AP Sports Writer
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- Drake Relays officials found a simple way to draw the best field in recent memory to Des Moines.
The meet recently landed a new presenting sponsor in Hy-Vee, a grocery store chain based in West Des Moines. Together, they came up with the idea of staging as many rematches of the 2012 London Games as possible to better compete with the more prestigious Penn Relays, which runs on the same weekend in Philadelphia.
The lure of a $50,000 purse for elite invitational races and $25,000 for special field events has drawn 19 medalists from the London Olympics to Des Moines, including the gold, silver and bronze medalists from the 110-meter hurdles.
"We're not the little brother anymore," Drake Relays director Brian Brown said. "We're just taking it to another level and we're excited to do that."
The 104th Drake Relays crowns its first winners Thursday and concludes Sunday with a half marathon. But the days to truly watch will be Friday and Saturday, which are stacked with events featuring London Olympians.
The marquee London rematch could be the first one of the meet, the 110 hurdles. American gold medalist Aries Merritt and teammate Jason Richardson, who won silver last summer, will square off against Jamaican bronze medalist Hansle Parchment on Friday night.
Another juicy rematch will feature hometown fan favorite Lolo Jones, a four-time Drake champion, against two of her biggest Americans rivals. Jones, who finished fourth in the 100 hurdles in London, will face Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells, who were openly critical of the attention heaped on Jones in London after they won silver and bronze, respectively.
The men's 400 hurdles will be headlined by American silver medalist Michael Tinsley and Puerto Rico's Javier Culson, who finished third behind Tinsley in London.
The men's shot put has long been the top field event at Drake because it typically draws a world class field.
This could be the year the pole vaulters overshadow the big guys.
U.S. gold medalist Jenn Suhr will again face Cuban Yarisley Silva, along with American Becky Holliday, a finalist at the 2012 Olympics. French gold medalist Renaud Lavillenie headlines the field for the men's pole vault, which also features London silver medalist Bjorn Otto of Germany.
Gold medalist Brittney Reese will be the favorite in the women's long jump, and Christian Taylor (gold) is the only reigning Olympic medalist in the men's triple jump.
Drake and Des Moines officials were hopeful that the buzz generated by the increased stature of the Drake Relays might help it land the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2016. But that meet went to Eugene, Ore., again, leaving the city to focus on a bid for the trials in 2020. If the Drake Relays can continue to lure more elite talent to Des Moines, they may have a better shot in seven years.
"We're vibrant. We have leverage. We have a strong event," Brown said.
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