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Monday, April 25, 2011

Penn Relays Preview

You want a Penn Relays preview?  You bet you do.  And while I'm a fan, and a self-styled pundit, and an obsessive, there's another guy out there who is the expert.  His name is Walt Murphy.

Murphy writes the Eastern Track newsletter and does stats for USATF Visa Championship Series broadcasts.  He's the man.  ESPN Rise has his Penn Relays preview issue online.
Here we go again. For many fans of the Penn Relays, this is the best weekend of the track and field year, second to none. Anticipation starts back in the fall, during the x-country season, and builds to a crescendo during indoors and the first few weeks of April. And now it’s here, with three days of action that has something for everyone.

With the Relays falling as late in the month as possible. hopes were high that we might be treated to warm temperatures. Fans have been checking the always-changing long-range weather forecasts for more than a week and the current outlook is a relatively good one. It looks like there will be highs near 70-degrees all three days, with a possible thunderstorm on Thursday.

Penn is always great, but it will be hard to match the excitement of last year’s Relays, when Usain Bolt’s presence helped draw a record crowd of 54,130. It’s not likely that he will be back this year, but he will hardly be missed(well, maybe a little).

There is great depth in the college men’s and women’s sprint relays this year, with Texas A&M and LSU leading the way in all six events.

No less than four men’s teams have already gone under 39-seconds in the 4x100 this spring--Texas A&M(38.71), LSU(38.78), Florida State(38.87),and Florida(38.81). A&M also tops the list in the 4x400 with a great time of 3:00.45, which is better than the Relays Record of 3:01.10. LSU is the #1 seed in the 4x200 with a time of 1:20.45.

In the women’s sprint relays, A&M has run 3:27.33 in the 4x400, which is faster than the Relays Record of 3:27.64, and they also have the fastest time in the 4x100--42.87. LSU has run 1:30.88 in the 4x200.

If the Tennessee women have another good weekend(they’ve won the three long relays the last two years), Chanelle Price could emerge as the all-time Penn Relays “watch-leader”. The junior from Easton Area(Pa) H.S. already has five prized watches, which are given to each winner at Penn, in her possession and is chasing Tennessee’s Cathy Rattray and Villanova’s Kathy Franey and Michelle Bennett, who share the lead at seven.

Price is entred in the distance medley on Thursday, the 4x1500 and sprint medley on Friday, and the 4x800 on Saturday. Whichever races Price runs(she’s not likely to do all four), Tennessee will be among the favored teams.

Villanova, with Sheila Reid on the anchor, won the women’s distance medley at the NCAA Indoor Championships and is favored in that event at Penn. The Wildcats haven’t won at Penn since taking the DMR in 2006. A hoped-for rematch with Oregon, which finished 2nd at the NCs, fell apart when the Ducks suffered some minor ailments and decided to pass on the Relays this year.

Robby Andrews, a freshman at the time, provided one of the great thrills at last year’s Relays when he ran down Oregon’s Andrew Wheating on the anchor leg of the 4x800 relay to give Virginia the victory. He missed the indoor season with a foot injury, but showed he’s back in top form after finishing 2nd in the 1500-meters at this past weekend’s ACC Champinships(running a 53.5 last 400). It’s not known at this time if he will run in all three events, but, in addition to the 4x800, Andrews is also entered in the sprint medley and distance medley.

Brigham Young has never won a relay at Penn (Clint Larsen won the men’s high jump in 1917!), but the Cougars are among the favorites in the men’s distance medley(they won the NCAA Indoor title) and the women’s 4x800.

Another team looking for a rare win at Penn is Indiana, one of the favorites in the men’s 4-mile relay. The Hoosiers haven’t won at Penn since they won the same event in 1954!

As always, Jamaica will be strong in the high school sprint relays, led by Munro College in the boys 4x100(39.92) and 4x400(3:10.66) and Vere Tech in the girls 4x400(3:33.17).

Bernard Lagat, Allyson Felix, and Sanya Richards-Ross are among the U.S. and international stars expected to be on hand for the 11th edition of the USA vs the World Series.

My thanks to Penn Relays Director Dave Johnson, Tim Hickey, Jack Pfeifer, Jim Spier, and for their help in putting together this preview.

Following is an event-by-event look at the 117th running of the Penn Relays. Bib numbers/letters are listed where available, as well as 2011 bests. Be sure to buy the Penn Relays program--it’s the best in the sport.

Really, there's a preview of every event. About 36 hours' worth of running events plus at least 50 field events. The mind boggles.

Read on...and on and on...

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