The Penn Relays, which began in 1895 and have been run annually at University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field, were held this past week. It is a 5 day carnival that ranges from gradeschool runners to runners at the Olympic level. In fact, this year, track phenom and fastest man in the world Usain Bolt graced the Philadelphia crowd with his presence in the 4×100 meter relay.
In the ESPN featured USA vs. The World competition, the United States athletes face athletes of many different countries, including Kenya, Trinidad and Tobago, and most notably, Jamaica. These countries participate in relays such as the Sprint Medley, Distance Medley, 4×400, and 4×100. In one of the popular USA vs. The World Races, the Women’s Sprint Medley Relay, Jamaica ran an impressive 3:35.37, less than a second off its 2009 World Record of 3:34.56. 800 meter leg anchor Kenia Sinclair led the way with a 1:57.48 split. In the Womens 4×100, the USA Blue team, led by Allyson Felix, defeated Jamaica with a time of 42.74.
The Men’s 4×100 meter relays was what attracted the largest Saturday crowd ever at the Penn Relays (54,310). Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world, was the anchor leg for Jamaica, and was appearing in his first Penn Relays since 2002 and his first Penn Relays since he put himself in the national and global spotlight with his 2008 Summer Olympics record setting Gold Medal performance in the 100 meter dash. Saturday’s race was very close through the first 3 legs of the race, as USA’s 2008 Bronze Medal winner in the 100 meters Walter Dix started the team off well in the opening leg. Mike Rodgers and Shawn Crawford kept the Jamaicans close, but Ivory Williams had no chance in the final leg. Usain Bolt took the baton and ran as impressively as ever, putting significant distance between himself and Williams and sealing what was expected from the Jamaican 4×100 team. This win for the Jamaicans was very important for the Jamaican fans. The 4×100 meter dash is the most important event for a majority of Jamaica fans. They come from Jamaica to Philadelphia to watch a race that lasts under 40 seconds. After last year’s disappointment by the Jamaican team, led by talented but sometimes much maligned Asafa Powell, the fans were hungry for a victory in 2010. As a fan who saw that race live last year, it was extremely exciting for those of us who are USA Track and Field fans to see the team beat Jamaica, but it was even more disappointing for Jamaicans. Therefore, Saturday’s race caused a feeling of redemption for Jamaica and its fans, as the team showcased the best sprinter on Earth and and set a new Penn Relays record (37.90). The performance by Usain Bolt was the highlight of the day for most fans.
The closest race of the day in the USA vs. The World competition was the Men’s Distance Medley Relay (DMR). Kenya led for most of the race, and was able to hold off two American relay teams to win. There were 4 teams (Kenya, USA Blue, USA White, and Morocco), that were separated by .41 seconds, and in the final stretch 3 teams had legitimate chances to win. The final 2 USA vs. The World races were the Men’s and Women’s 4×400 meter relay. In both races, the USA Blue team won, with times of 3:00.60 for the men and 3:26.12 for the women.
It was an impressive day for the USA Track team. As was the case last year, the United States had more victories than the Jamaicans (3 to 2), and have continued to show in recent years that it can compete with the best sprinters and mid-distance runners in the world.
Some highlights from the college races:
The big story of the weekend at the college level was the presence of Oregon, who rarely attends the event. The Men’s team was hoping to capture the “distance three-peat,” which is victories in the 4xMile relay, 4×800 meter relay, and the Distance Medley Relay. In the 4xMile, there was no other team that could realistically compete with the likes of Mac Fleet (true Freshman), Michael Maag, A.J. Acosta, and Matthew Centrowitz. The Ducks finished more than 5 seconds ahead of 2nd place and cruised to a victory with a time of 16:15.14. In the DMR, ran on Friday, Oregon again easily emerged victorious with a 3 second cushion on the rest of the field and a time of 9:30.69. Villanova charged at the end of the race and captured 2nd, followed by rival Georgetown in 3rd. All that remained for Oregon to place its stamp firmly on the Penn Relays was a victory in the 4×800. Main competitors were Penn State, as all 4 runners have been under 1:50, and Virginia, who was anchored by freshman and NCAA Indoor 800 Meter Champion Robby Andrews, who last year at the Penn Relays almost pulled off one of the greatest comebacks ever in the High School DMR Championship of America. He split 4:06 and made up an unbelievable amount of ground on the leaders. Therefore, his success on the NCAA stage and the Penn Relays stage gave UVA an advantage. It appeared to be a 3 team race among these teams into the 3rd and 4th legs. In the final lap of the race, Penn State’s anchor and the current Australian record holder in the 800 meters Ryan Foster moved ahead of Robby Andrews and Oregon anchor Andrew Wheating into 1st. By the end of the backstretch, Wheating had pulled even with Foster, and Andrews looked to fall off the pace slightly. However, Robby Andrews gave another kick like the one he did to beat Wheating in the NCAA Indoor 800 meter championship. He defeated Wheating in the final meters to give UVA the victory and prevent Oregon from completing the 3 peat. Penn State finished 3rd. It was an unbelievably exciting race, and an tremendous performance by true freshman Robby Andrews.
In the Men’s Sprint Medley Championship of America, LSU won with a time of 3:17.65. Mississippi State was the most dominant school in the sprint relays, as the Bulldogs won both the 4×200 meter relay and the 4×400 meter relay. Both the Texas A&M men and women won the always exciting 4×100 meter relay, and the Texas A&M women won the 4×200. The Tennessee women dominated the distance events, as the women won the DMR, the 4×1500 meter relay and the 4x 800 meter relay. In both these races, Villanova and Oregon were the 2nd and 3rd place teams, as Nova (2009 Cross Country National Champions) finished 2nd in the 4×1500 and 3rd in the 4×800, and vice versa for the Oregon women.
Some highlights from the high school level:
In the 4×800 meter relay, Warwick Valley (NY) won the Championship of America with a very balanced relay. The team ran a time of 7:41.77, and the splits only ranged from 1:55.1 to1:55.8. My alma mater, local La Salle College High School, finished 6th overall and 5th in the United States. Andrew Stone, Chris Muggler, Nick Molloy, and Tom O’Kane all ran very impressively to propel this local Philly team to 6th place overall and 1st place in the state. O’Kane led the way with a 1:54.6 split, and each of the other 3 runners were in the 1:57’s.
In the 4×400 meter relay, Local Philadelphia high school Cheltenham had the lead well into the race and ran a 3:17.25 for 5th place overall, 2nd in the United States, and 1st place on the East Coast. Wolmer’s Boys, from Jamaica, won the race with a 3:14.59. Wolmer’s Boys also won the 4×100 with a Penn Relays record setting performance of 39.78. In the DMR, Good Council won with a 10:09.07, the only team to go under 10:10 this year.
Congratulations to all the winners and participants in the Penn Relays, as there were many new records set, including an attendence record of 117,346 for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday combined.