Thursday, April 23, 2009

Drake relays

AP Former U.S. Olympic star Michael Johnson arrives at a celebration for the Drake Relays athletics meet's
By LUKE MEREDITH, AP Sports Writer Luke Meredith, Ap Sports Writer 7 mins ago

DES MOINES, Iowa The pomp blew Amy Acuff away.

Acuff couldn't believe the cherry red Cadillac DeVille she rode in, the "blue carpet" meant to mirror the red carpets of Hollywood or the reception she received prior to a gala event Thursday honoring the Drake Relays Athletes of the Century.

Drake went all out to celebrate its 100th anniversary and the athletes who helped make that possible, and its efforts didn't go unnoticed to Acuff.

"I can't believe it," said Acuff, a four-time Drake Relays champion in the pole vault. "Drake is just amazing. This is the only place in the whole U.S. where something like this can happen."

Drake honored its 20 Athletes of the Century with an event at the nearby Knapp Center, and many of those athletes were on hand for the occasion. Track luminaries such as Michael Johnson, Gwen Torrence, Lolo Jones, Suzy Favor-Hamilton and Steve Scott were paraded down a street next to Drake Stadium, riding in classic cars before walking down a blue carpet flocked by picture-snapping fans.

Johnson, a four-time Olympic gold medalist, was named the men's overall Athlete of the Century earlier this month. Johnson won six individual titles at Drake and helped Baylor take four relays titles.

Johnson still holds the meet records in the 200 and 400 meters.

"I've had a special connection with this crowd since I first came here as a freshman in college," Johnson said. "The fans are very knowledgeable. They're some of the biggest track fans in the country, and because of that it's always so special here."

Torrence, a five-time Olympic medalist now working as a hair stylist, was honored as the women's overall Athlete of the Century for winning eight career Relays titles.

Torrence is also beloved in Des Moines for tossing her shoes into the crowd after winning the 400 in 1995.

"It always good that somebody remembers you, no matter what you've done in life," Torrence said. "It feels good to know that my work didn't go unknown."

Thursday also marked the first full day of competition. The light schedule was highlighted by seven-time NCAA champion Jacquelyn Johnson, who became the first heptathlete to score over 6,000 points at Drake.

Johnson, who was competing in her first heptathlon since missing the second day of competition at last summer's Olympics because of a hamstring injury, set a meet record with 6,020 points, shattering the previous mark of 5,788 set last year by Fiona Asigbee.

Though it's still early in the outdoor season, Johnson's score was the best in the world so far this year.

Johnson set a personal best of 43 feet, 1 1/2 inches in the shot put and won the 100-meter hurdles in 13.41 on Wednesday. Johnson needed to run a 2:17 or better in the 800 to reach 6,000 after of a disappointing long jump of 19 feet, and she finished in 2:15.75.

"That's a great standing for a first heptathlon, so I'm not going to complain. It's great to score 6,000, which what I came here to do," Johnson said.

Northern Iowa's Mat Clark, who needed to beat Minnesota's R.J. McGinnis by 28 seconds in the 1,500 to capture the decathlon, ran a 4:16.89 -- nearly 33 seconds faster than McGinnis -- to win the event.

Clark scored 7,663 points, just 37 more than McGinnis.

Baylor sophomore Katie Shaw won the women's 10,000 in 36:22.35. Harding's Daniel Kirwa won the men's 10,000 by nearly a minute, coasting home in 29:42.05.

Thursday's session was a welcome change from the first Drake Relays in 1910, which were held in a snowstorm. Though the sun failed to make much of an appearance until just before the Athletes of the Century hit the blue carpet, the temperatures stayed in the mid-to-upper 70s for much of the day.

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