This is our man on the field, Dave Hunter’s second piece on the 118th Penn Relays. We hope that you enjoy it!
Notes From The Carnival
Dining At Penn’s Smorgasbord Of Track & Field
by Dave Hunter
Several weeks ago, Larry Eder, the mastermind behind RunBlogRun who has been in the business for years, had to be quietly chortling to himself as he responded positively to my request to cover the 118th Penn Relays. I knew, of course, about the Penn Relays, but I had never witnessed this nearly week-long celebration of track and field. No worries, I thought, I’ve written daily journals at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials – a 10 day event. Penn should be a piece of cake. What was I thinking? A bionic blend of a youthful Jim Dunaway and Superman himself couldn’t fully capture the bustling and beautiful kaleidoscope of activity that is the Penn Relay Carnival.
The sights, sounds, and aromas of Penn are incessant and ever-changing: the determined drive in the women’s 4 x 200 by the Texas A&M anchor, her crimson-dyed hair flowing in the breeze; the curious aroma mix of nasty fries and pungent analgesic balm wafting through the ancient hallways of Franklin Field; the fluorescent tangerine full-body suits of the Clemson women’s 4 x 100 relay team – almost a mutant version of the Blue Man Group. A botched baton exchange can be followed by an inspired stretch drive to the tape. Despondent finishers sag as exuberant victors dance with their teammates. For every observation you make, you know you missed so many more.
There was more than just spirited competition taking place at the Penn Relays on Friday. Inside and adjacent to Franklin Field, an afternoon press conference was held featuring selected elite athletes who would be competing in Saturday’s marquee relays: USA v. The World. Here’s what they had to say:
Olympic Gold Medalist / Angelo Taylor:
On Penn and its international competition: “It’s a preview to the Olympics – especially the relays.”
On his extended career: “I am proud of this. It’s about paying attention to your body.”
Olympic Gold Medalist / Lashawn Merritt:
On his Olympic year training: “I only ran one indoor meet – Millrose, where I won. I have moved to Florida, have a new coach, and my training is going well.”
Walter Dix, photo by PhotoRun.net
2008 Olympic Bronze Medalist in the 100 / Walter Dix:
On his coaching switch: “John Smith is my new coach. He is teaching me to be fast. My training is definitely technical. He is working on my form and teaching me about the stages of the 100.”
On the USA v. The World Relays: “They’re a sneak preview of the Olympic Relays.”
On baton passing: “It is more complicated than making a five foot putt or sinking a foul shot. The sprinters are running 25 miles per hour. We just need to work and focus.”
Olympic Gold Medalist / Justin Gatlin:
On Penn: “This is our equivalent of the NBA’s All-Star Weekend. It is a chance for us to work together as teammates and not as competitors.”
On his coaching switch: “Dennis Mitchell has been my coach since November. He is helping me a lot.”
On his new world indoor title in the 60: “I haven’t raced the 60 since I was 19. It felt great.”
On baton passing: “It’s about camaraderie and working together. It can be a scary situation. We just have to man up and get that stick around.”
Olympic Gold Medalist / Sanya Richards-Ross:
On her 50.18 outdoor opener: “I am happy to have run so close to 50 seconds in my first race of the season. I have never started this fast. I am running in Jamaica next week and hope to run even faster.”
On Penn: “It is the official start to the outdoor season.”
On legendary Clyde Hart: Coach Hart is 76 and he isn’t going to change [his training approach] much. But he has helped me to change. He has helped me to bring more focus to my training.”
Olympic Gold Medalist / Allyson Felix:
On a possible Olympic 200/400 double attempt: “I haven’t completely ruled out the double. My focus has been on the 200. I won’t decide [on the attempt to double] until shortly before the Trials.”
Jamaican Olympic Gold Medalist In the 100 / Shelley Ann Fraser-Pryce:
On the competition: “I try not to focus on my the competition or on how others are performing. I stay focused on myself.”
On her training: “I work to stay focused on my training. I want to stay healthy and train hard.”
Olympic Gold Medalist / Carmelita Jeter:
On Penn: “I love the crowd participation here. When I am out on the track waiting to anchor the 4 x 100, I love being in that corner. The excitement, the crowd shouting out my name – it is wonderful.”
On the international competition at Penn: “The focus is not about me being an American; it is about me being a sprinter.”
On her training: ‘I have been doing more 400 training this year.”
On baton passing teamwork: ‘It’s a trust game. We have to stay focused to get that stick around.”
Back amid the swirl of activity inside the stadium – everything from the Camden Diocese Girls 4 x 100 Rel
ay to the all-important qualifying heats of the College Men’s 4 x 400 – two outstanding relays in particular stood out on Friday: the College Women’s 4 x 1500 Relay and the College Men’s Distance Medley Relay. In the women’s race, Oregon dominated. But sometimes you have to look to find the race within the race.
And while her Lady Duck teammates gave Oregon anchor Becca Friday an insurmountable lead, a battle was brewing between two all-Americans: Sheila Reid and Emily Infeld, the talented anchors for Villanova and Georgetown.
Taking the stick almost together, the two ran in tandem over the final 1500 as they cut into Oregon’s lead. Reid worked hard to shake her competitor, but Infeld wouldn’t let go. While Oregon wouldn’t be caught this day, a strong sprint by Infeld down the final straight gave her a narrow edge over her Wildcat rival. But the most electrifying relay of the day had to be the College Men’s DMR. With 14 of the country’s top collegiate squads toeing the line, the crowd braced itself for a great race. On the leadoff 1320, the field began cautiously until Princeton’s Joe Stillen made a strong move to open a meaningful gap with 600 remaining. And while the field closed on the final straightaway, Stillen’s opening 2:59.0 gave the Tigers a slim lead at the first exchange. A powerful 46.3 quarter by Princeton’s Tom Hopkins lengthened the Tiger advantage. Princeton’s third runner, Michael Williams, paid dearly for his over-zealous first lap as the half-milers from Oregon, Columbia, and Indiana erased the Princeton lead going into the final leg. Sensing the field bunching, the milers slowed the pace. An opening quarter of 68 seconds allowed the 12 of the 14 teams to clump behind the Princeton anchor man – All-American Donn Cabral.
You could feel the Franklin Field buzz as the crowd knew a furious finish was in the making. Successively-quicker laps placed Cabral in the lead – and in control of the race – as the bell lap began. With 300 to go, Indiana’s Andrew Bayer made a determined push for the lead, but Cabral’s response held the Hoosier at bay. Coming of the final turn, six teams battled for places on the podium. And while the first six teams were separated by less than 1 second, Cabral’s final circuit in 54 seconds went unmatched as Princeton captured the victory. Last year, the Tigers’ win in the Men’s 4 x Mile was its first relay victory at Penn in 71 years. Now, just a year later, it had captured another.
As the sun began to set and as I rode the Thorndale train back to Philadelphia’s Main Line communities, I reflected on the entire day, the total over-stimulation of the non-stop performances on the track and in the field. I was fully satiated from heaping helpings of the Penn Relays. And while the train rolled on and I couldn’t imagine taking another bite, I was already looking forward to my Saturday return to Franklin Field’s buffet. Dave Hunter
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