DES MOINES, Iowa – When Ryan Ford took the handoff for the anchor leg of the distance medley relay at the Drake Relays on Saturday, his teammates had given him nearly a 100-meter head start.
And as his 1,600-meter leg progressed, his lead fluctuated from 80 to 30 to 50 meters.
But Ford was still all alone as he crossed the finish line to give Minnesota’s men’s track and field team its second first-place finish of the Drake Relays.
“I was pretty scared,” Ford said. “Normally when you’re out front like that, a couple guys behind you will work together to catch up, and you’re sitting out front like a dead duck. But I relaxed into my own pace, and it felt good.”
The Gophers’ 4×800-meter relay and distance medley wins highlighted the team’s performance at the Drake Relays, as the highly anticipated 400-meter dash turned anticlimactic thanks to a day’s-worth of rain and low temperatures.
“I thought Trent Riter really came into his own this weekend,” coach Phil Lundin said. “His strength is very high, and that showed he can run a very fast 800 in the future.”
Riter ran the opening 1200 meters of the distance medley relay Saturday in the rain, and he anchored the 4×800-meter relay on Friday in ideal conditions.
In the 4×800, Ford took the handoff from Ben Hanson and worked his way toward the head of the pack. Then, in his second lap, Martin Robeck shifted gears and earned the Gophers the lead.
As Riter came down the home stretch, he had a Kansas State runner on his heels. For a split-second, the Wildcats runner pulled ahead, but Riter kicked it down for the win as Minnesota fans stood and cheered.
“Actually, the only time I sensed him was on the backstretch,” Riter said. “I knew I had to watch out for him, but with 100 meters to go, I felt strong.”
Riter was the only runner new to the 4×800 team that finished second last year at Drake.
The four athletes competed against each other throughout high school and said they were excited to represent Minnesota together in front of such fan support at a meet as big as the Drake Relays.
“It just felt like everyone was cheering for us,” Ford said. “It was the most fun I’ve had at a meet in a long time.”
The distance medley team finished their victory lap at 3 p.m. on Saturday, and when the 400-meter sprinters lined up at the blocks more than an hour later, the rain was coming down harder and the temperature was cooler.
And after the first 100 meters of the race, senior Adam Steele pulled out with a hamstring cramp, and Mitch Potter struggled to a second-place finish.
“Of course, the focal point was on the 400 guys,” Lundin said. “And for Adam to pull up and Mitch to crash obviously is a great concern to us. But I don’t think it’s anything we can’t fix.”
Potter said he has not gotten into the full swing of practice yet since coming back from a stress fracture injury, and that was evident as he opened his 400-meter season at Drake.
Of course, the weather did not help either.
“We were all sitting there in the rain before it started,” Potter said. “And we were like, ‘Should we all just run side-by-side or what?’ “
The Gophers now have three weeks until the Big Ten Championships. The three-day event takes place May 14-16 in West Lafayette, Ind.