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Franklin Field hosts Penn Relays

26 April 2007

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By Elliott Denman

With the Osaka World Championships and the Beijing Olympic Games just over the horizon, the 113th edition of the Penn Relays -- running Thursday through Saturday -- will showcase an array of top international candidates.

They'll gather at Philadelphia's Franklin Field for the longest-running event of its kind in the world. The Penn Relays were first held in 1895, the year before the first modern Olympics were held in Athens.

There's an obvious reason why this huge undertaking is formally known as The Penn Relay Carnival. With often three or four major events ocurring simultaneously on the track, in any of the field event venues, it truly is a carnival.

"The electricity and the atmosphere have brought everyone from the far corners of the U.S., " said Villanova Coach Marcus O'Sullivan, twice a world indoor champion at 1,500 meters and Irish Olympian, at a Tuesday press conference.

"Everybody that's anybody wants to be here."

The series of "USA vs. the World" men's and women's relay races on the Saturday card are sure to hog the TV spotlight, but there's much more to the Penn Relays.

It's the high school and college races that top the popularity charts to veteran attenders of the Penn Relays. Given any kind of decent weather conditions, Penn's three-day attendance figures could easily approach 150,000, the nation's most massive track and field audience by far.

TV scheduling has squeezed the "USA vs. the World" relays into a three-hour time frame on Saturday. The women's sprint medley (with legs of 200-200-400-800 meters) kicks it off at 11:55 a.m. ET. Then it's the women's 4x100 , the men's 4x100, the men's distance medley (1200-400-800-1600), the women's 4x400 and the men's 4x400.

Still in the "to be announced" category is a listing of competing teams and relay-team makeups. Stay tuned for all that, says USA Track and Field, the organizing body for this mini-meet-within-a-meet.

But some big names have already emerged as probable team members, including Sanya Richards, Xavier Carter, Tyson Gay, Wallace Spearmon, Kelly Willie, Bernard Lagat, Hazel Clark, Kenia Sinclair, Andrew Rock, LaShawn Merritt, Kerron Crawford and Bershawn Jackson, all veterans of previous Penn Relays and global travel.

With Jamaica and USA teams expected to duke it out in the sprint relays, there's strong hope of 100-meter world record-holder Asafa Powell making an appearance in the Jamaican lineup.

Even with all this global talent on display, the high-schoolers and the collegians are at the nexus of it all. It's the duels of Jamaican and USA high school teams that annually rank highest on Penn Relays fans' excitement meters.

Despite its designation as a Relay Carnival, there's no shortage of individual event action. Races at 100 meters, one-mile, 5,000 and 10,000 meters, the 110 and 400 hurdles, and 3,000 steeplechase share the spotlight with the eight standard field events.

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