First, allow me to guarantee sunny skies for this week’s Kansas Relays, which start downtown Wednesday with the shot put, continue Thursday with the downtown long jump and play out at the track inside Memorial Stadium from Wednesday through Saturday.
This guarantee is based on the law of averages finally overtaking Murphy’s Law for the climate-cursed KU Relays. For the record, though, the extended forecast calls for a 30 percent chance of rain Thursday and 40 percent Friday.
Now that rain has been eliminated as a possibility, the next order of business involves where to stand or sit and when for the parade of the world’s elite track and field athletes. (Later in the week, we’ll examine the same for athletes from local high schools.) Most of the elite athletes compete Saturday during a two-hour stretch that starts at 2 p.m. Saturday. The most fascinating events take place downtown Wednesday and Thursday.
A look at 10 KU Relay events worth watching, in order of interest:
1. The shot put (6 p.m. Wednesday): Workers will begin transforming the streets at 6 a.m. to conform to the event’s regulations and to prevent gigantic craters from being created by gigantic men heaving a 16-pound steel ball 70 feet. That will require 18 dump-truck loads worth of crushed limestone that the city will remove Thursday morning and store for future use. Holding a shot-put competition on city streets never has been done in this country, but has been a hit the past few years in Europe. Not to be lost in the party atmosphere of the event is that it’s a world-class field competing. Christian Cantwell’s the favorite, but a number of the competitors — nine of the world’s top 21 are in the field — are capable of bringing him down.
For the 90-minute event, during which the shot will be put from in front of The Sandbar into the intersection of Eighth and New Hampshire, wise curiosity-seekers will arrive well ahead of the start to secure a favorable vantage point to witness history at no charge.
2. The long jump (6 p.m. Thursday): Meet director Milan Donley has put his stamp on this event that takes place on Eighth Street between Mass and Vermont. No fouls will be called, and all jumps will be measured from the point of takeoff.
“As a jumps coach for 25 years, I’ve always wanted to do this because you see these big jumps, but they’re fouls,” Donley said.
The jumpers won’t be able to use the distances they jump to qualify for anything because of the unconventional rule, but it could lead to longer jumps. Donley said there will be eight competitors who have jumped longer than 25 feet. Imagine being in the air for a longer distance than the average Josh Selby jumper. The difference: If these jumpers miss their marks, the jumps still count for something.
Alain Bailey, ranked fourth in the world and boasting a personal-best 27-feet-4-3/4-inches, is the favorite, Eric Babb, who finished fourth in the 2008 NCAA championships jumping for KU, the local favorite.
3. Adidas Jim Ryun Dream Mile (3:35 p.m. Saturday): Technically, the best high school milers from a 500-mile radius will run 1,600 meters, which is about eight meters shorter than a mile. Even so, it counts as one of three qualifying events for the Jim Ryun Dream Mile race that takes place June 11 in New York, where the nation’s best boy and girl high school milers will be crowned. The first event took place in Azusa, Calif., where an innovative day of distance running took place. Distance and middle-distance runners from all over Southern California gathered, and races took place for 14 hours.
“You’re beginning to see the resurgence of the high school mile, and Adidas is helping to make it happen,” said Ryun, the greatest high school miler ever. “God willing, we’ll have good weather. If we don’t, we’ll make it work.”
The runners who qualify in preliminary heats will compete in Saturday’s final. Ryun will be in town all week to publicize the Relays, the first to take place after the death of legendary Kansas miler Wes Santee.
4. Glen Cunningham Mile (Saturday, 3:45 p.m.): Four runners in the field, including Peter van der Westhuize (3:54 personal best) have run 3:57 or better. The mile, the ultimate test of a blend of endurance and speed, in that order, requires more strategic planning and improvising than any event in track and field.
5 Men’s 400-meter hurdles (Saturday, 3 p.m.): Bershawn Jackson, ranked No. 1 in the world in the event, loves the Kansas Relays, and the Kansas Relays crowd loves the hurdler who answers to the nickname Batman. Johnny Dutch, ranked second in the world, has a shot to make this a riveting duel.
6 Women’s 200 meters (Saturday, 3:15 p.m.): Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell-Brown has won three Olympic gold medals, a silver and a bronze, and is the Kansas Relays record holder in the event. Surely, with a personal best more than a half-second slower, fellow Jamaican Nickesha Anderson can’t upset Campbell-Brown. Or can she? Either way, the former KU sprinter who represented her country in the 2008 Olympics, will light up the stadium with the sport’s best smile.
7 Para Olympic Men’s 100 meters (Saturday, 2:15 p.m.): Runners with physical disabilities compete, and the United States Army will be there in force to cheer them on.
8 Women’s pole vault (Saturday, 2 p.m.): Elite vaulters typically bypass the lower heights and join the competition later. Not at the Kansas Relays. Donley implemented a system wherein every vaulter starts at the same height and gets rewarded for each height cleared. As a result, the crowd gets to see the best run and vault more often. Nice bit of marketing there.
9 Men’s 100 meters (Saturday, 2:20 p.m.): At least four men in the field have faster personal bests, but look out for rising Jamaican Dexter Lee, 20, who won back-to-back world junior titles in 2008 and 2009.
10 Women’s 100 meters (Saturday, 1:55 p.m.): Something about watching incredibly well-conditioned women fly just grabs me by the throat, shoves me into my seat and commands me to watch. Lauryn Williams, silver medalist in the 2004 Olympics, will fly over the Memorial Stadium track. Don’t blink or you’ll miss her.