The 99th annual Drake Relays will get off to a unique start Wednesday night when the top pole vaulters in the United States compete indoors at the Jordan Creek Town Center in West Des Moines. Competition will start at 6 p.m.
Jeff Hartwig, the American indoor and outdoor record-holder, assisted in designing a layout that will enable elite vaulters to connect with the crowd.
Drake Relays director Brian Brown added the event after the success of the men's and women's invitational high jump, which was held in downtown Des Moines the past two years. The high jump will be held downtown again during the Thursday noon hour.
Other vaulters entered in the field include:
- Toby Stevenson, who earned a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics
- Derek Miles, a 2004 Olympian who owned the second best U.S. indoor mark this season of 19-0.25 at the Pole Vault Summit in Reno, Nev.
- Jacob Pauli, who was ranked No. 3 in the U.S. last year
- Giovanni Lanaro, the Mexican national champion who vaulted a career best 19-1 last year
Introducing the pole vault to new spectators
"This is a great chance to take the sport of track and field outside of its normal setting and put it on a stage introducing the pole vault to new spectators," said Hartwig. "It allows the fans to get up close and personal."
The takeoff strip also will be nine inches high at the Jordan Creek Town Center, making it possible for the vaulters to plant their poles down in a steel box in front of the landing pit.
Hartwig competes in a similar event in a mall in Germany every winter.
"I appreciate the opportunity Brian (Drake Relays director Brown) has given to me to organize this," said Hartwig. "It takes a unique arrangement and I have a pretty good understanding.
"With the high jump, it's pretty easy," Hartwig said. "You can get the pit from a school, and then you just need rubber to lay down for the surface.For the pole vault, you always have to have an elevated runway, or you have to dig a hole in the floor. We didn't figure the people at the mall would appreciate a hole in their floor."
Vaulters also will compete Saturday in Drake Stadium
The group also will be one of the featured attractions inside Drake Stadium during the Saturday session. The group has combined to win 11 of the last 14 titles in the Drake Relays invitational pole vault. Stevenson won the 2004 and 2006 Drake Relays title, while Miles captured the championship in 2002.
Hartwig, who competed in the 1996 Olympics, won seven straight Drake Relays titles from 1995-2001. Then came back to capture the 2007 Drake Relays title with a meet record vault of 19-0.75 to eclipse his previous mark of 19-0.25 in 1998.
Hartwig won the 2007 U.S. Indoor Championships with a first-time clearance of 19-0.25, while finishing runner-up at the 2007 U.S. Outdoor meet.
He is a four-time U.S. Outdoor champion (1998, 1999, 2002, 2003). He was ranked No. 2 in the U.S. and No. 9 in the world in 2003. He was fourth in the 2003 Grand Prix Finale and then second in the 2004 U.S. Indoor Championships.