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Penn Relays Day Three: The Avengers

As amazing as the competitions are on every day of the Penn Relays, Saturday is always special. This Saturday was no different in that respect, but almost the entire day could be filed under “something you’ve never seen before”. If you were one of the nearly 48,000 fans that literally rocked Franklin Field to it’s foundation, you will be talking about some favorite aspect of this meet for years.

As the meet progressed through the afternoon, the cheering got louder, the atmosphere became more electric, and the runners seemed to respond. It was a warm day but not hot, and yet by the time the championship 4×800 races were being contested, several runners had to be helped off the track after completing their legs and collapsing. As always, the passionate, symphonic and colorful Jamaican fan contingent made their presence felt. This was great for the High School Boys 4×800 Championship, where the three top teams, all from Jamaica, seemed to be in a separate race, and the Penn Relays record for the event was obliterated.

However, in the USA vs The World, the Jamaicans won the Women’s 4×100, but fell to the US teams in the other five contests. In the women’s sprint medley relay (SMR) Team USA became Avengers, not only exacting revenge on the Jamaican team that nipped them in the 4×100, but confronting them with a reckoning as well. The US team of Destinee Brown (100), Aaliyah Brown (100), Kimberlyn Duncan (200) and Raevyn Rogers (400) opened up a larger and larger lead on the stunned Jamaicans and the rest of the field on each leg of the relay. Those four women, who had only one day together to synchronization their baton passes, sprinted their way into history setting a world record in the SMR of 1.35:20.

During the press conference and afterwards as well, the newest four World Record holders made it quite clear that they were motivated to make a statement with their race, and were not out to merely win the race, but to do so in as dominating s fashion as possible. Like Avengers you might say. Mission accomplished, and as they stood on the winner’s podium, and sat at the table in the press conference, they did so as the fastest four women in a SMR in the history of the world. Speaking with Raevyn Rogers afterwards, it was clear that the meaning of their record, their reckoning, was sinking in. She said “we never planned for a world record, just to go out and beat them (the Jamaican team) by a lot”. And then smiling, she admitted that the raucous cheering of the Jamaican fans probably factored in to their motivation a bit as well.

Moving from the sprints to middle distance, could the Villanova women follow up on their impressive double win in the 4×1500 and DMR and add the 4×800 Championship of America to their collection? The answer was a resounding yes, as the Wildcats not only won the event but ran the second fastest time in ‘Nova history. Second only to their own NCAA record for the 4×800. ‘Nova coach Gina Procaccio stuck with her plan to use her squad’s depth to win these races, and no runner ran any more than two of the three Relays. Fun fact, leadoff runner Kelsey Margey was also a member of the Villanova squad that set that NCAA record for this event.

As the races completed and the meet wound down, the fans were slow to disperse on this beautiful and historic day. They had seen Olympic Gold Medalists on the track and in the stands. They had seen a four minute mile garner only fifth place in the Championship event. And they had seen a World Record. And as they slowly wandered across the lawn of the Palestra, some stopped to dance a little more to the non-stop music, some grabbed a snack or souvenir and some just found a soft spot to rest a spell. But I think that all of them were leaving with something special and unique, a thing they would carry with them forever, a thing that would bring them back here again, they had fun. Track as fun is the essence of the Penn Relays, and the gospel according to Gatlin.

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