Drake Relays Hall of Fame Enshrines Wieczorek and Wariner
DES MOINES, Iowa – Iowa director of track and field Larry Wieczorek and four-time Olympic medalist Jeremy Wariner were inducted into the Drake Relays Hall of Fame in a ceremony Thursday evening in Sheslow Auditorium on the campus of Drake University.
The pair were honored for the tremendous impact they have made on America’s Athletic Classic as both a coach and competitor in Wieczorek’s case and as an elite performer on the collegiate and professional stage as Wariner has been.
In addition to the Hall of Fame inductions, the Drake Relays also honored Drake icon Paul Morrison with a special diamond-themed award for his distinguished service to the Relays. The Drake historian is currently working his 75th straight Drake Relays in addition to his tireless work on the Drake Relays committee and in the Drake athletic department.
“Traditionally, a 75th anniversary is a diamond anniversary,” Drake Relays director Brian Brown said. “So we wanted to honor him in that way for his 75 years of service to America’s Athletic Classic. Paul has been a fixture at the Relays for three-quarters of a century and has helped make the Relays an event that is treasured by many.”
One of those who treasures the Relays dearly is the veteran Iowa coach Larry Wieczorek. The beloved coach is in his second season in his current role after serving as head men's cross country coach for the Hawkeyes for 26 seasons (1987-2012) and head men's track and field coach for 16 seasons (1997-2012). Wieczorek served as an assistant track and field coach for 12 years (1985-96) for the Hawkeyes as well. Considered the face of the sport in Iowa, Wieczorek has long valued the Drake Relays significance to track and field in the state of Iowa and has coached seven Drake Relays champions.
“It’s really started to sink in what a big deal this is,” Wieczorek said. “The Drake Relays is a jewel for the state of Iowa and a jewel for track and field. To be honored by them in this way means the world to me.”
As a competitor, he was a six-time Big Ten champion (including two in cross country) and four-time All-American student-athlete at Iowa, Wieczorek once held conference marks in the one, two, three, four and five-mile runs. A member of Iowa's Big Ten track championship team in 1967, Wieczorek led the Hawkeyes back to the top of the Big Ten by capturing the 2011 Big Ten Outdoor Championship, their first title since Wieczorek won it as a student-athlete. The Hawkeye men crowned three conference champions on their home track, and Wieczorek was named Big Ten and USTFCCCA Midwest Region Coach of the Year.
“There’s so many wonderful connections throughout the history of the Drake Relays to the present,” Wieczorek said. “It’s hard for anyone to find the level of success that the Drake Relays has reached for more than 100 years. That’s why it’s so important to our sport. You can’t beat progress, but at the same time they’ve manage to retain that classic feel.”
Wariner was honored as a rare inductee who will also be competing in the this year’s Relays in the event for which he gained international stardom on the track, the 400 meters. That appearance will be his sixth at the Relays and first since 2011 when he captured the 400 meters in 45.19 to reclaim the title he won in 2009 with a time of 45.06, the same year he went on to win silver in the event at the World Championships.
“I remember coming here my first year at Baylor and I saw the history in the stadium and have seen it grow throughout the years,” Wariner said. “The fan support has always been great and it always felt like a second home to us at Baylor. It’s been great coming back every year and I can’t thank the Relays for allowing me to come back and giving me a lane every year.”
Wariner first competed in the Drake Relays as a collegian at Baylor, finishing second in the 400 meters in 2005, then winning the 200 meters in 2006 and placing second in 2007. Wariner was ranked No. 1 in the world in the 400 meters five times in a seven-year period, including four straight years during which he was the dominant athlete in the event (2004-07, '10) and was No. 2 in 2008 and 2009. His unparalleled 2010 season included clocking three of the four fastest 400 meters times in the world. Wariner's personal best of 43.45, set in 2007, is the third-fastest time ever recorded. In addition to his Olympic medals, he has claimed World Championships in the event in 2005 and 2007 to give him a resume more than worthy of a position in the Drake Relays Hall of Fame.
“It’s weird because when I got the call from Brian [Brown] about the Hall of Fame, I didn’t even know I was on the ballot,” Wariner said. “To be running here tomorrow and be announced as a Hall of Famer when I’m lining up is something very special.”
The four-time Olympic medalist, returns to Drake Stadium fresh after winning the 2013 USATF Indoor Championship 400-meter indoor title. The native Texan won a silver medal in the 400 meters at the 2008 Olympics and gold in 2004. As part of the 4x400-meter relay team, he won gold medals at both Olympiads but missed the 2012 games due to injury. The previously confirmed 2012 silver medalist, Luguelin Santos, joins him in the event that is just one the tremendous London Rematch events schedule for the 104th edition of the Drake Relays. Those two, along with six other world-class athletes are set to race at 7:45 p.m. on Friday as part of the Hy-Vee Night at the Relays.
Wieczorek will be just as active over the weekend with more than 30 of his Hawkeye pupils set to compete at the Drake Relays.