LAWRENCE — This year's Kansas Relays will be the second-largest track and field meet in the country with 5,521 competitors. While that is an impressive distinction, KU Relays meet director Milan Donley wants the meet to be known for more than just its sheer numbers.
Donley's goal is for the Relays to be an attractive destination each spring for elite athletes from all over the globe. He spent the past year talking with agents who represent Jamaican sprinters, trying to convince them to give the Relays a chance.
Donley says there is a perception that coming to the middle of the country for a track meet is a risk at this time of year because of the potential for finicky weather. All Donley can do is spell out plainly that the same risks will exist at next weekend's Penn Relays in Philadelphia.
Apparently, Donley can be pretty convincing. Because this weekend, about 15 Jamaican sprinters are expected to compete in Saturday's elite events at the KU Relays — including Veronica Campbell-Brown, the two-time defending Olympic Gold medalist in the 200 meters.
"A lot of times when Jamaicans do come, they go to the East Coast or the Penn Relays," Donley said. "For them to come this far west is really exciting for us."
The biggest name in track and field — Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world — will compete only at the Penn Relays. But Donley's hope is that Campbell-Brown and the rest of the Jamaica contingent will enjoy their time in Lawrence and spread the word.
"What we want to do is continue to grow off of this," Donley said, "and let them have a great experience and hope that next year they want to come back and add to that. It's a matter of convincing them that you really need to come out and see what it's like. We have a great meet."
Donley said it was much easier to convince Jamaicans to commit to the KU Relays once Campbell-Brown, who will run the 200 meters and the 1600 relay, was on board.
"It's a domino effect," Donley said. "Veronica Campbell's agent called and said 'I've got four or five athletes and Veronica Campbell is one of them that's interested in coming.' Then you get on the phone and say 'Veronica Campbell is coming to town to run.' Sure enough it generates a lot of interest."
Campbell-Brown, who was an athlete at Barton County Community College, is a five-time Olympic medalist and became the most successful Caribbean athlete at a single games, winning three medals at the 2004 Athens Games.
"She is a superstar," Donley said.
On the men's side, two-time Olympian Churandy Martina of the Netherlands Antilles will compete in the 100-meter dash. Martina finished fourth in the event in the 2008 Beijing Games and finished second in the 200 meters behind Bolt before being disqualified due to a lane violation.