It’s Penn Relays time! Which means the end of the relay season and the unofficial start of the Road to London. Now things have actually gotten rolling a bit earlier this year with several big names throwing down some outstanding marks: Blake 9.90, Dix 9.85w, Spearmon 19.95, Reese 23′ 4", Lowe 2 meters, Ahrass 3:52. All pre Penn.
But Penn will give us a glimpse of many headliners together in one place – before the Diamond League, before the Trials, before the Games. Penn gives us television coverage – a BIG deal here in the US. And Penn gives us a big raucous crowd – another huge deal here in the US. But perhaps the biggest deal of all is that Penn brings the world to America. Where once upon a time seeing the world’s best compete here in the US was a routine weekly experience, it’s more of a rarity now, and Penn has perhaps the largest overall group of "foreigners" to compete on American soil in any given year. Which is why Penn just may be our signature meet – USA vs the World.
So what stars will be on display this weekend? Well relays are the focus at Penn and several countries will have some of their best passing the baton starting with the Jamaican women who will have Shelly Ann Fraser , Kerron Stewart and Sherone Simpson on hand. The only name missing from their "A" 4×1 is Veronica Campbell Brown. The US could counter with Allyson Felix, Carmelita Jeter, Sanya Richards, and Bianca Knight all of whom will be on hand. This has the potential to be the highlight race of the meet .
I say that because the men’s version of the Jamaican squad looks to be missing Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Asafa Powell. I’m not sure why that is, but I hope the US coaches use the opportunity to get in a quality race; hone team passing; and produce a quality time. Jamaica has already put down a 37.82. Auburn University has cranked out a 38.30. I’d love to see the Penn squad go sub 38. Walter Dix and Justin Gatlin will be on hand and we should be able to provide enough fire power to accomplish that.
In the 4×4, Grenada is sending its squad which features Kirani James and Rondell Bartholomew – who could carry Grenada into the Olympic final on their legs. Jamaica will have half of their World Champs squad with Germaine Gonzales and Allodin Fothergill, while the US squad will put LaShawn Merritt, Angelo Taylor and Bershawn Jackson on the track – and I’m hoping to see Jackson and Taylor run better than in Daegu. Jamaica is sending Novlene and Shericka Williams to represent in the 4×4, but the going should be rough with Felix and Richards Ross teaming up with Jessica Beard and Francena McCorory again.
These relays are the core of the meet, but look for another potential showdown in the sprint medley relay between half milers Phoebe Wright and Kenia Sinclair – last year Sinclair split 1:57. Of course not everyone will be in Pennsylvania. It may be the biggest meet of the weekend, but if you’re following the distance crowd keep an eye on Palo Alto and the Cardinal Invitational where several top tier distance runners well be taking advantage of the mild weather, including: Morgan Uceny, Anna Pierce, Shannon Rowbury, Dathan Ritzenhein, Matt Tegenkamp and Jamal Ahrass. And decathlete Ashton Eaton will be competing in several different events as he prepares for the Trials.
The Drake Relays will also have its share of stars on hand with Wallace Spearmon, Jenny Simpson, Chaunte Lowe, and Christian Cantwell listed among the competitors.So the relay season should end with a bang this weekend! Then it’s on to the Diamond League before taking a pit stop at the Trials.