Last weekend of April; Recap of Penn Relays
“No place in America brings together the track and field community like the Penn Relays at Philadelphia’s Franklin Field, run every year on the last weekend in April. Some 15,000 athletes compete, beginning early in the week with high school relays and culminating on Saturday afternoon when Olympians such as Usain Bolt and Allyson Felix race in the old stadium for crowds that regularly exceed 50,000. It is part athletic event and part family reunion, where a sport’s passion is annually reborn.”

Tim Layden
Oh, The Places You Can Go
Sports Illustrated April 9th 2012.

The last weekend in April. Spring is in full bloom and the Northeast USA begins the annual reawakening from the winter doldrums. This year though, was a little different. The winter season, unusually warm and strangely devoid of snow, raced along, giving everyone in the region hope for an early Spring and great Summer.

Alas, the last weekend of April comes along and it resembles what the last weekend of February should have been. Rainy. Cold. Less track weather and more NFL on the television weather.

Against this backdrop, teams of boys and girls, men and women of all levels of competition and abilities congregated at Franklin Field for the 2012 Penn Relay Festival. The overall vibe was different. The London Olympics are a scant few months away, so while several countries trying to reach qualifying times sent teams to Philadelphia, other countries and their stars stayed away, preferring to focus on the upcoming Diamond League races and getting ready for London.

So on a rainy, chilly April Saturday, the caravans of track and field fans-most of them Jamaican-from near and far entered the stadium on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania for the penultimate day of the meet. Many of the fans were there to support their alma maters or support friends. Some came to support family members, running for schools in their new homeland, building new legacies. Others simply came to Franklin Field to soak up the atmosphere, enjoy the food and mingle with one of the greatest crowds you will ever come across at a sporting event anywhere.

On this Saturday, with the temperatures approximately 40 degrees less than the Jamaican student-athletes were used to, it surprised no one that the times were slow and the results disappointing.

Both of the USA versus the World 4×100 relays (L) were won by the USA over watered down Jamaican teams. Not even the presence of the Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller could brighten the fortunes at that point.

After the US victories, the large crowd awash in green and yellow was subdued and in need of reason to cheer. They got it in the first College men’s 4×100 relay as UWI won in a time of 39.94. Despite the weather, the buzz was coming back. That race was followed by UTech (39.46) running a creditable second to Auburn University (39.34.)

That set the stage for the High School 4×100 relays.

Wolmers Boys and Jamaica College (R) ran first and second in their race, putting the crowd-estimated to be the fourth biggest Saturday crowd all time-into a nice buzz.

That was extinguished quickly however, as Junipero Serra High from California took down both St. Jago and Calabar in their 4×100. Kingston College had the fastest times pre-meet in the 4×100, but in their final with an unbeatable lead, they dropped the baton on the last exchange.

The USA versus the World 4×400 further served to quiet the crowd, as Jermaine Gonzales basically jogged the second leg and the USA again won going away. Ditto the women’s race, with Sanya Richards-Ross running better than she has in a couple of years now anchoring the US to a convincing victory.

So it was left to UTech to try and get the crowd back into it, and they did, easily defeating Texas A&M in the College Men’s 4×200 relay, even as their third leg runner appeared to suffer a cramp before the handoff.

Quite possibly the best race of the day was the High School Boys 4×800 relays, and again the Jamaican schoolboys came up short, as KC, St Jago and Holmwood all fell to the number one US team, Westfield from Virginia. The anchor leg runners of KC and Westfield ran a stirring final 150 meters that had the entire stadium on there feet down the stretch.

What is usually the crown jewel event of track, the 4×400 relay, was the last stand for the Jamaican high schoolers. With the sun peeking out (just barely on what I can attest was the coldest day in recent memory) Munro College took it home, winning ahead of Kingston College, Lodge HS of Barbados, Manchester High, Calabar and STETHS. Delano Williams of Munro, who provided a stellar performance in the 100 and 200 at the recent Boy and Girls Championship, sprinted the anchor leg as if it were a 100 meter race to finish in an astonishing 45.8 split. He will be a force to reckon with in the future.

Despite the cold and the bleak weather conditions the Penn Relays did not disappoint, and as the season progresses and culminates at the Olympics, fans will be watching the stars of today on the world stage. And the next generation of young men and women who make track special and the purest form of competition known to man will be getting ready. People like Edward Cheserek, Delano Williams, Danniel Thomas and Mary Cain.

Ready for the next run, the next race, the next season and on the last weekend of April, their moment in the sun.

Who knows, maybe next year we’ll see these guys out on the track trying to get in on the fun…

Thanks to for the great shots!