When track and field fans rank the best outdoor competitions in the nation, a couple of meets come to mind. The Prefontaine Classic, honoring former Olympian Steve Prefontaine, in Eugene, Ore., and the Adidas Grand Prix in New York, for being part of track and field’s professional circuit, are sure to be on the list. But topping them all is the oldest and most historic meet in America: the Penn Relays.
Several members of the women’s track and field team will be making the trip to compete at the historic meet, held at the famous Franklin Field at the University of Pennsylvania, beginning today and running through Sunday.
Every year since 1895, the Penn Relays draw many of the best track and field athletes — high school, college and professional — to Franklin Field. This year alone, more than 22,000 athletes will be competing.
For 18 of the best Bombers, Franklin Field will play host to one of the biggest meets of the season. One of the final competitions before the New York State Collegiate Track Conference and Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Championships, this meet is where the Bombers will aim to run, jump and throw their best, looking to earn or improve upon their qualifying marks for the NCAA Championships.
In addition to participating, the South Hill squad is excited to experience the meet atmosphere — a little reward for all the hours of practice the athletes have put in over the past few months.
“Penn Relays is always great,” junior Marcia McCord, who will be participating in the 4×100, 4×400 and sprint medley relays, said. “Everyone is out there to have a good time and run fast. You can’t mimic the atmosphere — or the deep-fried Oreos [sold at the meet]. The first time I went, it was a lot to take in. I was surprised to find that people come from all over just to run on that weekend. In those three days, there’s a lot of talent bustling through the stands.”
McCord said it’s a humbling experience because the athletes don’t know who they will encounter.
“You could bump into a Division I NCAA champ or sit 5 feet from [former U.S. Olympian] Justin Gatlin and not even know it,” she said.
The meet also gives the Bombers a chance to see how they fare against some of the best collegiate teams in Division I, II and III.
“Being at the meet alone, in an environment with thousands of talented athletes was a great experience,” junior Ashley Dlubac, who competed at the meet last year, said. “You get to watch people from all age levels and divisions compete.”
This year, the Bombers will get to see the best in the world compete. World record holder in the 100- and 200-meter dash and gold medalist in Beijing at the 2008 Olympic games, Usain Bolt of Jamaica is set to compete in the 4×100-meter relay as part of the USA vs. The World competition.
When McCord, Ithaca’s 100-meter record holder, found out that “Lightning” Bolt was competing, she was excited.
“He has made such an impact on the sport in the last few years,” McCord said. “I’ve honestly never seen so much diversity in an athlete that competes at the national level. He’s amazing.”
Also competing as a professional in the Olympic Development Women’s 5,000-meter race will be Amanda LoPiccollo ’04, who now races for the Syracuse Chargers Track Club.
Aside from all the action going on at the meet, the Bombers will have to remain focused on competing at the highest level in their respective races and events.
Looking at the meet as one that will prepare her for the upcoming championships, senior Melanie McCormick said the only key difference is the competition.
“I’m looking forward to racing against incredibly talented runners,” McCormick said. “When you race against runners that are better than you, you can only get better.”