CEDAR FALLS – One glance at the NCAA’s national track and field event list reveals limited opportunity for collaboration.
The 4x100 and 4x400 are the only championship relay events that take place outdoors. Meets such as this weekend’s Drake Relays provide a rare opportunity for collegiate athletes to break the grind of individual event training.
“We are going to put more of an emphasis on all of the relays,” University of Northern Iowa coach Dave Paulsen said. “This year I think more than ever, the relays just bring something different to the team as far as running things we normally don’t get to run in other meets.”
When UNI’s coaches unveil the relay pairings during practice leading up to Drake, plenty of excitement ensues. Sprinters, middle distance and distance runners find themselves working together on a medley. The fourth-best 800 runner on the team all of a sudden has a better chance to win a championship flag.
“It’s a lot of fun when you tell them who is on what relay they hop across and talk to that other event group and let them know that they’re excited to be on it,” Paulsen said. “In the state of Iowa we have more relays in high school than any other state in the country. These kids are used to running those events so when you take it all away, that’s all they ever knew.
“When you get a chance to go back and tell them we’re running a 4x8, they just loose it. They’re super exited to do those things because it’s something that they loved to do when they were in high school. There’s just something different about relays that kind of bring everyone together.”
This year’s event will have a different feel than the three-day carnival atmosphere that could be found in previous years at Drake Stadium. Crowds are likely to be much smaller beyond the already limited seating due to COVID-19 protocol. Colleges are competing on Friday and Saturday while the high school athletes that typically fill the stadium with supporters take the track today.
Still, the competition will remain strong. The freshmen from Iowa on UNI’s team have been waiting two years for an opportunity to return to this track.
“It will be a little bit different of a vibe,” Paulsen said. “I know our student-athletes missed being there last year and are definitely looking forward to the opportunity.
“I think if anything 2020 taught us just be grateful and thankful for the opportunities that you do have. Take full advantage of those regardless of atmosphere and circumstance. The competition will be good.”