by Kevin Feeney
PHILADELPHIA - If you live to be 112 years old, there’s a good chance that you have seen everything there is to see. Unless, of course, you happen to be The Penn Relays, an event that continues to uncover new stars and establish track and field legends despite its age.
The 112th Penn Relays proved to be worth the price of admission for the record 114,191 spectators who witnessed this year’s meet. Superstars, such as Jamaican sprinter Asafa Powell and America’s sprint queen Lauryn Williams appeared in the “USA vs. the World” events and gave the crowd a glimpse of their world-class form.
Powell, the world record holder in the 100-meter event, dominated the field in the Olympic development 100m. Although his winning time of 10.10s ranks second to Carl Lewis in the Relay’s history, Powell’s race may have been more impressive because of the amount of energy, or lack thereof, that he needed to exert.
“I ran 30 meters and took it easy,” said the soft-spoken Powell. “I shut it down about 65 meters in (to the race.)”
While Powell thrilled the large Jamaican contingent on hand Saturday at Franklin Field, a bevy of U.S. track and field stars demonstrated the depth and strength of their country’s track program. The United States, in fact, won five of the six “USA vs. the World” events.
One of those events, the men’s 4x100m race, proved to be one of the most interesting and confusing in the history of The Penn Relays, as the title changed hands twice in a half-hour. The USA Blue team, headlined by Olympic champions Justin Gatlin and Shawn Crawford, appeared to have won the race convincingly with a time of 38.33s. After the race ended, however, the team was disqualified for running out of the box during a handoff and the victory went to Marcus Brunson’s USA White squad. Just as everybody recovered from that shock, the USA Blue team won an appeal and had their victory reinstated.
“It’s confusing,” said Crawford after hearing of the successful appeal. “I just hope it sticks this time.”
On the women’s side, the Lauryn Williams-led USA Blue team’s victory in the 4x100m event provided less drama as their male counterparts. Despite having a team that seemed to outmatch their competition in ability, Williams believed their victory should be attributed in part to an external factor.
“(The race) worked out really well weather wise,” explained Williams. “The good weather gave us good attitude. When you come to the Penn Relays, you don’t know what type of weather you are going to get.”
The ideal weather conditions may also have played a role in the world record-breaking times posted by both Team USA Blue and Team Kenya Black in the men’s Distance Medley relay. Unfortunately for the Americans, the Kenyans’ time finished seven hundredths of a second faster with a time of 9.15.56.
Fortunately for the Americans, Williams and her cohorts on Team USA Blue set a world record of their own in the woman’s Distance Medley event with a time of 3.37.16. Williams’ teammate, Rachelle Boone-Smith, did not appear overly impressed with her team’s accomplishment.
“That was a world record,” questioned Boone-Smith. “We had awesome legs, an awesome team, an awesome relay.”
In the college portion of the meet, there were two groups of competitors at this year’s meet, Louisiana State and everyone else. Of the 15 combined relay races at this year’s Penn Relays, LSU managed to nab five of them, highlighted by a sweep of the 4x200m events by both the men’s and women’s teams.
Kelly Ann Baptiste added some individual honors to the Tigers’ relay haul as she was named the College Women’s Athlete For Individual Events. Baptiste received the honor primarily because of her victory in the 100m dash, in which she equaled Lauryn Williams’s meet record of 11.10s.
In addition to LSU’s impressive performance, the Southeastern Conference acquitted itself well overall, as Arkansas and Tennessee combined for three titles. Arkansas, in fact, won their fourth men’s 4xMile relay event in five years after having finished second to Michigan last year.
“It’s nice to get back,” said Razorbacks’ head coach John McDonnell. “We’ve had a tremendous string of success at The Penn Relays. In my opinion, this is the best meet in America.”
In the field events, Florida State’s shot putter Garrett Johnson broke a Penn Relays record that had lasted for 22 years by throwing at 68’4 ½’’. In addition to winning the shot put event, Johnson was named College Men’s Athlete for Individual Events in recognition of his amazing feat. Major honors, however, are nothing new for Johnson who has also been awarded a Rhodes’ Scholarship.
Whereas LSU dominated the college portion of the meet, two Jamaican schools stood apart in the high school division, Holmwood Tech and Camperdown. In the high school girls’ events, Sonita Sutherland led her team to three victories on Friday in the 100, 400, and 800 relay events. Sutherland’s dominance included running the fastest split in the 800, anchoring the 400, and leading off in the 100. As a reward for her effort, Sutherland was named the High School Girls’ Athlete For Relay Events.
Whereas Holmwood Tech owned the girls’ events, Camperdown exuded a similar domination in the boys’ events by winning the 100 and 400 relays. In the 100 relay, Camperdown set the meet record with a time of 40.13s thanks in large part to Remaldo Rose’s strong second leg. In recognition of his contribution to both victories, Rose was named the High School Boys’ Athlete For Relay Events.
Judging by the performance of these budding young stars, future Penn Relays promise to hold as much drama and intrigue as the 112th edition.