Like the Phillies' season-opener, the Penn Relays is a signature event that allows one to dream of warmer days just around the corner.
Starting Tuesday morning with the men's decathlon, the 115th running of the Relays will take place again this year, with what director Dave Johnson labeled a "field as strong as ever." The meet will finish on Saturday, with ESPN2 joining in for the final 2 hours, from 4 to 6 p.m.
As usual, the big question is which professionals will make an appearance. According to Johnson, the Jamaicans will have a good showing at the Relays, fueling speculation that triple-gold Olympic star Usain Bolt might be laying his golden spikes down on the Franklin Field track.
"The Jamaicans will have an exceptionally good 4 x 400 relay team," Johnson said at a press conference yesterday at Penn. "I don't know if Usain Bolt will be coming. Usafa Powell may be coming. It's hard to say with the professional athletes. We may have the lineups by Monday [when there is another press conference]."
What is known is that the college field is, as usual, very strong. Coach Mike Holloway will be bringing his strong contingent of men and women from the University of Florida. The most notable name among the Gator men is freshman sprinter Jeff Demps, who gained close to 750 yards of offense for the national champion Gator football team. Demps will be part of both the 4 x 100 and 4 x 200 teams.
"The main thing about Jeff right now is that he's about 10 pounds heavier, but it's all muscle," Holloway said. "He's had to adjust to carrying the extra weight but he's doing a marvelous job of it. He's gonna be fine. He's all track right now. He went to the very first day of spring [football]. I actually had a talk with coach [Urban] Meyer about letting him be full-time track for the rest of the season and then he'll go back to football as soon as he can."
Texas coach Bubba Thornton, who was the men's track and field coach at last year's summer Olympics in Beijing, is excited at what he is bringing north next week.
"I want to believe we're bringing a really complete team up there," said Thornton. "A lot of people come to Penn to try to win one of your Championships of Americas, which is quite a feat in itself. We're still trying to put our team together that will represent us at the Big 12 championships. We're gonna bring a full slate of athletes. We're bringing a good team and we're just honored to be at the Penn Relays."
Thornton said his 4 x 800 team, led by senior Jacob Hernandez, is one of his stronger entries. Last year at Penn, Hernandez helped lead the Longhorns to wins in both the 4 x 800 (7:23.51) and distance medley (9:32.80). By also capturing the 4 x mile, Texas became one of five schools to win all three distance races.
Villanova alum J.J. Clark will lead his women's national indoor champion Tennessee club back to West Philly. Clark said his team had been hampered by injuries recently, but is excited about next weekend. The Volunteers will be trying to avenge last year's three second-place finishes in the 4 x 800, 4 x 1,500 and the distance medley.