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Five things to watch at the 2016 Kansas Relays

Michael Stigler (right) cleared the last hurdle in the last heat of the 400-meter hurdles during the Kansas Relays at Rock Chalk Park last year in Lawrence.
Michael Stigler (right) cleared the last hurdle in the last heat of the 400-meter hurdles during the Kansas Relays at Rock Chalk Park last year in Lawrence. skeyser@kcstar.com

The 89th Kansas Relays run from Wednesday to Saturday at Rock Chalk Park, with most of the festivities taking place Friday and Saturday. Here are five things to watch at the event.

1. Next stop, Rio?

Former Kansas runner Michael Stigler will participate in his first 400-meter hurdle race of 2016 as he works to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team this summer. Stigler, who was the 2015 400-meter hurdle NCAA champion, has been training with the Jayhawks and is scheduled to compete in the collegiate open 400 hurdles at 6:45 p.m. Saturday. If he is able to make the U.S. team, he would be the first KU male track athlete to run in the Olympics since Charlie Gruber (1,500 meters) in 2004.

2. Other Olympic hopefuls

KU senior Daina Levy appears to have the best shot of any current Jayhawk at making the 2016 Olympics. Levy, a Jamaican, is the third-ranked NCAA hammer thrower and is in search of an Olympic A-Standard hammer throw of 232 feet, 11 inches, which would likely earn her a spot in Rio. Her career best in the event is 226 feet, 5 inches. The women’s hammer throw is scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday at the North Venue of Rock Chalk Park.

KU junior Mitch Cooper, who is an Australian, also is one of the top 15 discus throwers in the NCAA and will be looking to earn a spot on his country’s Olympic team. He is scheduled to compete at 5 p.m. Friday on the infield.

3. Street pole vault

The first major event of the Kansas Relays will be the Street Pole Vault held at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the parking lot of Salty Iguana at Sixth and Wakarusa Streets. Eight male professionals will compete in the exhibition while earning cash prizes for clearances. If athletes fail to clear a bar after three attempts, they will be out, with the final vaulter being declared the winner.

4. Downtown shot put

For the sixth straight year, some of the world’s top shot putters will compete in downtown Lawrence beginning at 6 p.m. Friday at Eighth and New Hampshire Streets. Six of the world’s top-ranked shot putters are scheduled to compete, including two-time reigning champion and former Missouri thrower Christian Cantwell.

5. Facing an old foe

The KU track team will be hosting a collegiate quad, going against Colorado State, Rice and former Big 12 opponent Nebraska. KU’s men and women swept the last year’s quad, where individuals earn points based on top-two finishes. Following the final event — the men’s 1,600-meter relay at 8:06 p.m. Saturday — a fireworks show will close out the festivities.

Jesse Newell: @jessenewell

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