Usain Bolt Headlining the Penn Relays!!!

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The Jamaican track and field star Usain Bolt is expected to draw record crowds as he competes in this year’s Penn Relays Carnival at the University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field.  Bolt will be racing in the 4 x 100 meter relay as part of  the USA vs. The World series of events this Saturday evening (April 24) at 2:50 pm.  It’s hard to imagine that this years attendance is expected to well exceed the 104,000 athletes and spectators that historically attend over the three-day period, but that is just what Bolt’s world record speed has done for the sport. In addition, the USA vs. The World races will be televised on ESPN2 Saturday night from 8-10pm.  

So it’s obvious why this years track carnival is expected draw record crowds, right?  Every runner, thrower, jumper, and vaulter wants to witness the Olympic gold medalist make his first appearance at the world’s largest track meet.  Well a little known fact is that this is not Bolt’s first race at Franklin Field at all.  He actually  competed at the Penn Relays from 2001 to 2005 as a junior star with his teammates from William Knibb High School.  In fact, about half of the participants in the meet are high school athletes every year.   There is also always a strong attendance of Jamaican fans and student athletes, estimated at about 5,000 to 10,000 people each year.  The meet has become a cultural phenomenon with crowds that are so diverse in age and nationality.  Jamaican flags cover the stadium in green, black, and yellow and tents offering traditional Jamaican cuisines (like my favorite, Jerk Chicken) cover the surrounding grounds.  All this in the middle of Philadelphia, PA.

Just like Bolt, I too competed at the meet with my high school team for four years, and it was always the highlight of the never-ending track season.  There’s just no other opportunity for any high school athlete to compete in a professional atmosphere.  I’ll never forget chugging down the home stretch, baton in hand,  hearing the cheers and screams of thousands of strangers just expressing their love for the sport.  Everyone, regardless of age or nationality, comes together at the Penn Relays.  My parents always shared stories about how the Jamaican fans sitting around them in the stands joined forces with our relay team’s parents to cheer on each others’ kids.  And a lot of times the Jamaicans would be screaming louder for us than our own parents.  It’s a beautiful thing.

That’s what has made the Penn Relay Carnival such an amazing athletic and cultural event since its inaugural running in 1895.  Elementary school, middle school, and high school athletes get the chance to run along side the world’s top college and professional track stars in front of a sold out crowd of 52,000 screaming fans. That’s why Bolt has decided to return to the Philadelphia and race in the Penn Relays as an international superstar free of charge.  He is ignoring his usual six-figure appearance fee to be a part of the culture again.  I’ll never forget my experiences there and I’m sure Usain Bolt will not either.  So whether you consider yourself a runner or not, I employ you to one day make it to the meet, or at least tune in on ESPN2 this Saturday night.   There’s truly nothing like it in sports. Period.

I remember this from my schoolboy days. The atmosphere was wonderful then. So I just can’t imagine now running in front of them after being Olympic and world champion. So it should be very interesting.”    -Usain Bolt

*****And this just in!  Our very own Bucknell Bison are stepping up big at this year’s Penn Relays! Check it out!******

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6 Responses

  1. What do you think it is about the Penn Relays that fosters individuals from various cultures banding together and supporting one another?

  2. Both of my track-obsessed roommates were there this weekend, the one does marketing for Nike and got to watch all of this go down. He said it was just madness at the stadium and they had to wait a while for the crowd to quiet down just to start the race!

  3. I think various cultures and ages come together here simply over the love of the sport. While there are independent relay teams, clubs, and schools, everyone competes against the same records and history together. All fans can appreciate an athlete pushing through the pain to run a record breaking time. It all comes down to digging deep within yourself and pushing towards the finish line. Outcomes don’t depend on bad calls by referees or cheap shots. All fans enjoy seeing runners race against the clock and field athletes battle the tape measures.

  4. Nicole:
    I was actually there this weekend as well, and your friend was absolutely right. Everyone in the stadium went nuts when the world’s fastest man stepped on the track! It was even crazier after his race finished. Bolt took a nice slow victory lap after winning the race so that every section of the stadium got a chance to cheer him on. His race was part of the USA vs. The World series of events, but USA and the world alike equally appreciated his performance.

  5. Why is T&F not more popular as a spectator sport in the US? I am guilty of not paying much attention, myself. I mean, I know who Jackoie Joner Kersee, Jesse Owens, Edwin Moses, and so on are. Although I am drawing a blank on recent stars.

    A race is the essence of competition. Sprints are nice and short. Lots of people participate in running.

    I don’t get it. What is its rank in terms of spectators, TV coverage, sponsorship dollars, or some other measure of public awareness?

  6. I’m not sure on specific numbers as far as coverage and sponsorships go, but it’s certainly no secret that track and field is not publicly popular. I can only think of a handful of times per year that a meet makes it on one of the dozens of channels that cover college and professional sports competition.

    I think its lack of popularity stems from the connotation of running with punishment. Other organized sports typically utilize running for punishment or getting in shape to play the “real sports”. Many high school athletes who compete in track and field also only do so to stay in shape for football or soccer season.

    It’s a shame that track and field is often passed off as a hobby or arduous workout. But the world has to realize sooner or later that track and field was the original sport and IS the Olympics.

    Perhaps it’s up to showboating, record breaking athletes like Usain Bolt to spread the word???

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