Making Memories: Gophers at the Drake Relays
April 24, 2013
“When you go there as a coach—from any school—you just feel great about track and field,” Gopher cross country/distance coach Gary Wilson said. “It’s a big deal, like going to a rock concert, like going to a football game.”
Wilson was talking about the Drake Relays, a historic meet entering its 104th year this week. The Gophers have sent competitors to Drake for basically the whole history of Minnesota’s track and field program.
During his long coaching career, including 28 seasons at Minnesota, Wilson has enough Drake Relays memories to fill a book. He was even inducted into the meet’s hall of fame. A few special moments from the years stand out in his mind.
One year, he saw Olympian Carl Lewis run the 100 meters in the snow.
“That day we had to pry Angie Abbott’s hands off the baton because they were frozen on the baton, basically,” he said.
Watching the 2010 Gopher 4x1,600-meter relay team, anchored by Gabriele Anderson, set the meet record was another memorable moment. The Gophers still hold that record, as well as the 4x800m relay record.
The best part of the Relays for Wilson, is not the races themselves, but the people involved in the meet. He said he rarely watches non-Gopher races anymore because he spends most of his time talking to people he has met throughout his career.
One of his favorite memories of Drake happened on the track, but not during an actual race. His friend Gary Osborn, the longtime Drake women’s coach, was teasing him about a late entry into an event at the 2000 Relays. Osborn started chasing Wilson down the track.
When he caught up, the two hugged and told each other, “I love you.” Those were the last words they ever exchanged, as Osborn passed away a week later. Wilson and the Gophers continue to honor Osborn every year with the Oz Memorial cross country meet.
This year, in his last season as a Gopher coach, Wilson is looking forward to watching soon-to-be head cross country coach Sarah Hesser and volunteer assistant Nikki Swenson continue the transition to the future. He plans to attend the Drake Relays during retirement.
Five Gopher relays, 13 individual distance event runners, four throwers and Todea-Kay Willis (100 meters and long jump) are scheduled to compete there this week.
“The history and tradition and big crowd give the meet a great atmosphere,” director of track and field/cross country Matt Bingle said. “It’s always one of the biggest crowds our kids have ever competed in front of.”
Bingle has memories of Drake from his college days at Ball State. Aside from seeing Olympian Michael Johnson run, he remembers it being a big deal to him to compete on such a big stage.
The Gophers always enjoy watching Olympians compete if their own competition schedules allow it. Drake is a particularly special place for Iowa natives Ashlie Decker and Rebecca Rethwisch, who competed in the meet as high schoolers and will run there again this week.
“It’s a marquee destination for Midwestern athletes,” Bingle said.
The format of the meet also adds to the intensity and atmosphere.
“As the name suggests, the meet focuses on relays, so it’s a chance to really compete for your team,” Bingle said.
Wilson marvels at the respect with which the team is always treated at Drake. Minnesota’s 4x1,600m team finished second at last year’s Relays. This week, the 4x1,600 and the rest of the Gophers will strive to win their events and to be the subject of the crowd’s cheers.
“It’s like you’re a rock star almost,” Wilson.
ALSO ON THIS WEEK'S SCHEDULE
On Wednesday, some of the Gophers are scheduled to compete at the Hamline Twilight. A small group will compete at Grand View's Viking Classic on Friday. Macalester's Janis Rider Invite will cap off the week on Saturday.
OUTDOOR SEASON NOTES
Docherty Breaks 25-Year-Old Record
Brooks Second All-Time
Loberg Wins Collegiate Debut