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Penn Relays Preview - SteveU

Seven Things That Make Penn Special, Seven Biggest Questions, Seven to Watch

April 26-28, 2007 Franklin Field, Philadelphia PA

DyeStat on-site coverage

A Different Kind of Penn Preview

By Steve (SteveU) Underwood
DyeStat News Editor

I was teased recently by a fellow scribe about this year being my initial Penn Relays and
that I would have to be “initiated.” But the truth is that this is Penn #2 for me as I made
my initial visit to Franklin Field in late April in 2006. It’s embarrassing that it didn’t
happen until nearly 30 years into my life as a track participant and junkie, but indeed,
there is no other meet like it.

The other day, I imagined what it would be like to take someone – a parent of a high
school runner, say – to the Penn Relays who had never experienced the sport before,
beyond the local dual meets, invitationals, and championship series in the “average”
state. How would I describe Penn to them? How would I tell them how different it is?

Well, I thought of seven things right off the bat. And, keeping in the theme of seven
things in 2007, I also came up with Seven Big Questions for the high school portion of
this extravaganza and Seven Athletes/Teams Not To Miss. Three sevens, as any gambler
knows, are very lucky – and hopefully I can conjure up some luck with this to bless us
with a break from the generally cold and rainy forecast this weekend! So here goes:

Seven Things That Make Penn Special

1. The Tradition – Any time a meet’s been going on a gazillion years – ok, 113, to be
exact – you’ve got to have tradition. But tradition’s not just a function of age. It’s just
something you feel when you enter the stadium, that sense of history, that you are a part
of something that’s taken place for all of time, yet is still as exciting and vibrant as it’s
always been. The atmosphere is like nowhere else in track (even without the people,
which I’ll get to), the way the brick edifice encases the field (kind of an old-school
Camden Yards thing, if you’re a baseball fan).

I think this is the only track meet that when I’ve walked on the field, I feel like I’m in a
professional sports facility, like Yankee Stadium or something. It’s a special feeling.

2. The Program – I don’t mean the publication you can get about the meet which is like
nothing else in the sport (more on that later, too). I mean the way the meet is scheduled.
For all the events and all the kids (plus collegians and pros) that you’ve got to run
through, I think they’ve done a pretty darn good job of pacing the meet.

Of course, there’s nothing like watching 40+ heats of the 4x4 or 4x1 to set the standard
for relays. But what I’m talking about is the blending of these relays, the buildup to the
“Championship of America” races, the mixing of the prep, college, and elite events, and
the way the whole thing builds to a crescendo on Saturday – even with all the drama the
two days before.

They’ve done a good job of making you feel like the events really are “The Championship
of America,” and instituting the USA vs. The World relays some years ago was a good
move to bring the meet to a new level.

3. The Jamaicans – What other meet can you go to and feel the energy of an international
rivalry (even to the point of feeling outnumbered in one’s own country)? It’s Penn. The
Jamaican teams bring a special vibe here, but more than anything it’s the fans, especially
Saturday, that just create a wild atmosphere unlike anything in the sport. The roar of the
crowd as a Jamaican relay anchor brings it home for a dramatic victory is a unique
experience, that’s for sure.

While the fans from Jamaica don’t have as much to cheer about in the professional ranks,
they have dominated the prep relays, from 4x800 on down, over the years (especially
recently). One wonders if “we” can get as boisterous if an American high school can pull
the upset this year in one of these relays. Maybe we’ll find out.

4. The prep distance trifectas – Within the energy of the whole meet, there’s something
separate and special about that time of the day Thursday and Friday when you’ve got the
prep mile, 3k, and DMR in short order. Twilight is beginning to fall at that time and you
sort of feeling like the whole day has been building to this. If you’re a distance fan,
there’s a sustained drama and excitement during this stretch that has its own special,
indescribable feeling.

Unfortunately (if you’re a Penn distance fan), some of the vibe of the Thursday night
distance carnival has diminished over the years as many of the elites have sought the
Stanford meets and other venues. But that’s for the collegians and the elites. The prep
distance events remain strong.

5. The Journey to the Throw Venues – You can go to the outskirts of the stadium and see
them. They don’t seem that far away. But getting to where they’re throwing the javelin
and discus is a true adventure. Us hardcore fans – even me in only my 2nd Penn – can
smugly say that you haven’t completely “done Penn” unless you’ve ventured out to the
throwing venues.

How do you get there? Oh, you just go out of the stadium, over to and across the bridge,
down the street and across, around that building over there, down the stairs, across the
railroad tracks, through the tunnel, through the woods, over that mountain pass – ok, I’m
going a bit too far, but you get the picture.

But you can’t just not go, otherwise you might miss a new record or US leader by Kam
Hayes or Karlee McQuillen, or …

6. The program – NOW we’re talking about The “Penn Relays Program.” As Walt
Murphy says, “It’s the best in the sport.” As the kids on the DyeStat message board say,
“QFT” (quoted for truth) or just “troof.” It’s packed with all the history of more than
100 years of incredible track moments. It has EVERYTHING. You might be able to get
through some of it during some of those relays, if you really want to, but better to spend a
few hours with it after the meet to really enjoy. A true track nut keeper.

7. The Split Crew – Ok, this one’s kind of personal, because how many fans or
competitors will really get to experience this? But if you’re steveu, you go hang out with
the split crew at the meet, parked up about halfway and in the middle of the finish area.
These are many of the godfathers of the sport, taking the splits of the top relay races and
feeding the info to the announcers, and recording it for posterity. For someone like me,
who’s been reading track publications for 30 years, it’s a who’s who of the sport up
there. Here’s to my fellow track journalists!!

Seven Biggest Questions at The Penn Relays

(for prep events, of course)

1. How fast will Yohan Blake and St. Jago fly? – Most years at Penn, the fans await a
chance to get to see the breakout star of the year from the Jamaican Championships, and
this year is no exception. The man of the weekend is expected to be 17-year-old Yohan
Blake of St. Jago. At the March 28-31 championships in Kingston, Blake ran 9 races in
four days. With the stick, he anchored his school to eye-popping 4x1 and 4x4 times of
39.80 and 3:09.51.

On his own, he showed his progress since he won the 100 bronze at World Juniors in
Beijing last summer by hitting 10.21 in the 100 and 20.62 in the 200. Then at the Carifta
Games April 7-9, he lowered that 100 PR to 10.11. All three marks were with legal
wind. Expect to hear the biggest cheers when he gets the baton.

2. Which American team has the best chance to break up a Jamaican sprint relay sweep?
– This year there are at least two schools who have, in their own ways, pointed to this
meet all year. Eleanor Roosevelt coach Desmond Dunham has made no bones about this
being a peak week for his girls, who shine most brightly in the 4x2, 4x4, and 4x8 relays.
The 4x8 may be their best hope, where they’ve run 9:01 indoors and may have what it
takes to challenge 8:50. That’s what it will probably take to beat Holmwood (8:50.77).

There’s also Long Beach Poly, which has been here on occasions before, but not in 2006.
This year they bring relay teams anchored by 46.02 400 runner Bryshon Nellum and
53.78i/41.74 300H runner Turquoise Thompson, respectively. At Arcadia, Long Beach
Poly ran 3:14.63 4x4, and 1:28.43 for the 800 sprint medley. 3:14 is a long way from
3:09, but we’ll see.

In the girls 4x400, however, the times of 3:40.48 (Roosevelt) and 3:41.17 (Poly) are not
so far from Holmwood’s 3:38.49 at their champs (though Holmwood ran 3:34.29 in
another meet). ER and LBP have a score to settle, too. Not only did they have that
torrid finish at Arcadia, but both were the victims of DQs a week later at Mt. SAC. Their
motivation to beat each other might be as great as beating the Jamaicans.

3. Will Danielle Tauro and the Southern Regional DMR return to top form?

One of the biggest surprises of the indoor season was what didn’t happen. At NIN, most
thought that Danielle Tauro – riding a long string of championship wins – would rule the
mile and anchor her team to at least a near-record DMR win. Neither happened, as the
Southern Regional girls just didn’t quite have it – for various reasons – and Alex Kosinski
(4:45 mile) and Eleanor Roosevelt’s DMR (11:48) had super days.

Tauro will not defend her mile title here, but she will – along with super soph Jillian Smith
– lead her DMR team into battle. If Tauro and Smith can run in the neighborhood of
4:45 and 3:30 for their 1600 and 1200 legs, a near US-record time could be possible. But
the cooperation of weather will be one potential impediment, and whether or not the team
has truly returned to form another.

4. Who will be the brightest individual prep distance star of the meet? – Last year you’d
have to say it was Tauro in the mile and Matt Centrowitz in the 3k. Centrowitz will again
be a factor, but this time in the mile. After a great indoor season that included fine
performances from 1000 meters, to a mile (4:08), to the 2-mile (NIN runner-up),
Centrowitz will be in the favorite’s role this time. It’s a fascinating field he faces,
however, including Charles White CO, Paul Springer PA, Luke Puskedra UT, and
Andrew Perkins WI.

For the girls side, fans of Ashley Higginson for a long time bemoaned that as one of the
best in the country, she didn’t get proper recognition in a Tauro-dominated Jersey scene.
Well, after what she’s done the past 5 months, she doesn’t have to take a back seat to
anyone. Higginson has been on a real roll since winning the NTN race in December.
Indoors, she won the NSIC 2M in a scintillating 10:16.75, then ran 16:38.51 5k outdoors
a few weeks back. She should certainly defend her 3k title … but how fast can she go?
The record is certainly within reach.

5. Which defending NON champion girls thrower will have the most outstanding mark?
– Like I said earlier, don’t miss the throws outside the track, especially the girls shot put
and javelin. In the former, Kamorean Hayes NC has already thrown a in/out PR 52-06.50
indoors this year, well up on the Relays record of 50-00.75. In the latter, Karlee
McQuillan has hit a US#1 157-03 outdoors, just short of her PR 162-04 from last year.
The Penn record is 154-03.

6. How fast will Craig Forys anchor his DMR? – The Colts Neck NJ sr loves those relay
anchors. He’s run 4:05-4:06 three times the last two years indoors. He hasn’t quite
backed it up with an open time of the same stature. Here, the NIN 2-mile champ will
forsake the 3k he ran last year for the DMR anchor. His team isn’t the favorite, but could
run the sub-10:20 necessary to win if his teammates are solid and he has another of those
magic 1600 anchors.

7. Can Devon Bond finally hit 7-1 or better? -- Ok, we’re getting to the nitty-gritty
here. In the jumps, one of the best athletes will be Trenton Central NJ sr Devon Bond.
He has cleared 6-10 to 7-0 in the HJ what seems like a dozen times. It seems like he’s
attempted 7-1 almost as many times (probably only he knows how many). His health was
in question in a recent report, but if he’s right, he will attempt a HJ title defense and hope
to finally get that breakout mark that will keep him close to 7-3+ jumpers like Grant
Lindsay TX and Randall Carter NE.

Incidentally, in the girls HJ, Ashley Gatling will have a similar path as defending champ.
She recently finally matched the PR she had from her soph year at 5-10 and would love
to get that 6-foot barrier.

The Seven Top Athletes to Watch

1. Yohan Blake, Jamaica – 4x1, 4x4
2. Bobby-Gaye Wilkins, Jamaica – Probably the top female Jamaican runner this year,
from Holmwood. Expect her in the 4x4 and 4x8. She ran 52.14 at the Jamaican champs.
3. Kimberly Williams, Jamaica – Triple-jumped 44-04.25 at the Jamaican champs. Too
bad Ke’Nyia Richardson isn’t here.
4. Ashley Higginson, NJ – 3k
5. Kam Hayes, NC – SP
6. Craig Forys, NJ – DMR anchor
7. Matt Centrowitz, MD - mile

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