Penn Relays Ramp Up on Day Two
After an exciting day of Track & Field yesterday, the Penn Relays kicked it up a notch Friday.
Despite some morning rain and a persistent overcast that held the crowd down some, the carnival aspect of the Relays permeated the event. Not just the fans cheering and chanting inside the stadium. But the throngs of fans, competitors, students and everyday people milling about the extensive vendor area, spilling out and engulfing a good portion of University City and beyond in the process. People come to Philadelphia literally by train, plane, and automobile (or bus) to celebrate the Penn Relays. I chose PATCO again, taking the subway to the end of the line near Rittenhouse Square, and walked the balance of the way.
The Relays revealed themselves almost as soon as I hit street level. At Rittenhouse, there was a guy walking his Lab, wearing a USATF sweatshirt. The guy, not the dog. And when I stopped at Sweet Charlie’s on Walnut, I stood in line for my waffle behind part of the Mississippi State team. And the woman holding court outside of WXPN World Cafe, was explaining the genesis of the enormous silver running shoe earrings she sported. The Schuylkill River Trail, which runs just behind Franklin Field had it’s usual contingent of joggers augmented on this day by hordes of young men and women, moving much faster and surer than the joggers wearing uniforms. Uniforms that said NC State, Georgia Tech, Navy, Penn State, UConn, Cal State, St. Joe’s and Methacton. And that was just while I was crossing the bridge. An interesting perspective of the field venues in the distance from that bridge as well.
During the USA vs The World press conference, one of the panelists, reigning 100 meter champ Justin Gatlin, referenced the unique Penn Relays atmosphere several times. He spoke of the meet as being a “Carnival” and said that one of the things he liked best was it was fun. He spoke of the wide spectrum of runners in the meet, from school kids through high school, college, post-collegiates, and even the pro’s like him. All of them competing on Franklin Field in the same meet, track as it should be, track as fun.
As if to illustrate the point, one fellow panelist, former NCAA 400 meter champ Michael Cherry from LSU told the following story.
When he was at Penn Relays as a high schooler, he snuck onto the infield section of the track to try and get pictures of a few of his favorite athletes. One of the pictures he took was with Justin Gatlin, aided in his surreptitious endeavor by none other than La Shawn Merrit, Gatlin’s current training partner! Also of interest to the local running community, another panelist, Oregon’s Raevyn Rogers confirmed she will be moving to Philadelphia to pursue her art career, as well as continuing her track career,
Of all the great action on the track so far, I’ve been most impressed by one of Philly’s local favorites, Villanova University. Especially the accomplishments of their women distance runners. I had seen them perform in the Big East Championships, where they helped the Wildcats take the indoor title this winter, and many of the same runners have excelled over the past two days.
Led by Nicole Hutchinson, the Villanova women won Championship of America marquee distance events, the 4×1500 meter relay, and the Distance Medley Relay. Hutchinson, as modest off the track as she is fierce on it, ran the lead-off leg of the DMR, recaptured, and extended the lead as the anchor on the 4×1500. Villanova coach Gina Procaccio, acknowledged both the depth of her squad and the fact that in the 4×1500, she had told the first three legs not to try and be heroes, but to just get it to the anchor (Hutchinson) in a good position. Procaccio said she knew that if it was close, she had a runner who could “beat anyone out there.”
Looking forward to day three with the USA vs The World, and what should be some very competitive Championship of America collegiate finals. And as a postscript to my thoughts back on day one, I did see something I’d never seen before. The top three teams in the High School Girls National 4×100 relay, all eclipsed the US number one mark for the event for this year. A singular event to be sure, but I suspect the 124th Penn Relays has a few more in store.
Full event results through Friday can be seen at https://www.thepennrelays.com/