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KU’s new track is built for speed

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, April 19, 2014, at 8:07 p.m.

— The foundation was built with butyl rubber and polyurethane, the materials bonding together to forge a force-reduction layer on the new KU track at Rock Chalk Park. If that sounds complicated, here’s a translation for track neophytes: The track surface at Rock Chalk Park was engineered for speed.

“It definitely feels fast,” said Diamond Dixon, a KU senior sprinter and Olympic gold medalist in 2012.

Take a wide look around Rock Chalk Park, the new $39 million spread in west Lawrence, and you’ll see many things: Construction is continuing on new softball and soccer stadiums. The rolling hills of eastern Kansas hang in the distance. The Kansas Relays were here in the new 7,000-seat track stadium for the first time in the event’s long history. Crowd estimates on Saturday were in the 6,000 range.

But keep your eyes fixed on the track itself.

For sprinters, there are few things more sacred than a comfortable running surface. And Rock Chalk Park features one of the nation’s best. After the track was laid earlier this year, the facility was recognized by the International Association of Athletics Federations as the fifth Class I Certified track in the United States. There are 105 in the world.

“Our goal was to build one of the three or four highest-end competitive tracks in the nation,” KU athletic Sheahon Zenger said earlier this year. “A world-class track that would allow KU to host not just state and regional competition, but national competition.”

KU coach Stanley Redwine puts the Class I certification in this context: If Rock Chalk Park wanted to play host to the Olympics, it could. Of course, there might be a few logistical issues with having the Olympics in Lawrence, Redwine said, smiling, but the track surface would be up to par.

But just how fast is the new track?

“I think a track is as fast as the competition runs,” Redwine said. “So if the competition is good, people perform well.”

Redwine said he doesn’t believe in the idea of some tracks being “faster” than others, but the perception can certainly stick with the sprinters.

“The track seems really fast,” said former KU sprinter Paris Daniels, who won the women’s open 400-meter competition on Saturday. “I love the surface.”

Dixon, who lost out to Daniels in the 400, seemed to agree. The facility has already been selected to host the NCAA West Preliminary regional meet in 2016, and Zenger hopes that an NCAA meet will come to Lawrence at some point. If that’s the case, Dixon said, you won’t hear any complaints from the runners.

“On a day that there’s no wind,” Dixon said, “the times are going to be ridiculous.”

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