Capturing the (Drake Relays) Flag

April 27, 2011

Iowa Notes

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Betsy Flood and Ethan Holmes both won Drake Relays flags while competing in high school. Now they’re looking for titles as collegians at the University of Iowa.

The Drake Relays — America’s track and field classic — boasts unique and time-honored customs. One tradition is being awarded a white Drake Relays flag at the finish of a victorious effort. Holmes won the 400-meter hurdles as a junior and senior at Clinton High School; Flood won the 4×800 relay and the 1,500 run as a senior at West Des Moines Dowling.

“The first time winning was a phenomenal experience,” Holmes said. “When I came in and saw the finish line and no one was in front of me it was an amazing feeling. I have pictures of me with my arms out, yelling, and it was pretty crazy. Then when they pull you into the media tunnel, you really feel famous.”

In 2008, Holmes avenged an earlier loss to Marshalltown’s Kellyn Fogarty, who now competes for the University of Missouri. Holmes has one Drake Relays regret.

“I didn’t take a victory lap and I probably should have,” he said. “They give you the opportunity, but most high schoolers never really take that lap around the track and wave their flag and say, `Hey, I’m the best in the state.'”

Holmes and the Hawkeyes have a chance to earn that victory lap at the 102nd Drake Relays on April 28-30 in Des Moines. The last championship for the UI men was in 2009 when the foursome of D’Juan Richardson, Zeke Sayon, Patrick Richards and Paul Chaney, Jr., won a rain-soaked 4×100 relay by 0.3 seconds ahead of Georgia.

Lee Moore of Mississippi is the defending champion in the 400 hurdles; he edged Hawkeye Ray Varner in that event in 2010 — 50.23 seconds to 50.85. Holmes is coming off a career-best effort of 51.05 that gave him the title at Musco Twilight XII on April 23.

“Not only am I racing the fastest in the state like I was in high school, but now I’ll be going there to race some of the fastest people in the country,” Holmes said. “I had a chance to race against (Moore) at Auburn and he kind of handed it to me. But after last weekend I’m going in with more confidence that I can compete a little bit better.”

The 400 hurdle final is scheduled for Saturday at 1:49 p.m. (CT).

In Flood’s case, winning a flag from Drake was a case of “it’s about time.” Her younger sister, Katie (now a runner at the University of Washington), accumulated three flags before Betsy captured two in the 4×800 relay and the 1,500 run during her senior season.

“I had run for three years and never gotten one,” Flood said. “It was special then and it would be really special in college. It would be exciting to do it in college against better competition from all over the nation.”

Flood and the Hawkeyes are one of the favorites to win the 4×1,600 relay that will be contested Thursday at 4:40 p.m. The other three legs consist of runners who did not prep in the state of Iowa, meaning Flood might give them a pre-meet pep talk on the significance of the flag.

“I haven’t told them, but maybe I should,” Flood said. “I assumed they already knew.”

The last UI women’s champion at the Drake Relays was Diane Nukuri in the 5,000 run in 2007.

While high school champions are satisfied with receiving a flag upon victory, the rewards are a bit higher for collegians. In the past, Drake event winners also received a wristwatch. But beginning this year, they will receive Drake Relays-inscribed Oakley sunglasses.

“I want to get a flag and get some sunglasses,” Flood said.

Not to be Forgotten

University of Iowa sophomore Jordan Mullen won two Drake Relays titles in the 110 hurdles as a junior and senior at Atlantic High School. Hawkeyes Matt Banse (Starmont, shot put), Ryan Lamparek (Cedar Rapids Prairie, discus and shot put) and Nick Brayton (Iowa City West, discus) are other Drake Relays champions.

Familiar Faces

When Holmes won the Drake Relays 400 hurdles title in 2009, the field included a black-and-gold flavor. The runner-up was Jordan Cotton of Mount Pleasant, a member of the Hawkeye football team; fourth was Keaton Rickels of Iowa Falls-Alden, a member of the UI track team; and eighth was Tanner Miller of Mid-Prairie, a member of the Hawkeye football team.

Flood’s Dowling relay team also included Ashlie Decker (now running for the University of Minnesota) and Katie Flood (University of Washington). The Maroons defeated runner-up North Tama by nine seconds. The Red Hawk lineup included Brooke and Blaire Dinsdale, who run at the University of Nebraska and Sara Stoakes, who runs at Kansas State University.