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Elliot Denman, one of our roving writers, gives us his thoughts on the 2011 Penn Relays. A great meet, but how relevant in 2011? Per Elliot Denman, the 2011 Penn Relays are quite relevant….
RELEVANCE OF PENN RELAYS
By ELLIOTT DENMAN
PHILADELPHIA – “Oh-my-gosh, is that really true?
Robby Andrews’ smile was of world-record width.
It was nearly an hour after the eighth and final runner in the 498th
track event of the 117th Penn Relays had crossed the Franklin Field
finish line late Saturday afternoon, putting the wraps on another
highlight-packed three-day athletics festival, and Andrews, the
University of Virginia sophomore sesnation from Manalapan, N.J. still
couldn’t believe he’d been named the outstanding collegiate runner in
the entire meet.
His 1:46.00 anchor split had carried his Virginia Cavaliers to the
Championship of America – Penn’s own lofty-but-basically-true
designation – in the 4×800-meter relay – Penn’s event number 485 – for
the second straight year.
He’d run down friendlly foe Casimir Loxsom of Penn State (who’d
outlegged him in 2010’s National Junior 800 as well as the World Junior
final) with a dynamite burst off the final turn, bringing the Cavs home
in 7:12.15, second best winning time in Penn’s vaunted history, and had
most of the 48,531 crowd standing in awestruck appreciation.
When he ran down Oregon’s Andrew Wheating in identical fashion a year
earlier, it was eye-opening. After all, Wheating was a 2008 Beijing
Olympian and Andrews a wet-behind-the-ears collegiate rookie.
And now, when he ran down Loxsom, it was ear-splitting. The 48,531 –
the nation’s largest track crowd and one of the world’s largest – roared
at the drama unfolding on the track before them. It put to rest the
thought that the 3:40.77 1,500 meters Andrews had run a week earlier in
the Atlantic Coast Conference Championships had left him footsore, a
worrisome thought for the young flash who’d been kept on the injured
reserve list through the indoor season. And it revived all the chatter
that Andrews might easily be the brightest young American 800-meter
hopeful in years.
This was Robby being Robby, ever able to pull one out of the hat, just
at it appeared he’d begun fading out of contention after Loxsom had
opened a five-meter gap. His kick is fearsome. Even Andrews can’t
predict his own finishing factor.
“I’m always surprised because I never know what I’m going to do,”
Andrews had said at the post-race press conference, a doubly-delayed
First off, he was losing his lunch. Second, he wanted to cheer his
dad, ex-Penn star Bob Andrews, anchoring for Shore AC, in the Masters
Sure it was only the tail-end of April, over a month and a half before the
“real” national titles are put on the line. Sure it came in a race limited to undergraduates. Sure it came “only” in a relay,
where the strategic parameters are a whole lot different than in any individuals-only
But don’t anyone ever dare say that this race – and all the other
Championship of America finals on the Penn card, or any of the high
school finals, or any of the crowd-pleaser “USA vs. The World” baton
tests, for that matter, lacked any relevance.
“Robby was outstanding, just outstanding, but so were all our
guys,(Brett Johnson, Lance Roller and Anthony Kostelac, who preceded
Andrews),” lauded Virginia coach Jason Vigilante. All at once, he was
balancing the huge wheel (Penn’s massive round winners’ plaque) atop his
head, and sharing the joy with every member of his Cavs’ squad, as well
as wife Amy.
His bottom-line assessment: “I just like guys on my team who hate to lose.”
He’ll soon carry all that relevance back to Charlottesville, Va. and
turn all the morale-building stuff into the belief that the events of
May and June have all the potential to be victory parades.
That’s what Penn is all about.
It sure was relevant to Mark Amirault, who anchored Princeton to the
4×1600-meter relay title in 16:19.98, representing the Tigers’ first
Penn C of A title in 71 years.
“Coach (Steve Dolan) always says ‘the guy to go last’ (with a finishing burst) usually wins,” he said.
“When I went (past Arkansas’s Duncan Phillips) it looked like he didn’t have anything left.”
The assessment was right-on.
And now, for Amirault, it was time to celebrate “a truly great moment.”
It sure was relevant to Princeton’s third man, Donn Cabral. Sure
he’d won last year’s steeplechase title (with only Thursday-night
distance diehards watching). Now, Cabral said “this was the biggest
stage I’ve ever been on.”
“Bill Bonthron would have been pleased,” said media member Gary
Fanelli, harking back to the late-great Princetonian who’d held the
world mile record in the late 1930s.
It sure was relevant to Justin Gatlin, who made his USA prime-time
debut, coming off a four-year drug-ban list last year, and ran opening
leg on the USA team that placed third in its “USA vs. The World” 4×100
test, a race won by the Jamaica team led off by Asafa Powell in 38.33.
“My job now is just to run, cross the line, and let my feet do the
talking,” said Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic champion, and former co-world
100-meter record-holder with Powell at 9.77. “It doesn’t matter what
people are saying about you, good or bad.”
It sure was relevant to Allyson Felix, whose powerful second legs
carried USA to “USA vs. The World” women’s wins at 4×100 (42.28, a Penn
record) and 4×400 (3:22.92.)
“When I get the chance, I just like to go all for it,” said Felix.
It sure was relevant to Jamaica’s Melaine Walker, the women’s Olympic
and World 400-meter hurdles champion, who ran third leg on the island
team’s winning sprint medley team. Years earlier, she’d prepped for
much bigger things as a student at New Jersey’s Essex County Community
“The Penn crowds really turn you on,” she said. “How can it be anything else?
There’s nothing like Penn anywhere. The Olympics won’t be coming to
Philadelphia. Then, again, this is like Philadelphia own Olympics ever
USA sprinter Shawn Crawford, the 2004 Olympic 200 champion, summed up the Penn experience:
“Every time I come here, the fans come want a show. They’re going and
clapping (for you) to win. And they’ll be whoop-whooping if you’re in
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