Track teams prepped for trip to Drake

by Monica Wright

As far as track and field goes, the Minnesota men and women are headed to the Goliath of all meets this weekend, the Drake Relays.
It began 91 years ago in Des Moines as a small meet between four schools. But the Drake Relays has grown in size and scope to include high school, collegiate and Olympic athletes.
The meet has also grown in terms of spectator attendance. The relays are expecting to sell all 18,000 seats, making it the 35th sellout in a row, the longest streak in U.S. track history.
“There’s not many times in your life that you get to run in front of 18,000 people,” women’s coach Gary Wilson said. “It’s like Woodstock without the nudity … well, there might be some of that, too.”
With so many fans it’s easy to see how an athlete could get stage fright.
But according to junior and Drake veteran Elaine Eggleston, the crowd only serves to inspire the athletics.
“I don’t think you can run and not get caught up in the people screaming and yelling,” Eggleston said. “For track you usually don’t get a whole lot of spectators but here the fans are wonderful and fun, and we see that people actually appreciate track.”
Both teams are sending over half of their travel rosters to compete against some of the best collegiate athletes in the country, another reason to be tense.
Nowhere is the pressure more acute than on the men’s 4 -by-mile relay of seniors Nate Clay and Eric Pierce, junior Jason Owen and sophomore Andrew McKessock. With three of the four running a mile in under 4:06, it was thought they could walk all over the competition.
But then Stanford made a last-minute decision to head to Drake, and the Gophers will be facing some stiff competition: three of Stanford’s 4-by-mile runners were part of the indoor distance medley team that set a world record earlier this year.
Despite the impressive reputation, Clay doesn’t feel discouraged.
“Just because Stanford’s coming there is no reason why we should be intimidated and settle for second place,” Clay said. “Are they thinking about us? Probably not. But they’re definitely going to see us. The school record is 16:30 and we definitely have the potential to take that record down.”
On the women’s side, Wilson expects breakout performances from many of the women on his roster, most notably senior Christine Gulbrandsen who, because of pacing for summer competition, will be competing in her first outdoor meet of the season.
Last year Gulbrandsen took first in the triple jump and set a personal record. This year she will add the pole vault and possibly the long jump to her list of events.
“It’s my first meet of the season so it’s hard to say how well I’ll do, but I feel great,” Gulbrandsen said. “I prefer big meets; I’m more prepared myself because I want to do well and there are lots of people to go against.”
Though it’s not a team-scored meet, both the Gophers men and women have a history of success at the Iowa meet.
“We had a great meet last year,” Wilson said. “Obviously some years are better than others, but the last few our team has been very strong — but this should be our best year yet.”
Clay says the men are feeling just as prepared.
“If I were to envision my senior year, this would be in line with my dreams a year or so ago,” Clay said. “We’re all doing really well and we’re ready to run.”

Monica Wright covers track and field and welcomes comments at [email protected]