DES MOINES — A familiar face and a long-absent elite team.
Drake Relays fans will see both in one flashy cardinal and white-colored package April 26-28 when former Northern Iowa track and field coach Chris Bucknam steers his Arkansas athletes to Des Moines.
The Razorback men have competed at the Penn Relays in recent years, but Bucknam — whose team finished second in last month’s NCAA indoor championships — reckoned the time was right to reacquaint himself with “the Grand Blue Mile.”
“He’s tried — and I’ve tried to get him back for a long time,” Relays director Brian Brown said.
And Bucknam, who spent 25 seasons leading the Panthers before moving on to Fayetteville in 2008, said his team is excited to be back.
“We just felt like it’s time we go ahead and spread our wings a little bit and get up to Des Moines,” he said. “I’ve spent a lot of years myself at the Drake Relays. … (It was) time to get familiar with the facility again.”
Pragmatism trumped nostalgia in the Razorbacks’ travel plans.
With Drake hosting the NCAA outdoor championships again in June — and the U.S. championships in 2013 — establishing a central Iowa routine emerged as paramount among Bucknam’s concerns.
“It’s very important with our caliber of athletes to be able to get up there and get familiar with the Drake oval get familiar with the city,” Bucknam said. “Overall, it’s going to work out great for us and we’re excited to be coming up.”
Former Arkansas standout Wallace Spearmon Jr. will compete in the 200-meter special invitational race at the Relays.
“I still have a few things I want to accomplish when I get there,” said Spearmon, who thrilled the Drake crowd in 2010 by winning the special invitational 200 in a time of 20.20 — .015 seconds off four-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson’s record mark achieved in the 1996 Relays.
Brown also announced Tuesday that Webster City native Jenny Simpson would return to the Relays.
Simpson is the reigning world champion in the 1,500-meter run.
“This is an Olympic year so I think it’s only appropriate that coming back as reigning world champion that I would open up my outdoor season with this event,” she said. “It is at a place where I consider myself to be from and a lot of my family will be there. It’s a really exciting thing.”
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