It's nearly a unanimous feeling among the world-class athletes who will compete in Saturday's "USA vs. the World" races that the Penn Relays is a special place to be every year.
But in 2012, with the Olympics arriving in a little more than three months, the runners are getting together to practice as a relay team and develop some chemistry among themselves.
"It's definitely time to line up and put our best team together and get the stick around," Carmelita Jeter, the 100-meter gold medalist in last year's World Track and Field Championships, said Friday. "I believe the USA team is training really hard right now, and the Penn Relays is definitely the first place that we want to get the stick around and get this chemistry together so that we can build for London 2012.
In the 2008 Olympics, both U.S. 4x100-meter relay teams did not get past the semifinals after dropping the baton. USA Track and Field has done a better job since then of preparing relay teams for world competitions, and the U.S. went 3 for 4 last year at the World Championships in the men's and women's 4x100 and 4x400.
"When [the handoff] is done right it looks extremely easy," U.S. sprinter Walter Dix said. "But it takes a lot of work to get that done correctly."
But it won't be all business. This is the Penn Relays, where Americans, Jamaicans, and other track fans will be cheering for their favorites Saturday.
"The best part of being at Penn Relays to me is definitely the crowd participation," Jeter said. "They're definitely screaming and shouting, and I enjoy that part more than anything."
A bittersweet finale
When Villanova's Sheila Reid got the baton for the anchor leg in the 4x1,500-meter relay, what would be her last race as a Wildcat at the Penn Relays, she was 100 meters behind pacesetting Oregon and not happy.
Reid wound up third, trailing first-place Oregon and Georgetown, and the joy of her first carnival victory on Thursday had been diluted a little.
"It's hard to come off the high of last night and then to come here and not even be competitive, it's just kind of a huge letdown for all of us," Reid said. "We just need to run with a lot more heart than that. I'm confident that every girl will bounce back."
Wildcats coach Gina Procaccio said the team would pass on Saturday's 4x800 relay to get some of her runners healthy and ready for next week's Big East championships.
Texas A&M posted the fastest time in both the women's 4x200-meter relay (1:32.84) and the men's 4x400 (3:07.77) in Friday's qualifying.
The Aggies' men also qualified in the 4x100 and 4x200. The leaders of those heats were LSU, 39.72 in the 4x100 and UTech of Jamaica, 1:22.61 in the 4x200.
Some of the field event highlights were Marquise Goodwin, who also plays football for Texas, winning the long jump with a leap of 25 feet, 91/2 inches, and Joe Kovacs of Penn State taking the shot put with a heave of 65 feet, 5 inches. Kovacs' win was the third for the Nittany Lions in field events at this year's carnival.