IU will send a small group of athletes to Des Moines, Iowa, to compete in the Drake Relays at Drake University, while the majority of the roster will travel to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia to compete in the highly-touted Penn Relays.
The Penn Relays will last from Thursday until Saturday, the biggest day of the meet.
“There are very few chances for an athlete to compete in front of around 50,000 people,” IU Coach Ron Helmer said of the Penn Relays. “Only the Olympics and maybe the World Championships can offer that type of ?a crowd.”
The crowd is expected to reach a total of 110,000 people over a three-day period. It is the best-attended track meet in the United States in the past consecutive three years. Since 1996, the crowd size has averaged 104,000 people.
The size of the crowd is not the only big aspect of the Penn Relays, though, as more than 22,000 athletes will be participating. This includes Olympic, collegiate and high school athletes.
The meet will feature six relay events pinning athletes from the U.S. versus athletes from foreign countries.
The Penn Relays was established in 1895, and IU has participated from the beginning. Through 116 annual meets, more athletes have ran in the Penn Relays than any other event in the world.
The competition is stout.
“It’s a big meet,” Helmer said. “But a lot of the events aren’t events that you qualify for nationals, so this is just a chance for the athletes to go out there, relax and compete.”
Senior Rorey Hunter will participate in his final Penn Relays, as he looks to find success in the men’s Distance Medley Relay and the men’s 1,600-meter relay.
“We’ve got two really strong teams in the DMR and the 4-by-8,” Hunter said. “So I’m definitely excited coming into this weekend and finishing off on a good one.”
Hunter knows how to win at the Penn Relays. Last season, he and then-freshman Tre’tez Kinnaird ran on the IU men’s 1,600-meter relay team that won the college heat of the race with a time of 7:26.25, four seconds faster than the second-place team.
Both athletes will compete on this year’s relay squad in the college championship heat. IU has not won a relay championship at the Penn Relays since 1954.
“It’s definitely a cluster of a meet,” Hunter said. “You have to know when to warm up and be ready. These young guys are training like champs, but the breakout races just haven’t come yet. Maybe one will come soon.”
Aside from the Penn Relays, the Drake Relays is also a highly-spectacled meet — 10,000 to 15,000 spectators are expected to attend the event.
As in the Penn Relays, Olympians, collegiate athletes and high school athletes will all compete. IU will send just a handful of athletes including freshman distance runner Eric Claxton.
“It’s a little intimidating, but not too much,” Claxton said. “I know upperclassmen like Evan Esselink have done what I’m doing and also competed in Penn, so I’m not too intimidated. I’m just going to stay confident the whole time.”
Claxton, who has set personal records in the 800-meter run, the 1,500-meter run and the 3,000-meter steeplechase, has not won an individual event yet, as he has finished only as high as third place.
He owns the 12th best time in the Big Ten for the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase with 9:05.73 and has only ran four races in the event.
“I feel alright about my performance this outdoor season,” Claxton said. “And this meet is just another opportunity to run.”
These meets of getting away from hitting national qualifying times is just what Helmer and his coaching staff want for the athletes at this point in the season.
“The Penn Relays are at a perfect time in the season,” Helmer said. “Any time you can take any kind of break from the long grind of the outdoor season, it’s a great opportunity, and these meets offer that opportunity to get that relaxation.”
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