Penn Relays, Day Two: The Carnival is in full swing, by David Hunter

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The Penn Relays is unequaled in our sport. Like Boston, it has an iconic place in American athletic folklore. Not to disparage Drake, or Kansas, or Texas or Mt.SAC, they are, well, just not Penn. 

David Hunter, understands that curious place we give to Penn in the pantheon of American athletics, and he celebrates that in his article on day two. 

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Tom Meagher, Penn 2005, photo by PhotoRun.net



April 24, 2015

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


On Day Two, Mother Nature smiled on the City of Brotherly Love.  The wind eased a little, the mercury nudged upward, and the fans in the East Stands at Franklin Field gave a quiet pray of thanks as the rising sun allowed direct sunlight to creep into their section and warm them as they witnessed a kaleidoscope of outstanding performances.


No one sees it all at Penn.  You can't.  It's impossible.  The powerful firehose spray of athletic performances is just too relentless.  You can't drink it all in.  But you can you get more than enough to quench your thirst for track & field excellence.  Here are some of the highlights that were observed during Day Two at Franklin Field:  


The first truly resounding roar from the hearty Jamaican section was evoked by the impressive opening round victory by UTech in the collegiate men's 4 x 100 relay.  The Jamaican collegiate squad - which earlier this spring had rung up the fastest collegiate clocking in the world at 38.23 - strutted its stuff with a speedy circuit in 39.74, the fastest time of the day.  Can they replicate that dominating performance in Saturday's collegiate men's 4 x 100 meter final?


The large and knowledgeable Franklin Field crowd was abuzz as the finalists of the collegiate women's 4 x 100 meter relay loaded into the blocks.  Technical excellence and speed are always required in the short relay.  But the challenge at Penn is even more daunting given Franklin Field's tight track where the teams in the first 4 "inner" lanes have turns even tighter than the lane 1 curves on a customary 400 meter track.  Winner of the last six 4 x 1 titles here at Penn, the Texas A&M women - whose qualifying time was not their best - were relegated to inner lane 3.  Could the Aggies successfully navigate the tighter turns for a 7th consecutive title?  Displaying textbook baton exchanges that are their signature, the Aggies sped smoothly around their tight oval and claimed their 7th consecutive title going away with a clocking of 43.67.  Somewhere in College Station there must be a boxful of spare Penn Relays watches...  

Even before the crack of the starting gun for the collegiate women's Championship of America 4 x 1500 relay, there was a surprise.  Noting she had only 3 - not 4 - worthy milers to step on the track, Villanova coach Gina Procaccio pulled her 4 x 1500 squad to allow her charges to focus on Saturday's women's 4 x 800 relay final.  While the coach's move scuttled a much-anticipated middle distance rematch between the Wildcats and their west coast rival Stanford, the Cardinal middle distance foursome took it in stride.  Stanford lead off runner Rebecca Mura stayed calm in a bunched field and passed off to her teammate Jessica Tonn just a step or two behind first leg leader North Carolina.  Tonn threw down a big move over the final 400 to build a 20 meter lead for her freshman teammate Elise Cranny - who anchored the Cardinal runner-up performance in Thursday's DMR final.  Leaving UNC, Indiana, Georgetown, and others in her wake, Cranny turned in a smooth and efficient leg of 4:17.2 as she gave Stanford anchor Claudia Saunders a 60 meter lead. Easily turning back an heroic charge by UNC anchor Annie LeHardy in the final furlong, Saunders stopped the clock at 17:27.54 to win the wagon wheel for the Stanford women.  LeHardy's charge secured second for UNC and Georgetown - with another sparkling anchor leg from Katrina Coogan [4:17.2 to match Cranny's time for fastest split of the day] - got up for 3rd.


All attention was focused on the track as the leadoff runners toed the line for the start of the collegiate men's distance medley relay Championship of America.  Before the gun, the athletes competing for defending champion Oregon looked relaxed knowing their teammate Edward Cheserek was the baddest anchor in the house.  The Duck's first three runners - Johnny Gregorek, Marcus Chambers, and Niki Franzmair - each ran heady, steady legs knowing all they had to do was keep it close for King Ches, their closer.  At the final exchange, Columbia anchor Rob Napolitano was given a 20 meter lead over Oregon's Cheserek.  But would that be a sufficient margin over the powerful Duck anchor to permit a Lions' victory?  Aaahh, no.  Down 12 meters when he took the stick, Cheserek was in no particular hurry.  Content to tuck in behind the rhythmic pace of the Columbia anchor, Cheserek - actually controlling the race from behind - allowed Villanova, Indiana, and Stanford to get back in the hunt.  On the final backstretch, Villanova's fast-closing anchor Jordan Williamsz saw an opening and made an inside pass to get by Napolitano.  Cheserek swung to the outside to pass the Columbia anchor and cover Williamsz's move.  A seamless acceleration by Cheserek as he passed by the Wall of Fame allowed him the pull away over the final 130 meters and finish his 1600m leg in 3:59.44 for a comfortable and apparently-easy victory in 9:33.86. Villanova claimed second and Stanford grabbed third.  In commenting on the Duck's new lineup which successfully defended its DMR crown, Oregon coach Andy Powell understated, "We do have some good depth at Oregon."


Watching the men's 100 meter age group races progress through the climb up Father Time's ladder is a little like seeing your life pass before you.  We should be so fit.  The graying athletes are serious, fit, and inspiring.  Of special note were the impressive winning performances of Oscar Peyton [60+ in 12.37], Charlie Allie [65+ in 12.89] and Ty Brown [70+ in 13.03].  Don't hurt yourself trying to replicate those times.


Sterling high school performances dotted the day.  One of the more notable high school achievements was the terrific pair of relay victories pulled off by the young women of Edwin Allen.  Amid the swirl of the ceaseless other activity on the track and in the field, Edwin Allen combined speed with exquisite exchanges to capture the high school girls 4 x 100 meter relay Championship of America in 45.40.  Later in the afternoon, Edward Allen stepped back onto the track in the final of the high school girls 4 x 400 meter relay Championship of America.  Aided by a monster 53.88 anchor leg by Saqukine Cameron, victorious Edward Allen clocked 3:40.41 to complete an impressive double - a feat they also accomplished in 2014.


The preliminary round of the collegiate men's 4 x 400 was a tasty appetizer for Saturday's final - always the concluding event of the Carnival.  In the first heat, Texas A&M showed it was ready to rumble in tomorrow's championship race when it clocked 3:10.52 for the win.  The Aggies made it look easy.  Their Olympian anchor - Bowerman Award honoree Deon Lendore - ran the smoothest 45.96 you'll ever see.  Downshifting on the backstretch, Lendore displayed swift acceleration to move from third to first and seal a preliminary round victory for the College Station quartet.  The Aggies look like they have more in the tank if challenged in the final.  And they may need it.  In the second heat, perennial 4 x 400 powerhouse LSU won in 3:08.81 - the fastest time of the day.  Saturday's final should be quite a battle.


All of these tremendous performances and more ensure that virtually all of today's hard core track & field fans - joined by others - a will return for Day Three's closing card and a cavalcade of finals, including the post-collegiate global throw-down:  USA vs. The World.  But there's another reason Franklin Field will be packed.  The weather man says Saturday's conditions will be sunny, dry - and warmer...  Dave Hunter

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Dave Hunter, who ran his marathon P.R. of 2:31:40 on the highly revered Boston Marathon course back in the Paleozoic era, is a track and field announcer, broadcaster, and journalist. To find out more about Dave, please visit www.trackandfieldhunter.com.

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