We asked Dave Hunter to spend a few days in the city of Brotherly Love, to see his first Penn Relays. This is his third article on the Penn Relays, regarding Saturday, Day three. We think you will enjoy his keen observations.
Also, nice to see Mike Rodgers,Justin Gatlin, Doc Patton and Walter Dix, four of this writer’s favorites, run a crisp 4 x 100m relays in 38.40. They are a great team.
118th Penn Relay Carnival
Penn Showdown: USA vs. The World,
Americans Shut Out World / Baton Unbruised
by Dave Hunter
49,810 track & field fans streamed into Franklin Field Saturday
morning, there was a festive air of excitement that permeated the
throng. As reggae music flowed, you could sense that the happy,
international crowd was ready to watch some special performances on the
track and in the field. When the day is over, they will not leave
While there are many moving parts to every Penn
Relays day, Saturday at Franklin Field has come to feature “USA vs. The
World’ – an international competition between the elite athletes from
around the globe and America’s very best performers. And while it is
true that many countries are represented [Belgium is here…] USA’s
primary rival has grown to be Jamaica. While it’s a healthy competition
founded upon mutual respect, it is truly intense.
As the American
athletes, many of whom view the Penn Relays as the unofficial start of
the outdoor road to the London Olympics, discussed the importance of
this competition, the unspoken elephant in the room has been…the pesky
relay baton. Would it be lovingly cradled and speedily transported
around the track? Or would disaster strike again? If today is any
indication, the USA relay teams are moving toward redemption.
Somewhere, Jon Drummond is smiling.
First up in these elite races
was the Women’s Sprint Medley Relay. During the pre-race ritual of
block installation and final run-outs, the American women looked poised,
but anxious. Of course they wanted to win, but almost above all else,
the USA Blue team of Porscha Lucas, Barbara Pierre, Phoebe Wright, and
Maggie Vessey wanted to give that relay baton an uninterrupted ride
around four laps of the Franklin Field oval.. The Americans got right
after it – and set a positive tone for the US that would flow through
the day. The stick passing bordered on the conservative – but everyone
knew why. And when Vessey’s sparkling 2:02.6 anchor leg was too much
for Jamaica’s 800 runner, the American women finished first in 3:42.85.
USA: 1; World: 0.
Could the American men follow suit? They were
up next in the 4 x 100 – which was run in 2 sections. Both USA entries
looked sharp – especially the Blue team which dominated section 2. The
quartet of Mike Rodgers, Justin Gatlin, Darvis “Doc” Patton, and Walter
Dix hustled the stick around without calamity in 38.40 for the victory.
The USA Red team of Ivory Williams, Shawn Crawford, Trell Kimmons, and
Ryan Bailey sprinted crisply, exchanged cleanly, and was victorious in
the Section 1. And its time of 38.47 held up for second as the
Jamaicans (38.98) were relegated to third. And while it was heartening
to witness two USA quartets finish in front of America’s Caribbean
sprint nemesis, the feat must be view in perspective. None of Jamaica’s
Big Three [Powell, Blake, and Bolt – surely to be on Jamaica’s 4 x 100
Olympic entry] competed in Philadelphia on Saturday. To be sure, 4
well-practiced US sprinters executing cleanly in August could surprise
Jamaica’s first team in London.
In the women’s 4 x 100, the USA
Red Team of Tianna Madison, Allyson Felix, Bianca Knight, and Carmelita
Jeter displayed mid-season form – getting the stick around for a
decisive and impressive win in 42.19, a new Penn Relays and Franklin
Field record. The Americans vanquished the second-place Jamaican entry
[43.31] which – admittedly sans VCB – was still formidable with reigning
Oly 100 champ Shelley Ann Fraser-Pryce on the anchor. Let’s hope this
American quartet emerges from the Trials healthy and on the team.
Ladies, keep honing those baton exchanges!
Distance Medley Relay was next as the crowd sensed another USA victory.
The race turned into a domestic battle as the two American entries
dueled at the front. An eye-popping 1:44.0 800 on the third leg by Nick
Symmonds gave USA Red’s anchor Bernard Lagat a clear lead over USA
Blue’s anchor Leo Manzano. The crowd readied itself for a showdown
between two of the sport’s greatest kickers. After covering the early
gap, Manzano stalked Lagat as the pace slowly quickened. In full flight
over the final furlong, Manzano had too much for Lagat down the
stretch.. His 3:54.9 over the final 1600 gave USA Blue the win in
9:19.31 – .57 ahead of Lagat’s Red quartet.
baseball admonition of never jinxing a no-hitter by mentioning it, the
Franklin Field throng was not talking about the flawless beat-down the
USA was putting on The World. But let’s be clear: the Franklin Field
fans were thinking about it as only the 4 x 400’s – exclusive USA
property – remained.
In the men’s 4 x 400, the USA Red team was
clearly trailing after the first two legs – causing many to wonder who
in the crowd had been talking about the no-hitter. It was up to Bershawn
Jackson and Lashawn Merritt to save the day. Batman did his part: his
44.2 on the third leg erased the USA deficit and allowed Merritt to
start his anchor circuit right behind the Bahamas final runner.
Merritt’s experience allowed him to keep his poise, measure his effort,
and swing wide off the final turn to seal the victory. Merritt’s 44.8
brought the USA home in 3:00.15 – .41 ahead of the Bahamian team Had
Merritt not shut it down over the final 20 meters, a sub-3:00 clocking
would have been assured. Kirani James’ superb sub-44 circuit –
camouflaged in leg two of Grenada’s 12th place effort – went largely
Now it was up to the women to close the show.
The quartet of Francena McCorory, Allyson Felix, Natasha Hastings, and
Sanya Richards-Ross, clearly superior on paper, ran just like they
should. The first 3 legs – highlighted by Hastings 50.3 clocking – made
it easy for Richards-Ross who could have glided the final lap.. But the
2008 anchor on the USA Olympic gold-medal-winning 4 x 400 team would
give the adoring Franklin Field crowd her best. A baton flourish as she
crossed the finish line signaled the completion of her anchor leg –
covered in 49.5. And as Jamaica – over 5 seconds back – and the rest of
the field trailed over the line, the public address announcer solemnly
intoned, “USA: 6; The World: Nothing.”
The Olympic Games are
three months away. A long and winding road remains. But one thing is
clear: a good number of America’s top track & field athletes are off
to a great start in the outdoor build-up to London. Dave Hunter
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