Kansas Relays programme covers
The Kansas Relays, which celebrates its 93rd edition from 13-15 April, has been awarded the World Athletics Heritage Plaque.
The award marks the 100th anniversary of the Kansas Relays, hosted by the University of Kansas and founded on 21 April 1923. The event has been held every year since, except for 1943-1945 (World War II), 1998-1999 (stadium renovations) and 2020-2022 (Covid-19).
The World Athletics Heritage Plaque is a location-based recognition, awarded for 'an outstanding contribution to the worldwide history and development of the sport of track and field athletics and of out-of-stadia athletics disciplines such as cross country, mountain, road, trail and ultra-running, and race walking'.
USA’s World Athletics Council Member Willie Banks, former triple jump world record-holder, commented: “Significantly, the award of the World Athletics Heritage Plaque marks the return of the Kansas Relays, last held in 2019, following the pandemic.
“The annual three-day celebration of the very best of track and field in Lawrence, Kansas, which thoroughly deserves this recognition, has been the stage of countless great performances by world and Olympic medallists and world record-breakers.
“Over the last hundred years the Kansas Relays, from seniors to high schoolers, has established itself as one of the most important invitational track and field competitions in the USA.”
Director of Athletics Travis Goff said: “This is a meaningful recognition for one of the very best track and field events in the world that we proudly host right here in Lawrence, Kansas. There is tremendous anticipation for the Kansas Relays to return this year – its 100th anniversary – and we look forward to some of the very best in the sport to visit Rock Chalk Park and experience a meet they will remember for the rest of their lives.”
Head Coach Stanley Redwine added: "We are honored that Kansas Relays is receiving this prestigious Heritage Plaque from World Athletics. We are excited to celebrate 100 years of Kansas Relays memories serving the University and community. I’m thankful that our AD Travis Goff is committed to hosting the Relays for years to come."
1923 to 2023: From Memorial Stadium to Rock Chalk Park
The Kansas Relays came to fruition thanks to Kansas University’s football coach Dr. John H. Outland who, while studying medicine in the University of Pennsylvania, had been impressed with the Penn Relays (1895).
Outland’s dream was shared by Kansas University’s Director of Athletics Forrest C. ‘Phog’ Allen and, with the completion of the Memorial Stadium in 1922, they found an appropriate venue to make the relays a reality. The following year, ably helped by the university’s track coach Karl Schlademan, Outland and Allen staged the first Kansas Relays. More than 600 athletes played out to a crowd of around 7000.
Over the decades an illustrious cast has been drawn to Lawrence. Jim Bausch, Glenn Cunningham, Al Oerter, Bill Neider, Billy Mills, Jim Ryun, Nawal El Moutawakel, Kenny Harrison, Jearl Miles Clark, Nick Hysong, Maurice Greene, Stacy Dragila, Joanna Hayes, Trecia Smith, Bershawn Jackson, Veronica Campbell-Brown and Allyson Felix are but a few of the long list of great names to have graced the Kansas Relays.
Coincidentally, the World Athletics Heritage Collection contains a copy of the Kansas Relays programme from 1948, which provides a snapshot of the meeting’s greatness. Among the many standout performances in that 23rd edition, Harrison Dillard and Charles Fonville set world records respectively at the 120 yards hurdles (13.6) and in the shot put (17.68m) on 17 April 1948.
In 2005, to help attract spectators, the then meeting director Tim Weaver created ‘The Gold Zone’, which was effectively a three-hour world-class meeting within the three-day event. The following year the elite window attracted a headline crowd of 26,000.
Further innovation occurred in 2011 when the shot put was moved out of the stadium and held in downtown Lawrence, to engage the meeting directly with the local population. Since 2014, after the removal of the track from the Memorial Stadium which became solely a football field, the meeting’s home has been in the new stadium of Rock Chalk Park.
Chris Turner for World Athletics Heritage