Penn Is Mighty
Iconic Relay Carnival Affirms Its Greatness
by Dave Hunter
Philadelphia, PA. It's an election year. Hey, maybe Penn Relays Race Director Dave Johnson and his legion of experienced officials should be installed to run our country. If the Thursday edition of the 118th running of the Penn Relay Carnival is any evidence, they would likely do a pretty damn good job. On a cool and overcast day, Johnson's crew faced the formidable task of coordinating 82 running events and 22 field events. And Thursday's schedule - featuring Penn's Distance Night - ran like a Swiss watch, or should we say, like a Penn Relays' watch.
Sure, there were sparkling performances sprinkled throughout the day - and we'll get to those - but at Penn it is the spectacle, the sheer enormity of the event, and the precise way it is pulled off that dominates the experience. And for track and field fans, it is a time simply to sit back and enjoy the "carnival" - a track and field meet that can legitimately claim it is like no other.
Several daytime highlights stood out. In the High School Girls' Mile Run, Thursday's crowd might well have gained a glimpse into the future as Bronxville sophomore Megan Cain displayed race savvy that belied her years. Cain allowed others to assume the early pacing chores, but positioned herself perfectly near the lead as the bell lap began. With an impressive surge over the final circuit, Cain blew the race open and captured what turned out to be an easy victory in 4:39.28. Her final 400 in 62.5 gave her not only the Penn Relays record but also this year's leading girls' high school mile posting.
Another Penn Relays record fell in the High School Girls' Distance Medley Relay - which featured a spirited battle between North Shore (Glen Head, NY) and Tatnall (Wilmington, DE). Trailing Glen Head by 9 seconds after the opening 1320 yard leg, Tatnall chipped away at Glen Head's dwindling margin. An impressive 4:42.9 anchor mile by Haley Pierce proved to be more than enough to give Tatnall the win (11:28.86), the Penn Relay's record, and the leading girls' high school DMR time this year.
The afternoon's highlight may well have been the College Women's Distance Women's Championship Of America. Without question, the always-vocal Penn crowd was pulling for hometown favorite Villanova, anchored by Sheila Reid, the reigning NCAA champion in cross country, and the outdoor 1500 and 5000. In the DMR - and especially at the Penn Relays - it is always crucial to have a big gun on the anchor. And the Lady Wildcats had that weapon. Demonstrating that her build-up to June's Canadian Olympic Trials is right on schedule, Reid took the baton with a slight deficit behind Tennessee's miler Brittany Shelley. Reid patiently stalked Shelley, waiting for just the right moment to unleash her patented finish. With the Franklin Field crowded exhorting her onward, Reid timed her move perfectly over the final circuit and was able to smile down the final straightaway on her way to the win. Her 4:40.8 closing mile secured those coveted Penn Relays watches for the 'Nova foursome.
After a packed morning and afternoon of high school and college men's and women's competition on the track and in the field - including 47 sections of high school girls' 4 x 400 relays! - the Franklin Field crowd settled in for the marquee distance events as night fell over the City of Brotherly Love.
First up was the College Men's 3000 Steeplechase Championship. Indiana's Andrew Moore, coming off the collegiate-leading time of 8:36.41 he posted in winning the Steeple at the Ellis Invitational last weekend, toyed with the competition before effortless gapping the field with 1200 meters remaining and cruising to victory in 8:43.52. Temple's Travis Mahoney grabbed second and Stephen Curry of Texas A&M rounded out the podium.
In the College Women's 3000 Steeplechase Championship, Michigan State's Leah O'Connor allowed others to undertake the pace-setting chores. But her strong move over the final 600 meters gave her the come-from-behind win in 10:25.6.
Unheralded Corey Connor of Maine ran an impressive - and mostly solo - race in the College Women's 5000. Grinding out a steady diet of 400's in the 75-77 second range, Connor wore down the field and posted an impressive win. Her winning time of 16:01 bested Sara Kroll of Michigan State by over 15 seconds.
In the College Men's 5000 Championship, Kevin Burnett of Texas A&M jumped to the early lead. Exhibiting a quick turn-over reminiscent of Gabe Jennings, Burnett led the bunched field through metronome-like opening laps of 68-69 seconds. At mid-race, Burnett began to chip the pace down as the field began to string out. But even a trio of 67 second 400's could not shake all of the competitors. After several lead changes in the final kilometer, Indiana's Zachary Mayhew - who had been lurking off the lead for most of the race - threw in a powerful surge to break the race open with 600 meters remaining. Running unchallenged over the final lap, Mayhew powered home in 13:53.94 for the easy win. Iona's Jake Byrne took second with Tecumseh Adams of Central Michigan finishing third.
The evening closed with the 10,000 races. In the women's race, a string of 82 second 400's layered on from the opening gun, proved to be too much for most of the field of over 60 starters. Before long, Darcy McDonald and Hanson's Erin Richard had broken away to create a two-woman race. A strong move by Richard after lap 15 appeared to settle the issue, but McDonald wouldn't go away. A late race surge by McDonald gave her a narrow victory over Richard.
A pesky rain began as the men's race - featuring a mob of over 80 starters! - got underway. Army's Kenny Foster - perhaps interested in expediting that hot, post-race shower - pushed the pace from the start. Clicking off 70 second laps, Foster soon opened up a commanding lead. A chase back - led by the Hanson trio of Mike Morgan, Robert Scribner, and David Laney - was down as much as 50 meters at mid-race, but refused to buckle. Weaving through lapped runners, the Hanson racers continued their pursuit until Scribner caught and passed Foster just prior to the bell lap. The hearty Penn fans who braved the late hour and the elements to witness Thursday's final event were rewarded with a stirring battle over the final circuit. Scribner had no answer for Foster's 63 second closing 400 as the Army athlete gained the win.
With the day's events concluded and the midnight hour nearly at hand, a tired but happy Dave Johnson broadcast thanks to the departing throng and closed with this promise, "We'll see you here tomorrow morning for a 9:00 a.m. start." Dave Hunter