Kansas Relays geared up

Five ring fever is coming to Lawrence. In an Olympic year, the historically significant Kansas Relays takes on more modern importance.

The 77th running of the Kansas Relays is expected to be a blow out. With over 5,000 athletes from 19 states and over 400 schools, there is plenty of excitement to go around.

Kansas Relays director Tim Weaver described the upcoming event as a "five ring circus." One look at the packed schedule and lengthy roster helps to clarify this analogy. (Schedule)

"It is our responsibility every year to put on a great show," said Weaver. "We have one shot to reach that casual fan and turn him or her into a lifelong enthusiast."

"There are two ways to build an audience outside of the hard core track and field fans. One is to bring in the casual fan with some world class athletes."

World class athletes. Check. Kansas' has three of its own looking towards the Olympics in Athens this summer. Three time NCAA champion Leo Bookman, KU legend Scott Russell and KU assistant coach Doug Reynolds will be among those competing.

"Big names may attract some casual fans. Another built in fan base is relatives. Grandma may come to the Kansas Relays to see little Jenny run. But then, once they are there, you have to show them something special," explained Weaver.

Something special. Gotcha. In addition to the cheering crowds and heartland hospitality, the facilities in Lawrence are an attraction for athletes and fans.

"There is no doubt the improvements to Memorial Stadium and particularly the video board make a huge impact. Whether it is a high school athlete or an international competitor, they all look up after the event to try to catch themselves on the replay," said Weaver.

"We joke that it is almost harder to get a ‘hero shot' now. You try and get the athlete just as they cross the finish line or complete an event, with their hands raised or yelling in excitement or grabbing a coach or family member. But instead we get pictures of athletes looking up towards the video board," joked Weaver.

"Mike Lickert and his staff do an amazing job," continued Weaver. "The professionalism and ooo factor of the work they do contributes a great deal. The whole setting, on the hill with the campanile in the background is such a beautiful place to be."

Students and fans will have the opportunity to enjoy that setting and three days of track and field, beginning at 11 a.m. on Thursday and ending with the 4x400 Relays at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday. The 2004 Kansas Relays button will be sold for admission to the meet. The cost of the button is $10 for adults and $5 for senior citizens and youth. Admission is free for KU students with a valid student ID.

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