Sunday, May 1, 2011

Penn – The Power of the Relay


A packed stadium. Raucous crowd. Yelling, screaming, clapping, chanting, This is track & field at its best. This is what we get annually at Penn!

As other meets have either died or struggle to attract fans, Penn fills the seats every year – for FOUR DAYS! They say a meet shouldn’t last more than a couple of hours – you can’t prove it by Penn! They say you need to have a featured race run down the middle of Main Street to attract fans – you can’t prove it by Penn! They say you need World Record attempts to get the public to show up – you can’t prove it by Penn!

Penn presents track & field the good old fashioned way – great athletes, great competition, rivalries and relays – and it WORKS year after year! They get the best east coast high schoolers for the “local” fans and import Jamaican and west coast high school relay teams. They attract top level collegiate squads in their final tune ups before their championships runs. And they bring in some of the world’s best relay squads (replete with Olympic caliber athletes) for the USA vs. the World showdowns. Stir it up for four days and you have a packed stadium with the fans going CRAZY!

Like I keep saying, present top athletes to the public and they WILL come! You CAN prove THAT by Penn. USATF and meet promoters take note of the recipe.

As usual the competition kept the crowd on its feet as showdown after showdown had the fans engaged and rooting for their favorites. Full results can be found here, so I won’t recap them line by line. But between the results and what I was able to see of the meet online and on TV here are some thoughts that I came away with.

Going in I saw a chance for the U.S. relay squads to make some serious progress towards Daegu. I think our women’s teams did just that. I would be very comfortable with the women’s 4x1 squad at Penn representing us at Worlds in August. They looked crisp and competitive and and will only get better as they approach true “race shape” by the end of the summer. Ditto for the women’s 4x4 team. Though it’s clear with the 4x4 that we will have a minimum of six women vying for those final four spots – but that’s what I call a quality problem.

I’m a bit less excited by the men. I knew going in that without Tyson Gay it would be difficult getting a read on the men’s 4x1, but I didn’t expect to a) see Walter Dix look so ordinary, or b) see Justin Gatlin running a leadoff leg. Dix’ lackluster effort put the “Red” squad out of it from the gun Running from behind coupled with less than average handoffs, it was amazing that we only lost by .10sec. Spearmon was solid if unspectacular on second leg and Rodgers tried gamely to turn it over on anchor but it was Trell Kimmons’ third leg that brought us in reach in spite of running against last year’s rising sensation, Jamaican Nesta Carter. Between Kimmons’ effort on third leg (coupled with his run on leadoff in Zurich last year) and Dix’ performance on leadoff (there seems to always be the question of which Walter is going to show up at a meet), I’m now convinced that Kimmons should be our lead runner followed by Spearmon, followed by Gay. With the rest of the season an audition/search for someone to bring it home! And I must give Kudos to Jamaican’s Asafa Powell (who made Dix look ordinary) and Michael Frater as they made the first half of the Jamaican squad look in Daegu form! As for our “Blue” squad, that dog didn’t hunt. Gatlin is no leadoff, and it was further downhill from there with poor handoffs and average legs. They all have to show a lot more than I saw Saturday.

As for the men’s 4x4 squad, 3:02 says little to me. It’s nice to know that we can throw some long hurdlers out there in a pinch, but we can get high schoolers to run the 46 second legs we got from Clement, Gaymon and Dutch. Come Daegu we will need some 44’s and 43’s, because when it matters we’re not safe unless we’re running well under 2:57. Bottom line, it’s time for the quartermilers to step it up. It’s now May and nary a 44. Our 400 picture needs to start getting clear this month. And we’d better keep an eye on Grenada. Yes I said Grenada. Kirani James and Rondell Bartholomew looked lethal and will put Grenada in the thick of things if they are given a chance. If they can find two others to slip under 46.00 they could make a go of it on sheer will power – they have the talent! The Bahamas are solid and will threaten. Jamaica did not show up with their best – no Gonzales or Chambers. So while the win was nice, it was just a win and not a statement.

Speaking of statements, it’s clear from Penn that this year’s NCAA championships are going to come down to a show of will! Top squads were in town from LSU, Florida, Texas A&M among others. And though the top squads from the Pac 10 and ACC were missing, judging from the mixed results at Penn (no one dominating) focus and will power are going to be important elements. Because if you blink, flinch, botch a handoff, or simply hesitate there will be someone there ready to fly right by you! That was the statement made by the collegians at Penn, as no one is afraid and everyone is looking for that opportunity. The NCAA championships will be won by those that make the fewest mistakes and show up ready to compete!

Penn was great and signaled the next phase of the season as the collegians now head towards conference, regionals and nationals, and the elite season begins in earnest with Daegu (6th), Shanghai (15th) and Rome (26th) on tap this month!

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