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68 Olympians Descend On Des Moines For Famed Drake Relays

By Associated Press | April 27, 2017, 5:28 p.m. (ET)

Lashawn Merritt (L) leads the field in the men's 4x400-meter at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 at the Olympic Stadium on Aug. 20, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.


DES MOINES, Iowa -- Dozens of Rio Olympics standouts will return to the track this weekend for the Drake Relays.

The conditions won't feel anything like sunny Brazil.

Stars like LaShawn Merritt, Omar McLeod, Jenny Simpson, Kristi Castlin and others will be greeted with temperatures in the upper 40s, steady wind and good chances for rain during Friday and Saturday's sessions. But that's the risk elite athletes take when they commit to Drake, which has been held during the last week of April for decades.

Fans brave enough to endure the weather will get to see plenty of high-quality events, with 68 Olympians -- including 10 gold medalists -- committed to competing in Des Moines as of Thursday.

Here are some of the events to watch:

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Men's 400-Meter

The marquee race on Friday's schedule will feel like a reunion of the American gold medal-winning 1,600-meter relay team, with Merritt, Tony McQuay and David Verburg highlighting the field. But they might all be chasing Grenada's Kirani James. He won silver in Rio in this event after taking gold in London at the 2012 Olympics -- and in last year's race in Des Moines, he held off Merritt for the win.

Men's 110-Meter Hurdles

The last two Olympic champions, Jamaica's McLeod (2016) and Aries Merritt of the U.S. (2012), headline Saturday's most high-profile race. McLeod, who also won at Drake last year, is the runner most likely to crack 13 seconds, provided he's in good form and the conditions aren't too poor. Andrew Riley, the former Illinois star who competes for Jamaica, is among three other Rio Olympians in the field.

Women's 100-Meter Hurdles

Former Kentucky star Keni Harrison, the current world record holder, will be the runner to watch in an event once dominated by hometown star Lolo Jones. Harrison set the world mark in July, just weeks after failing to qualify for Rio, and 2017 could be the year she emerges as one of the bigger stars in track. The weather and the early timing of Drake will likely keep her from topping that 12.20, but Harrison's performance in Des Moines could be a harbinger of things to come.

Women's 1,500-Meter

Simpson, an Iowa native, became the first American to win an Olympic medal at this event in Rio, where she took bronze. As the only runner in the field with a personal best under 4 minutes and tons of experience at Drake, Simpson will be heavily favored to repeat as meet champion.

Field Notables

American Christian Taylor, a two-time defending Olympic champion, tops the list of entrants in the men's triple jump, while Canada's Derek Drouin, a 2016 Olympic champion, is the favorite in the high jump. ... Sandy Morris, who took silver in Rio, will look to defend her meet title in the women's pole vault. ... Brittney Reese, a 2016 Olympic silver medalist and a meet favorite because of her enthusiasm for Drake's blue oval, will took to upend England's Lorraine Ugen after finishing second to Ugen in Des Moines in 2016. ... Alex Gochenour, who won the heptathlon Thursday, was the first athlete to survive this week's conditions. "I kind of had decided (Wednesday) after the hurdles ... I could tell the weather wasn't going to cooperate. (I said): `You know what? Let's just go out and have fun and try to get the win.'"

Related Athletes

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LaShawn Merritt

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Jenny Simpson

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Kristi Castlin

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Tony McQuay

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David Verburg

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Aries Merritt