Gold Times 2 on the Blue

May 3, 2011

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.

DES MOINES, Iowa — There was a seven-minute stretch Saturday when the University of Iowa track and field program owned the blue oval at the 102nd Drake Relays.

The Hawkeyes won the women’s university division sprint medley relay in 3-minutes, 48.63-seconds and the men followed with victory in the same event in 3:16.18. It is the first time an Iowa women’s team and men’s team won a relay in the same year at the Drake Relays.

Despite obvious logistical issues, both sets of UI athletes found time to support the other.

The Hawkeye men’s quartet of senior Zeke Sayon, junior Justin Austin, senior Steven Willey and junior Erik Sowinski had an up close view of the women’s competition — they were at the north end of the track in a holding area, warming up.

“It definitely gave us extra motivation,” Sowinski said. “To see them win and then to hear the crowd getting ready for our race…”

The Hawkeye women’s foursome of freshman Erin Jones, senior Tiffany Hendricks, freshman Ashley Liverpool and senior Bethany Praska had a more unique perspective of the men’s victory. They had been ushered to an interview area under Drake Stadium when their male counterparts took the track. But the interview room had a television with a live, closed-circuit feed of the action.

“We were kind of half-heartedly answering questions and at the same time glancing up at the TV,” Praska said. “When Erik crossed the line, we couldn’t contain ourselves. We celebrated and were able to run outside.”

It had been 13 years since the Hawkeye women won a relay at the Drake Relays (shuttle hurdle in 1998). Jones (200-meter leg), Hendricks (200), Liverpool (400) and Praska (800) ended that drought with a come-from-behind, three-second triumph over Arkansas.

The Razorbacks opened a 20-meter lead when Praska took the baton from Liverpool with two laps remaining. Praska closed to within half a stride of Arkansas anchor Martine Borge with 400 meters to go and was in control the rest of the way, finishing with a 2:05.2 split.

“It shows how one great performance here or one great throw there can motivate the next person to do their best as well.”
UI senior Bethany Praska

“Before the race, one official asked me if I was nervous and I could honestly say no,” Praska said. “We knew Arkansas had great sprinters, but I was put in good position to win it. We expected to win if we gave our best performance.”

Bethany Praska continues to impress,” UI head women’s coach Layne Anderson said. “I was a little antsy getting the baton that far down. It was a sizeable gap, but I was glad to see when Bethany got on her shoulder, that (Borge) didn’t respond.”

While Praska battled from behind, Sowinski, the men’s anchor, had a slim advantage over Missouri senior Aaron Dixon at the pass. Hawkeye senior Steven Willey surged into the lead 100 meters into his 400 leg before falling slightly behind Missouri senior Chris Davis. Willey closed strong on the rail, clocking a 47-second split, regaining the lead, and handing off in an excellent spot for Sowinski.

Erik Sowinski is money in the bank,” UI head men’s coach Larry Wieczorek said. “The way he has been running, I knew if he got the stick in contention, we had a good shot. We knew that would be a strong relay for us and one we had a chance to win, but until you cross the line in first place, nothing is certain.”

Iowa was runner-up in the sprint medley at Drake in 2010 to Eastern Illinois by 0.75 seconds, in 2009 to Northern Iowa by 0.5 seconds and in 2008 to Long Beach State by 2.51 seconds.

“I ran (anchor) last year and I saw Adam (Hairston) run the year before and we had to get a win in that event,” Sowinski said. “It’s a relief to get that off our back.”

In 2010 Sowinski received the baton in third place before making an aggressive early move to the front and settling for second. On Saturday he didn’t care where the Hawkeyes were positioned when he received the baton.

“I told Steven to get me the baton close. I’ve been comfortable running in front,” said Sowinski, who ran 1:47. “I took it out more conservatively and kept something in my tank so I would have a good close.”

It resulted in a special black and gold moment at “America’s Athletic Classic” — crowning the first UI men’s champion at Drake since the 4×100 relay in 2009 and the first UI women’s champion since Diane Nukuri in the 5,000 run in 2007.

“It shows how one great performance here or one great throw there can motivate the next person to do their best as well,” Praska said.