time. This is carnival No. 120 at Penn, and Drake will be staged for the 105th time. Franklin Field is a larger stadium and draws close to 50,000 on the final day every year, but Drake Stadium usually sells out its 15,000 or so seats on a regular basis.

Brown is feeling better about Drake since Hy-Vee, a supermarket chain in the upper Midwest, became its principal sponsor. The meet now can lure Olympians to Iowa, such as this weekend when it will conduct a series of 10 "Moscow World Championship Rematch" events featuring athletes such as LaShawn Merritt, a frequent participant at Penn.

Brown also has a few gimmicks, such as Monday night, when he staged a high-jump competition inside a Hy-Vee store. Erik Kynard, a 2012 Olympic silver medalist, won at 7 feet, 6 inches on fewer misses over Derek Drouin, last year's outstanding Penn Relays field athlete for Indiana.

Franklin Field remains a track showplace this weekend. It will host Oregon, which won both the men's and women's team titles in last month's NCAA indoor championships. World-class athletes arrive Saturday for the 15th annual "USA vs. The World" competition, aided by the financial participation of Nike.

Johnson is more than pleased at the overall turnout for the Penn Relays, with more than 250 colleges and 1,000-plus high schools.

"The feeling has been with us and Drake, if they're on the same weekend, they're competing," he said. "But if we went on different weekends, neither meet could handle the influx of additional schools from the other. We are bursting at the seams as it is, and so is Drake."

That makes it "Track Weekend in America."


>Inquirer.com

Get Penn Relays news as it happens Thursday through Saturday on Matt Breen's Penn Relays blog at www.inquirer.com/sports


jjuliano@phillynews.com

@joejulesinq

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