Texas Relays sets stage for outdoor season
March 28, 2012
Natalie England, TexasSports.com
AUSTIN, Texas -- The dawning of spring always paints Central Texas against a different backdrop. Warm, moist air embraces the colors against clear skies, as bluebonnets blanket the sprawling hill country landscape.
After 20 years leading the Texas Longhorns, women's track and field head coach Beverly Kearney knows the sensations. As she worked her Longhorns through practice last Sunday, the wind blew in from the south and she stopped her team.
"Y'all feel that?" Kearney asked. "It's Texas Relays weather. It's like a whole different feeling. The track takes on a whole different personality when the relays come around."
The 85th Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays presented by State Farm commence Wednesday afternoon with heptathlon and decathlon events and continue through Saturday, when a who's-who list of invitational athletes highlight the heat sheets as they prepare for this summer's London Olympics.
This year, event organizers moved the relays up one week to the last weekend in March, and the move has been nothing short of a scheduling sensation. More than 6,500 athletes are scheduled to compete this weekend, up from nearly 5,000 in 2011.
Historically, the Texas Relays signal the beginning of the iconic outdoor track season, and this year holds that even more true. As the only major meet on the national schedule, high schools, universities and colleges from across the country are filing into Austin to compete at Mike A. Myers Stadium, which is traditionally packed to its 20,000 capacity.
"They support everybody, not just the Texas athletes," said UT hurdler Keiron Stewart, who hails from Jamaica. "I like the crowd here. It's a packed stadium, like I'm used to from back home. It brings back memories. This place feels like my home now. Nothing is like Texas Relays."
In all, 631 high school teams will bring 4,179 high school athletes, and 200 college and university squads will bring more than 2,200 athletes. There are also 136 entered invitational athletes.
"We're happy that we can accommodate dreams of being at Texas Relays for high school athletes," Texas Men's Track and Field coach Bubba Thornton said. "It's a special year. Entries are way up. The invitational sections are full. We have more universities than have ever been represented here in a single year. All we need now is the stands full.
"I think the athletes will do the rest. It will probably be one of the best we've ever had."
Athletes from 31 states will compete on the track this weekend, as well as athletes from Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Great Britain and Nigeria. Event organizers have locked in future dates for the final weekend in March through 2016 with the aspirations that entries will continue to climb.
However, this weekend promises to be another special one not just for the sheer size of the field. Thornton believes that with the Olympic Trials just around the corner in June, athletes will be in a special competition mode.
"It's always fun to see the elite bunch. They come here for the electricity, the big time atmosphere. That helps motivate them to go to that next level," Thornton said. "When they leave here, they have a real solid idea of where they are in the mix to make thatOlympic team. This is one of those proving grounds."