The Penn Relays is back! In its 126th version, the Penn Relays satisfied fans, athletes and media alike. This is how David Hunter saw the amazing track and field circus. We thank him for covering the happenings at Franklin Field.
Athing Mu takes the 600m at Penn, photo by Kevin Morris / @kevmofoto
The Penn Relays’ Big Tent
Room For All At Franklin Field
For more than a century, the Penn Relay Carnival has been one of Philadelphia’s unmistakable signs of spring. But the onset of COVID interrupted all of that as the Penn Relays simply could not take place in 2020 and only a small, provincial gathering was held in 2021. But now with the pandemic ebbing and apparently under better control, the Penn Relays have returned in full force. Spring is in the air. Blossoms are in bloom. Rowers are flexing their muscles on the Schuykill. Villanova students, loud and proud, claim as their turf the seating at the top of the backstretch near the 1500m start line. On each of the three days of competition Penn’s daily attendance has grown larger with Saturday’s final day drawing nearly 48,000 fans, many of whom are rabid Jamaicans donned in yellow, gold, and black and ready to cheer on their countrymen and countrywomen. High school boys and girls, collegians, and even the professionals sway nervously in the paddock, eagerly awaiting their opportunity to compete on the big stage. The Penn Relay Carnival is back, baby!
Athletes competing at Penn cover a broad span – ranging in age from 9-year-old middle schoolers to aged but fit sprinters who are as old as 100 years of age. Often overlooked are the individual stories and the staircase of progression that the Penn Relays can provide for the dedicated athlete. It is true that for many competitors Penn can be a singular event – a “one-and-done” that nonetheless endures as a treasured experience of a lifetime. But for others-athletes who compete in multiple Penn Relays – the experience can serve as a type of step-by-step progression with future Franklin Field competitions providing opportunities to improve, to gain experience,to be a better athlete. “Track and field is a process,” explains Penn Relay veteran Ajée Wilson. “In middle school, you start at the bottom and work your way to the top,” outlines the reigning indoor world champion at 800m. “You move on to high school where you once again start at the bottom and work your way to the top. The same thing in college,” notes Wilson who has raced in nearly a dozen Penn Relays. “As a professional, I am still striving to work my way to the top, And the Penn Relays has played a role in helping me improve along the way “
It simply is not possible for spectators to take in all of the activity on the track and on the field at Penn. The spectacle is too overwhelming. It is like attempting to drink out of a fire hose. That said, here are a few of the highlights that can provide a taste of the country’s oldest and largest track and field gathering:
• Championship of America (CoA) High School Girls’ Distance Medley: In a rare final on a Day One which is normally dotted with preliminary rounds, Saratoga Springs (NY) was impressive in capturing a Penn Relays wheel with a dominating victory in 11:43.26 as Saratoga’s Emily Bush ran a solid anchor leg to seal the win.
• High School Girls’ Mile Run Championship: Maryland’s Juliette Whittaker was never challenged, racing wire-to-wire for an unthreatened victory. Whittiker’s winning time of 4:41.18 was less than 3 seconds off the Penn Relays record for this event.
• College Women’s 4x100m Relay / Prelims: In what was identified as the first of possibly 5 different races for her at Penn, Ohio State Olympian Anavia Battle blasted down the backstretch to place the Buckeyes clearly in command. Aided by crisp baton exchanges, the lady Buckeyes rang up a 43.67 clocking – best in the field – to move on to Saturday’s final.
• CoA College Women’s Distance Medley: This much-anticipated final proved to be a textbook performance on the perfect way to race this varied-distances event. The BYU quartet – loaded with talent – got off to a terrific start as their 1200m leadoff runner ran conservatively until breaking out to give the 400m athlete a good lead. On the anchor leg for BYU NCAA indoor champion Courtney Wayment fended off an early surge by the Mississippi anchor to secure the win for BYU. Wayment’s 1600m, a scintillating 4:32.39, capped off a final clocking of 10:50.22 for BYU.
• CoA College Men’s Distance Medley: An absolutely terrific race! Wisconsin exhibited a great deal of determination, taking an immediate lead in the opening 1200m leg. After the Badgers remained in front after legs 1 (1200m) and 2 (400m), the 3rd (800m) leg quickly bunched up into a 6 pack of leaders as the handoffs were ultimately made to the anchor athletes. Wisconsin’s Olin Hacker jumped into the lead to control the rhythmic, but not furious, final leg pace. At the bell, a group of 8 athletes were still in the hunt as Ole Miss NCAA indoor champion Garcia Romo easily accelerated into the lead. The tempo quickened on the backstretch as Hacker kept pushing while Romo slipped to 4th. Heading to the Wall of Fame, Virginia moved into the lead with Wisconsin falling back to 2nd. As the athletes entered into the final straight, Romo, swinging wide, downshifted, closed with a vengeance and caught the exasperated Badger two meters from the line to seal the Rebel victory in 9:29.45 as Wisconsin (9:29.79) held on for 2nd.
• CoA College Women’s 4x200m Relay: In an event where clean baton exchanges are every bit as important as pure speed, the South Carolina women – always technically sound – won the championship with a time of 1:33.36 as UMBC got up for a surprising 2nd in 1:36.42 with Coppin State finishing 3rd in 1:36.57
• CoA College Men’s 4x200m Relay: In the men’s 4×2 final, Clemson looked sharp grabbing the wagon wheel in 1:22.91 with Jamaica’s G.C. Foster finishing 2nd in 1:23.03 and South Carolina making the final spot on the podium in 1:23.32
• College Women’s 100m Dash / Prelims: 28 women competed in this preliminary round hoping to be among the 9 athletes advancing to the Day Three final. Ohio State Olympic 200m athlete Anavia Battle posted the fast prelim time: an easy-peasy wind-legal 11.22 to ring up the fastest prelim clocking. Battle will be joined in the Saturday final by two teammates: Nya Bussey (11.29) and Yanique Dayle (11.30). Stay tuned!
• CoA High School Girls’ 4x800m Relay: The event was marred by two unfortunate and serious falls: by Holmwood Tech’s leadoff athlete 650 meters into the opening leg; and a second leg collapse by the Union Catholic runner just meters before the second exchange, Edwin Allen kept cool and focused and rolled on to a decisive win in 8:54.58. Culberston finished in 2nd (9:04.67) and, amazingly, Union Catholic overcame its earlier fall to finish 3rd in 9:06.14.
• CoA High School Girl’s 4x100m Relay: In a gripping battle for the title, Edwin Allen and Hydel separated themselves from the rest of the field early and battled every step of the way. The extremely close race was not settled until into the homestretch when Edwin Allen edged ahead to cross first in 43.18 – a new Penn Relays record. Hydel crossed next in 43.69, while St. Jago finished 3rd in 46.09.
• CoA High School Boys’ Distance Medley: After being woefully behind after the opening 1200m leg, Union Catholic was aided greatly by their second leg athlete Nick Givan who uncorked an eyepopping 49.73 400m to vault UC into the lead, 20 meters ahead of the field. Union Catholic held on for the win in 10:14.42, thwarting a last-ditch surge by the St Raphael anchor Devan Kipyego who clocked 4:04 on his anchor effort to lift St. Raphael into 2nd in 10:15.4. Menlo School got up for 3rd in the 10:19.25
• High School Boys Mile Run: In the days leading up to the Carnival Archbishop Wood (PA) athlete Gary Martin had been receiving a lot of media exposure in light of his national mile leader mark of 4:00.95. Hoping to become the 14th high school boy to break 4:00, Martin launched off on a disciplined attack on that magical mark in the Penn Relays Boys Mile, stringing together 59-60 second 400m meter laps to set up an all-out surge on the final circuit. The Franklin Field audience roared as Martin took the bell at approximately 3:00. The cheering was overwhelming as Martin gave it his all on the final lap. But the record slipped away as the senior crossed the line in 4:01.04, short of his goal but taking down the old Penn Relays record of 4:04.47 (Sean McGorty 2013). The new champion was happy with his Penn Relay win as the Virginia-bound athlete was confident that the sub-4:00 clocking would come in time.
• CoA High School Girls 4x400m Relay: Jamaica’s Hydel was able to deliver the payback to Jamaica’s Edwin Allen in this event after Edwin Allen defeated Hydelearlierinthedayinthe4x1. Hydel’swinningtimeof3:32.77setanew Penn Relays and Franklin Field record. Edwin Allen (3:39.76) was a distant 2nd while Maryland’s Bullis School (3:40.88) finished 3rd.
• CoA College Women’s 4x1500m Relay: In the earlier days of the Carnival, many whispered of a possible record performance in this event. But they might not have imagined the scintillating showdown that would unfold. In the later stages, the race turned into a duel between Arkansas and North Carolina. Inthefinalleg, Arkansas’ anchor Lauren Gregory proved too much for UNC’s closer Savannah Shaw as the Razorbacks won in 16:53.87 – absolutely destroying the Penn, Collegiate, and National Record in this event. UNC’s 2nd place clocking would have also bettered the previous record marks.
• CoA High School Boys’ 4x100m Relay: Of the 9 finalists competing in this always-popular event, 8 were Jamaican schools. In a final that produced some bumping, three Jamaican schools – Camperdown, Jamaican College, and St. Jago – came off the final curve dead even. Camperdown (40.13) took it right at the line, with Jamaica College (40.16) 2nd and defending champion St Jago (40.17). It was the 9th 4×1 win for the champs, tying the record for most wins in this event.
• CoA College Women’s 4x100m Relay: The anticipated showdown battle between South Carolina and Ohio State never really materialized as a Buckeye baton bobble took OSU out of the mix. The Gamecocks crossed 1st in 43.72 with Ohio State (43.94) finishing 2nd and Clemson (44.27) getting up for 3rd.
• CoA College Men’s 4x100m Relay: A strong contingent advanced to the final of the men’s 4×1. A capacity crowd cheered on as Houston and Auburn battled for the win on the home stretch. Houston’s Shaun Maswanganyi (39.45) held off Auburn anchor Christopher Grant (39.53) for the victory as Arkansas(39.91) got up for 3rd.
• CoA College Men’s 4xMile Relay: One of the more anticipated events of Day Three was the collegiate men’s 4xMile. In some quarters an opportunity for a sub-16:00 clocking had been discussed. Those expectations were soon dashed as the opening 1200m leg began with a cautious jogging-like pace. The bunched field was not unraveled until late in the first leg when Wisconsin surged in the last 300m to gain a 10-meter lead at the first exchange. Leg two (400m) was marred by a Texas mishap as its athlete fell. It was Georgetown. Villanova, and Penn at the second exchange. On the 3rd leg (800m) Georgetown and Villanova now with Wisconsin led a pack of 10 tightly-grouped athletes. As the 4th leg unfurled it was still Georgetown, Villanova, and now Providence upfront. Wisconsin’s Olin Hacker, perhaps still smarting from Texas relegating the Badgers to 2nd in the final strides of the Day Two DMR, stormed into the lead with 2 laps remaining. The order remained virtually unchanged until the final backstretch when an athlete entanglement sent Hacker to the ground while Texas, rebounding from the earlier fall, was gaining ground. A strong drive off the final curve by Texas anchor Crayton Carriozzza (4:03.78) was enough to propel the Longhorns to victory in 16:17.45. Virginia, staying out of trouble most of the race, finished 2nd in 16:17.89 and Providence (16:17.92) took 3rd.
• Olympic Development Women’s 100mH: Sydney McLaughlin showed why she is an Olympic gold medalist hurdler and the 400mH world record holder with an apparently easy victory, taking the win in 12.75 – her first outdoor competition of the year. Canada’s Mariam Abdul-Rashid (13.17) crossed 2nd while USA’s Evonne Britton (13.23) grabbed 3rd.
• Olympic Development Men’s 110m Hurdles: The men’s 110H was viewed as a showdown between two wily hurdle veterans: former Oregon star Devon Allen and 2016 Olympic gold medalist Omar McLeod. On this day Allen, who has announced his transition from track & field to football at season’s end and has signed a contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, got the better of his counterpart McLeod. Allen hit the line first in 13.11 while a fast-closing McLeod ran out of real estate to finish 2nd in 13.32.
• College Women’s 100m Dash: Anavia Battle, Tokyo Olympian in the 200m, looked sharp with a dominating win in the 200m final. Battle’s winning, wind-legal clocking was 10.19 with Houston’s Tamayo-Garza a distant 2nd in 11.42 and OSU’s Nya Bussey 3rd in 11.44. The trio of Buckeye finalists went 1-3-5.
• College Men’s 100m Dash: Indiana athlete Rikkoi Brathwaite pulled an upset in a very close finish. Brathwaite hit the line 1st in 10.28, followed by the favorites: Ohio State’s Eric Harrison (2nd / also timed in 10:28) and Houston’s Shaun Maswanganyi (5th in 10.32). That’s why they run the races…
• CoA College Women’s 4x800m Relay: The final was a gripping Big Ten battle between Penn State and Ohio State. After Virginia led the first leg, it was all a struggle between the Nittany Lions and the Buckeyes. OSU had a slight lead after two exchanges, but a strong effort by the Nittany Lion’s 3rd runner pushed Penn State into the lead. PSU’s anchor held off the Buckeyes to give Penn State the win in 8:34.49 while OSU grabbed 2nd (8:25.04).
• CoA College Men’s 4x800m Relay: A magnificent 3rd leg by Ole Miss athlete Baylor Franklin (1:47.34) blew open an otherwise competitive battle and set the Mississippi quartet up for an impressive win in 7:13.71; Penn State finished next in 7:17.86 and Virginia took 3rd in 7:18.78.
• Women’s 300m Dash: In a rarely-run event, Ohio State’s Anavia Battle completed a 100m/300m double with an impressive win in the longer race, clocking 36.70. Nike athlete Nicole Yeargin, a Brit, finished 2nd in 37.15.
• CoA College Women’s 4x400m Relay: The Gamecocks were not to be denied as the leadoff runner got out quickly and South Carolina was never headed, winning in 3:26.53. Ohio State made a valiant effort to close but had to settle for 2nd in 3:28.07.
• CoA College Men’s 4x400m Relay: With an impressive 4×4 time coming into Philly, Ohio State showed what it could do in the 400-meter final. The Buckeyes appeared to be breezing during the first two legs. But when OSU’s third runner tied up on the home stretch and Houston slid into the lead as the final leg got underway, the real racing got underway. Ohio State’s anchor Tyler Johnson was down 15 meters as he grabbed the stick and tore off in pursuit of Houston. Tyler, in full flight, ran down the Cougar anchor and re- grabbed the lead on the backstretch. The capacity crowd roared as the duo turned into the homestretch. Johnson was able to fend off the Cougar coming home as his dazzling 44.84 leg was just enough to give the Buckeyes the win in 3:03.91 with Houston finishing 2nd in 3:03.95.
• Women’s 600m Run: It was the marquee event of the Relays. A dream 600m event with a trio of stars: The Jamaican: Natoya Goule; The veteran, the reigning indoor world champion at 800m, and hometown favorite: Ajée Wilson; and the 2-time Olympic gold medalist and budding phenom: Athing Mu. As could be expected Wilson went to the front at the gun. Ajée laid down a spirited pace for 450 meters. But then it happened. Mu calmly swung wide; lengthened her stride, and effortlessly destroyed the entire field, crossing the line in 1:22.74. Goule crossed 2nd in 1:24.09. Wilson finished 6th in 1:25.87. Afterward, the winner gave a poised TV interview. Upon the conclusion of the interview, Mu struck a quick pose, smiled broadly, and waved. When you are that good you are permitted to do that.
In the frenetic days leading up to the return of the Penn Relays, Steve Dolan – newly- minted Frank Dolson Director of the Penn Relays – found a brief moment to tap out a text on how he envisioned the return of the Penn Relays. “We can’t wait to welcome everyone back to Franklin Field for the 126th running of the Penn Relays,” proclaimed Dolan who also serves as the Director of Track & Field and Cross Country at Penn. “With the outstanding entries across all levels and the Carnival Village that has been created, the 2022 Penn Relays is sure to be a memorable experience for all.” As promised, it has been. / Dave Hunter /