Hosting The Big Event

Nov. 9, 2005

IOWA CITY, IA – It’s been marked on their calendars for over a year. Now, Iowa City is just days away from being flooded with runners from all over the Midwest who have dreams of being crowned NCAA regional cross country champion.

On Saturday, 225 men and 225 women will compete at Iowa’s Ashton Cross Country Course. The top finishers will move on to the next level: competing for a national championship. The men’s 10,000-meter race begins at 11 a.m. The women’s 6,000-meter race begins at 12:15 p.m. The awards will be presented after the conclusion of the women’s race, around 12:45 pm.

“This race is of major importance. It’s where you qualify for the national tournament. The earlier one [the Hawkeye Open] is like a warm-up with not much importance. This is with a lot of teams with high hopes. A lot is on the line at the end of the year with teams hoping to qualify,” said men’s head coach, Larry Wieczorek.

Plans for the event began in the spring of 2004, when Iowa bid to host the event. Since then, the coaches and athletic staff have been working together to make sure things run smoothly. However, as the event has drawn closer, Les Steenlage, assistant director of athletics for event programming, and the rest of the event staff have made sure that the coaches have time to get their teams ready.

“It’s an unique situation here at Iowa in that coaches attend meetings and are involved. But, not to the extent that you would if we didn’t have an event manager,” said women’s head coach, Layne Anderson. “Where normally you have to set up and do a lot of little stuff, here my involvement is greater with team preparation rather than with the event.”

In addition to making sure that the course is ready, the event staff coordinates everything from ticket sales, concessions and merchandising to providing information to the media and the NCAA. Along with the UI athletic staff and official judges from the NCAA, approximately 50 volunteers will be working on the day of the event, said Steenlage.

While it takes a lot of work to host an event of this magnitude, there are advantages, not only for the Hawkeye coaches but for the runners as well.

“We have the home crowd. You don’t have to travel. You’re familiar with the area. Psychologically, it’s a lift when you’re at home. This is your place and you want to do well at home,” said Wieczorek.

Anderson says hosting the event helps his runners stay in their comfort level.

“You can stay in your routine. You don’t have to travel. You can go to classes on Friday. You can sleep in your own bed. You don’t have to go out of your routine, which is really nice,” he said.

Even with the pressure of knowing that this race can stamp your ticket to the NCAA National Championship, Wieczorek is confident that his team’s preparation all year long will be evident at the end of the race.

“It’s a little different because it’s the end of year. We’re peaking,” he said. “It’s the grand finale. We’re a little bit more rested. You want to give the athletes the best opportunity to do their best.”

Despite the tremendous workload and stress that comes with hosting an event like this, Steenlage is excited about the benefits it will have for the University.

“It is labor intensive but it is an event the Iowa athletics program feels privileged and honored to host for our student-athletes and coaches. It’s a chance to represent the Big Ten Conference and NCAA organization in a positive manner,” he said.

By Jennifer Bissell, Iowa Sports Information