By ELLIOTT DENMAN
PHILADELPHIA – Thank the running gods – and an expert rehab team – Manteo Mitchell’s broken left fibula has fully healed.
Oh, what a relief it is – the leg he wrecked running the prelims of the 4×400 men’s relay at last August’s London Olympic Games is back in world-class shape.
And so are Team USA’s ambitions in the Olympic event it virtually owned – until a Mitchell-less American squad settled for the silvers back of Bahamas in the London 4×400 final last August.
In just 3:00.91 on a sun-splashed Saturday at the 119th running of the Penn Relays, the “USA Red” quartet of Torrin Lawrence (45.6), Mitchell (44.8), Bershawn “Batman” Jackson (45..7) and Tony McQuay (44.8) squashed all the loose talk that America’s hegemony in the 4×400 was done, over, kaput, ancient history.
Huge sections of the 48,871 crowd at Franklin Field weren’t rooting for a USA victory at all.
They were the wavers of all those gold-black-green Jamaica flags, many attired similarly, whose annual preference is to turn the “USA vs. The World” series at the Penn Relays into a USA-Jamaica dual meet, the sprint phase of it, anyway.
But it simply wasn’t to be.
The men’s 4×400 typified the proceedings.
Team USA simply wasn’t going to return to the silver standard, and earned a clearcut 10-meter decision.
Jamaica settled for second (3:01.15), Bahamas for third (3:02.23) and the second home entry, USA Blue, ran fourth (3:02.64.)
Jamaica’s Errol Nolan anchored in a sizzling 44.3 – not good enough.
Bahamas anchor Stephen Newbold brought it home in 44.4 – not good enough.
A Caribbean All-Stars team featuring Olympic one-lap kings Felix Sanchez (400 hurdles) and Kirani James (400 flat) settled for sixth.
Sanchez struggled a 46.9, James sped a 44.1, the day’s quickest – not good enough.
Plenty good enough was Team USA Red.
Even better was Mitchell’s post-race message.
“Before I got into track and field, I always wanted to inspire a generation,” said the
25-year-old Western Carolina graduate.
“Lo and behold, the Olympic theme this past season (2012) was to inspire a generation.
“I didn’t expect to do it in the fashion that I did (finishing his Olympic run despite the injury; assuring his nation’s place in the final despite the obvious agony he felt) but this (the whole Games experience) was something I’ve always wanted to do.”
He did it with exceptional courage last summer and he did it with full confidence at Penn.
“The leg is fully healed now,” he happily reported.
“I was out for 16 weeks with rehab, no running. I gained a lot of weight, lifting weights and not running.
“So I had to trim down, went on a diet.”
Whatever he’s eating – it’s the right stuff.
The home team won three other “USA Vs. The World” events – the men’s 4×100, the women’s 4×400 and the women’s 4×800. Jamaica’s big moment came in the women’s 4×100.
Sharone Simpson-Kerron Stewart-Anneisha McLaughlin-Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price outdueled USA Blue’s Mandy White-Alexandria Anderson-Barbara Pierre-Porscha Lucas, 42.42 to 42.65, with the Allyson Felix-featured USA Red team 1/100th back at 42.66..
To the multi-medaled Fraser-Price (SAFP), it’s a clearcut case of not looking back.
“It’s a new year and a new focus,” she said. “I start the year like I never won anything.
“It’s a new season and I’m a hungry athlete.
“We just wanted to come here and do something great.”
And they did.
Perhaps the most spectacular home team win came in the women’s 4×800.
Not only did Lea Wallace (2:02.1), Brenda Martinez (2:00.6), 18-year-old Ajee Wilson (2:03.1) and Alysia Montano (1:58.6) win it wire-to-wire for USA Red over Kenya’s 8:07.58 and USA Blue (8:10.99) but they crushed the listed American record of 8:17.91 by the University of Tennessee in 2009.
Yet another big American win came in the men’s 4×100.
With solid baton work – once again, oh what a relief it is – Olympians Mike Rodgers, Justin Gatlin, Darvis “Doc” Patton and Ryan Bailey sped a lap in 38.26, for a clear win over Jamaica’s Nesta Carter-Dexter Lee-Rasheed Dwyer-Jason Young, who ran 38.65.
NFLer Jeff Demps led off USA Blue’s third-place 38.94, with Wallace Spearmon-Cordero Gray-Ivory Willims handling 2-3-4 duty.
Great Brits Emily Child-Shana Cox-Christine Ohuruogu-Perri Shakes-Drayton dug deep down but still couldn’t hold off USA Red Jessica Beard-Natasha Hastings-Dee Dee Trotter-Francena McCorory in the women’s 4×400. In a race down to the wire, it was USA Red’s 3:22.66 to GB’s 3:22.68 and Jamaica’s 3:24.11.
So that left just one series event for the rest of the world beyond North America.
Ethiopia (9:16.34) took the men’s distance medley over Kenya (9:17.03), USA Red (9:18.21) and USA Blue (9:19.33) in 10-lapper that delivered heaps of dazzling splits.
Even though the DMR is not a standard global event – and won’t be included in the first IAAF World Relay Championships, to be held in the Bahamas in May 2014 – the recognized best-ever of 9:15.56 by Kenya in 2006 is still a remarkable performance.
That 9:15.56 seemed threatened throughout, but still managed to survive.
Setting the stage for the anchor racing, Anthony Chemut’s 2:51.26 gave Kenya the early lead. USA Red rallied with Quentin Summers’ 44.8 400. But Ethiopia stormed back on Mohammad Aman’s 1:44.0 800 and won it on Aman Wote’s 3:52.8 anchor 1600.
These anchor splits just weren’t good enough: Caleb Ndiku’s 3:52.9 for Kenya, Bernard Lagat’s 3:54.8 for USA Blue and David Torrence’s 3:56.2 for USA Red.
The best Team Canada managed in the relay series was a fifth in the men ‘s 4×100, but the men’s collegiate high jump still delivered plenty of north-of-the-border cheer.
Canada Olympian Derek Drouin, an Indiana senior, soared 2.33 meters (7-7 3/4) for the best leap in Franklin Field history. It was a centimeter better than Dwight Stones’ 2.32 for Long Beach State back in 1976.
The bar went up to 2.36 (7-8 3/4) but Drouin wasn’t close.
Stones was one of the first to text his congratulations.
“I certainly wanted that next bar,” said Drouin, whose brilliant collegiate career nears its final chapter.
And then – like so many at Penn – he’ll look for even better things in the global phase of the season just ahead.
Drouin remains a top Canadian medal hope for August’s World Championships in Moscow.
Elsewhere on the Penn schedule, biggest news was generated by visitors from College Station, Texas.
Texas A&M totaled eight wins on the final day and claimed an eye-opening dozen victories over the course of the three-day festival, which attracted an attendance tally of 111,284.
“This team did a fine job up here,” said A&M head coach Pat Henry. “This has been the best effort from a team I’ve had at this meet in a long, long time. To win that many championships at this meet is significant. This team definitely left a mark this weekend.”
Within a span of an hour and a half on Saturday, Texas A&M won six events as they swept the men’s and women’s Championship of America titles in the 4×200 relays, the 100/110 hurdles and the 100 meters. Earlier in the day A&M had a win in the college division triple jump and then the Aggies closed out the meet with a victory in the men’s 4×400 while the women placed third.
Individual victories were attained by Donique’ Flemings in the 100 hurdles (13.11), Wayne Davis II in the 110 hurdles (13.67), Olivia EkponÃ© in the 100 meters (11.37 career best) and Ameer Webb in the 100 meters (10.24).
It’s no wonder they’ll be mighty tough to fight off in the upcoming NCAA Championships.