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Bridget Franek, 2011 U.S. Outdoor, Photo by PhotoRun.net

Steepler Bridget Franek Glides Over Barriers - On and Off The Track

When you first meet Bridget Franek, what strikes you is her poise. For a young athlete - Franek is 24 - she exhibits the type of calm demeanor that is not commonly found among newly-minted college graduates working to find their way in the country's "new reality." This is likely learned behavior for Franek whose pathway to the present has taught her to be a flexible, quick study. Don't be mistaken, this up-and-coming steeplechaser has not had the type of ghastly childhood that nearly overwhelmed, say, Lolo Jones - far from it. But Franek's solid Midwestern upbringing - with occasional new directions and all-in commitments - has given her the quiet confidence to understand that she is able to meet and effectively address the challenges she willingly undertakes for herself.

In the coming days, Bridget Franek will take another step in that direction as she runs in the first round of the Women's 3000 meter steeplechase. Taking one race at a time, the Penn State graduate is aiming for a qualifying performance that will put her in the steeplechase final which will be run on Friday in the twilight. While the races, of course, have to be run, the stars and planets are in proper alignment for her. "I am healthy and probably have the best fitness I have ever had," notes Franek. And she has the all-important Olympic "A" standard, having run sub-9:43 several times earlier this spring. No stranger to international competition, Franek ran the steeplechase on U.S. teams in Berlin in 2009 and in Daegu in 2011. Citing her impressive PR of 9:32.35, Track & Field News projects her as a top three finisher in the Trials steeplechase which would send her to her first Olympic games. Ah, if it was just that simple...

An enormous athletic talent, Franek has developed the ability to roll with change and undertake new challenges. As a youngster, Franek first shied away from running - both her parents are accomplished runners - as she focused her attention on soccer. But then she saw clearly that a change should be made. "From my junior year of high school, I decided that running was probably going to be where I would get the best opportunity," says Franek. "So I decided to do cross country so that I could send some of my times out to the college coaches who would be looking for athletes."
It was the right move. Slightly more that 18 months after her shift to running, Franek concluded her high school career by winning the 800, the 1600, the 3200, and anchoring Crestwood High School's winning 4 x 800 relay in the Ohio state high school track and field championships.

In college, as a member of Beth Alford Sullivan's accomplished program at Penn State, Franek made a quick and solid transition and performed well enough to be named Big Ten Freshman of the Year. But patience and flexibility were nonetheless required as she and her coaches methodically worked to find her best event. Franek, who had never run a steeplechase or even cleared a steeple barrier before entering college, was willing to give the odd, new event a try. Once again. her open-mindedness was rewarded. Two years later she made the U.S. World Championship team and competed in the steeplechase in Berlin. Patience and consistent focus allowed Franek to steadily improve - she topped off her successful collegiate career by winning the steeplechase title at the 2010 NCAA Championships.

With college behind her, Franek once again found herself facing options and choices. She went all in. Willing to make a commitment to explore her full potential as a track and field athlete, Franek moved from her comfortable Midwest surroundings to Eugene - where the action is. Joining the Oregon Track Club, Franek soon found herself training daily with the likes of Lauren Fleshman, Sally Kipyego; and Geena Gaul. "I love to train with people who are better than I am. That is why I moved to Oregon. Being around greatness definitely helps me to improve. The girls here are at such a high level. It [the elite training] allows me to assess the level where I am currently."

The change of residence also brought a change in coaching philosophy. Franek is now guided by Mark Rowland, an '88 Olympic steeplechase medalist whose no-nonsense approach to training is calculated to promote athlete independence. No worries - the flexible Franek embraced Rowland's new perspective. "Coach Rowland is night and day different from my college coach. He is an extremely professional guy." notes Franek. "I love how he coaches because it really empowers the athletes. His goal is to get us to the starting line and to train us so that we don't need him anymore. We are trained to be completely independent and capable of reaching our potential by ourselves. We trust him with our training. He has a bigger perspective and knows that he can't be there at every one of our competitions. He knows we have to do it by ourselves."

Franek will need to bring that empowered and independent approach to Hayward Field as she seeks a top three finish in the steeplechase - a placing that would guarantee her a position on her first U.S. Olympic team. While Franek and Colorado's Emma Coburn - the defending national steeplechase champion who red-shirted this past year to focus on an Olympic bid - are viewed as the class of the field, the women's steeplechase is a relatively new and underdeveloped event where unanticipated break-through performances by discounted competitors are distinctly possible. Not surprisingly, Franek views this coming challenge with her customary measured approach.
"While I am planning on being in the final, I am taking one race at a time. I just want to be in the top three. It doesn't even matter how it happens. As long as I am in the top three, that's the ideal race for me."

Given Franek's unflappable approach to the challenges she encounters and her prior track record of success, the upcoming Olympic Trials steeplechase races, while formidable, appear to be hurdles she can clear.

Kibwe Johnson, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, Photo by PhotoRun.net



"Hammer Time" Rousing Success

It is difficult to imagine a better beginning. Yesterday afternoon, under sun-drenched skies, the highly-anticipated 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track & Field began on a regal and enthusiastic note. An over-capacity crowd of joyful track and field fans gathered on Ronaldo Field, adjacent to the Tiger Woods Center on the Nike world campus, to revel in "Hammer Time" - the Olympic Trials for the Men's and Women's Hammer Throw. The throng - which by some estimates numbered over 2500 - filled the bleachers and ringed the sector to exhort on the hammer warriors as they battled for the Olympic berths.



2012 Nike Prefontaine Classic, photo by PhotoRun.net


Nothing Compares to Hayward Field

As soon as you walk into Hayward Field, you know you are on holy ground. The pristine track, the unmistakable roofline, the manicured yellow chrysanthemums surrounding the steeplechase water jump, the statue of Bill Bowerman clutching his stopwatch next to what has come to be known as the Bowerman curve - all serve notice that this is a special place. Even the wood-chipped trail leading from the adjacent warm-up facility to the main track and field area is a reminder that this athletic venue is like no other. Don't be misled by the state-of-the-art multicolored electronic scoreboard; Hayward Field is old school all the way. Just as Wimbledon is to tennis or Augusta National is to golf, Hayward Field is the quintessential home of track and field.

Will U.S. Marathoners Shine At Olympics’ Storied Venue? 

On a clear and bracing Saturday morning in January, six American athletes – three men and three women - prevailed on the streets of Houston, captured the top three places in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, and became the first members of the 2012 United States Olympic Team. And while the jubilant, flag-draped Olympians hugged each other, engaged in TV interviews, and posed on the podium for photographs, each knew – deep down - that their Trials accomplishment, while significant, was only yet another in a series of critical steps. Now the real test lies before them: the Olympic marathon…in August…in London.

In the weeks leading up to the XXX Olympiad, there will be much speculation about the marathon races. And if a review of London’s Olympic history – it hosted the Games in 1908 and 1948 - can provide any clues, those races are likely to feature rigorous competition, a few surprises, and perhaps some late-race drama.

The Brits can be fussy lot about many things – and the Olympics are no exception. London wasn’t even originally selected to host the Games in 1908. That honor was bestowed upon Rome. But when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 1906 and disrupted the original plans, the International Olympic Committee tapped London to step up and host 1908 Games. Amid the flurry to prepare for the Summer Games, the British Olympic Association mapped out a point –to-point course from Windsor Castle to the Olympic Stadium in London. Since marathon courses in the early 20th century lacked a uniform distance, the BOA had some discretion not only in constructing the marathon course but also in setting the distance. After much course tweaking to address complaints about tram lines and cobblestones, the course distance stood at 26 miles. But a further course accommodation was still required. To afford Queen Alexandra the best view of the final meters of the race, the course was altered yet again – to its final length of 26 miles 385 yards - by providing an unorthodox clockwise circuit of the stadium track and a finish in front of Her Majesty’s Royal Box. On marathon race day, the Queen witnessed a dramatic finish. The marathon leader, a diminutive Italian named Dorando Pietri, entered the stadium exhausted and confused. After beginning to run around the track counterclockwise – the customary, but, in this case, the wrong way - and then falling several times, Pietri was assisted by officials who helped him across the finish line. Pietri – who committed no race violations himself - was promptly disqualified for the unauthorized acts of the assisting officials. The win – somewhat tainted - and the gold medal were awarded to bewildered American Johnny Hayes – the second runner to cross the finish line. Proclaimed by many in attendance as “the greatest race of the century”, the dramatic 1908 Olympic marathon is believed to have been instrumental in influencing the International Amateur Athletic Federation to act in 1921 to set the official marathon distance at 26 miles 385 yards.

The Summer Games returned to London in 1948. As was the case with the ’08 Olympics, London wasn’t originally scheduled to host the ’48 Games. London had been provisionally selected to host the 1944 Olympiad. But when World War II prompted a 12 year Olympic hiatus, London was named to host the Games of the XIV Olympiad in the summer of 1948. While the headlines were dominated by the athletic exploits of Dutch sprinter Fanny Blankers-Koen – “The Flying Housewife” – and teenage decathlete Bob Mathias, the Olympic marathon dished up yet another dramatic London finish. The lead runner, a Belgian named Etienne Gailly, entered Wembley Stadium completely spent. On the final circuit of the track, the wobbly-legged Belgian was passed by Argentinean Delfo Cabrera - who went on to the win – and England’s Tom Richards - who captured the silver medal. Gailly struggled in for the bronze.

Having served as the host city for two of the most exciting marathon finishes in Olympic history, can London once again produce compelling drama on race day? The London organizers have left nothing to chance. The Olympic marathon course is an athlete-friendly, loop course which is generally considered capable of producing fast times. The race start time and the attendant weather – always a major concern in an event like the Olympics where television rules all – appear to be favorable. With both the Men’s and Women’s races starting at 11:00 a.m. local time and prevailing weather conditions suggesting cooler temperatures in the upper 50’s / lower 60’s, the conditions should be far superior to the subpar air quality and steam bath conditions that tortured Olympic marathoners in Beijing.

Handicapping the U.S. Olympic marathoners is never an easy task – and this Olympiad is no exception. While it is not inconceivable that the U.S. could produce a medal-winning performance in one or both of the races, it is also not unlikely that all six marathoners could run personal bests – and not even make it onto the podium.

The American Women

• Desiree Davila. A second place finisher to Shalane Flanagan in the Trials race, Davila has a P.R. of 2:22:38 which is the fastest of the three American women. An efficient runner with a relentless turnover, Davila backs down from no one. Who can forget her punishing pace from Cleveland Circle to the Boston finish line on Patriots Day last year – an aggressive drive which nearly captured her the victory? She is not afraid to assert herself in critical late-race situations. Such bold running sealed her doom as a more novice runner in the 2008 Trials. But as a stronger, more mature runner now, that tactic is one of her bona fide weapons. She is likely to be a lead pack factor in London.

• Shalane Flanagan. Approaching the zenith of her career, Flanagan has assembled an impeccable running resume: bronze medalist in the 2008 Olympic 10,000; American record holder in the 10,000 [30:22.22]; 14 national titles. She has vast international experience which will aid her in London. Her serene and composed façade belies the competitive fire that burns within. After pushing hard during the last few miles to insure her victory at the Trials in a P.R. time of 2:25:28, the Cold Executioner acknowledged in a post-race interview, “My primary goal was to make the team.” But then, with a slight smile, she admitted “But, I love to win.”

• Kara Goucher. Like Flanagan, Goucher is another seasoned veteran with the demonstrated ability to get onto the medal stand in international competition. She was the bronze medalist in the 10,000 at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka. Goucher came in to the Trials admittedly undertrained, but still was able to P.R. – 2:26:06 – and to summon the will and the energy to shake off fourth place finisher Amy Hastings over the final 10 kilometers. With a few more months of focused training under the tutelage of her new coach Jerry Schumacher and some quality training with her new running buddy Flanagan, a more fully-prepared Goucher could surprise many in London.

Their Competition

The Women’s Marathon looks to be one of the most highly-competitive and exciting races of the Olympic Games. Russia’s Liliya Shobukhova, on the strength of her 2:18:20 win in Chicago, was ranked #1 on the world last year. But Kenya’s Mary Keitany bested Shobukhova by a significant margin in the London Marathon last spring. A good number of other African women have the credentials to compete for a medal. All three American women have the P.R’s and the battle-tested experience in big races that establish them as legitimate medal threats. And don’t overlook England’s Paula Radcliffe – the sentimental favorite. The long-standing world record holder is easing into the later stages of her career, but with her P.R. minutes superior to the rest of the field and with her countrymen sure to be exhorting her onward, could London’s propensity for Olympic Marathon drama strike again?

The American Men

• Abdi Abdirahman. Abdi is an experienced runner who knows how to prepare for big races. Only recently injury-free, Abdi bypassed marathon paydays last fall to be sure he could bring his “A” game to the Trials. He did. A solid 10,000 meter runner – 2005 national champion – Abdi has 13 overall national titles. Recently inducted into the Road Runners Club Of America Hall Of Fame, Abdi is now on his fourth U.S. Olympic team. While Abdi has a 2:08 marathon P.R., an ambitious early pace in the Olympic marathon might be tough for him to handle. But if the race becomes tactical, Abdi would not likely be afraid to make a push from far out.

• Ryan Hall. With a P.R. of 2:04:58 - albeit on Boston’s so-called “aided” course – and with a fearless running style, Hall is likely the best U.S. men’s hope to break the Kenyan juggernaut. When Hall jettisoned his coach, created his owning training schedules, and further energized his faith commitment, it appeared to liberate him – endowing him with a renewed joy and appetite for running and the type of daring racing style that he’ll need to display on London’s world stage. Recently named 2011 Runner Of The Year by Road Runners Club Of America, Hall has solid international experience and has won several overall national titles. Look for him to be a dominant participant in the lead pack on race day. Those who discount his finishing speed have forgotten that Hall’s 13:16.03 in the 5000 in the 2005 Outdoor Nationals placed him on the U.S. team for the World Championships in Helsinki.

• Meb Keflezighi. The Comeback Kid. Serious pelvic issues caused many to presume – prematurely – that Meb’s best running days were far behind him. His P.R. performance in the 2011 New York City Marathon and – 69 days later – his glorious victory in the Trials affirmed his durability, his longevity – and his determination. While Meb has a half dozen sub-2:10 performances, he has never cracked 2:09. Will the Olympic race be too fast for him? Maybe. But those who might be inclined to discount his chances should remember that Meb has proven such views to have been wrong before.

Their Competition

It is hard to be optimistic about American medal chances when last year 27 of the top 30 performers in the marathon were Kenyans. When Ryan Hall can run 2:04:58 and not even be given a world ranking in the Top Ten, it is the best evidence that elite men’s marathoning is undergoing a stunning transformation. Kenya’s Geoffrey Mutai, coming off last year’s convincing wins at Boston and New York in course record times, has to be considered the odds-on favorite. Any number of other Kenyans – take your pick – could join him on the medal stand. While Kenya looks to dominate the race, you can’t concede all of the medal spots to them. That’s why they run the race. 



Revered Coach Cultivates Hammer Incubator in Ashland, Ohio

Ashland, Ohio is a fine, upstanding small town nestled right in the middle of Ohio. Ashland is well known throughout the state for its "welcome sign" that announces the city to be "The World Headquarters of Nice People." While it is unclear if Ashland's exclamation is a distinction the city has actually been awarded or is merely a self-proclamation, there doesn't appear to be any vocal faction that disputes its legitimacy.

But aside from its clean streets, absence of crime, and its courteous citizenry, there is another admirable aspect of Ashland that is not widely known. Ashland, Ohio is the cradle of top-flight hammer throw development and the home of some the country's top performers in this high-specialized - and often under-appreciated - field event.

At the foundation of all of this is Jud Logan. Logan, long-standing track and field coach at Ashland University, is a four-time Olympian in the hammer - making his fourth Olympic team in his 40's - and was the gold medalist in that event in the 1987 Pan American Games. His passion for the sport and his longevity as an athlete were unquestionably established when he set the M50 World Record in the hammer just three years ago.















Cabral's Break-Out Spring Highlights
Princeton's Drive For National Recognition

Friday night at the USATF Oxy High Performance Meet in Los Angeles, Princeton senior Donn Cabral turned in a stunning performance by winning the 3000 meter steeplechase over a star-studded field. The sole collegian in the fast section of the steeple, Cabral displayed a poised and tactical racing approach that saw him patiently running his own race in the middle of the pack for most of the race. Moving up over the last three laps and kicking hard over the final furlong, Cabral overtook Dan Huling and Evan Jager - who took an unplanned dip after clearing the final water jump - to capture the win in a record time.

Olinger_Brian-LondonDL11.jpgBrian Olinger, 2011 AVIVA London,
photo by PhotoRun.net

Olinger_Brian-nycDL10.JPGBrian Olinger, adidas GP 2010, photo by PhotoRun.net


Versatile Distance Ace Weighs Options


Track & Field, like life itself, is filled with many decisions. An athlete displaying an undeveloped talent and an interest in the sport will soon be confronted with an array of choices. "Do I stay with the discus, or might I be better at the hammer?" "I'm a promising long jumper, but might I be an even better triple jumper?" "Is the 1500 my best event, or is it the 5000?" The imprint and the finality of the often-subtle choices we face and make every day may never have been better captured than by Robert Frost in "The Road Not Taken" - his simple and graceful poem about the bittersweet consequences of the choices we make.

One American track athlete who has an appreciation for the magnitude of decision-making and the impact that choices have upon "our journey" is Brian Olinger - a versatile and talented distance runner who has many Frostian roads before him.

At age 28, Olinger is a seasoned distance runner whose career performances display a Rod Dixon-like range of talent in a wide band of distance events. At the Ohio State University, and under the careful tutelage of his college coach Robert Gary, Olinger was able to transform from a very good high school distance runner into an impressive collegiate performer. After Olinger's graduation, Coach Gary - a two time Olympian in the 3000 meter steeplechase - continued to nurture Olinger's development. While Olinger is best known for his steeplechase prowess - his P.R. is 8:19.56 - a deeper look at his array of performances reveals his versatility. With a mile best that is just a tick above 4:00 [literally 4:00.1], Olinger has excellent speed for a longer, middle distance runner. At the Mt. SAC Relays earlier this spring, Olinger shaved 5 seconds off his previous 5000 best with a time of 13:26.94. The following week, Olinger joined a stacked field in the 10,000 at the Payton Jordan / Cardinal Invitational at Stanford. His seventh-place finish in 27:50.58 was another huge 17 second PR and just missed the Olympic "A" standard of 27:45. Had the opening 5000 - passed by Olinger and the lead pack in a restrained 13:55 - been just a little more ambitious, an "A" standard mark might have been in the cards for Olinger.

Olinger_Brian-Heusden07.jpgBrian Olinger,  Heusden 2007, photo by PhotoRun.net

While some might see Olinger's recent performances as nothing but positive, it did create a special quandary for this versatile athlete: What is the game plan for Eugene? Steeplechase or 10,000? In mid-April, at the Jesse Owens Classic, Brian noted: "What we don't want to do is to go the Trails and say, 'Well, let's run this and if this doesn't work, let's do this.' We want to have a concrete plan. A lot will depend if I can get the "A" standard [27:45] at Payton Jordan in the 10. So if you get that, the 10K decision becomes harder. Because I think you are a viable competitor. I think there is a spot out there in the 10. If a runner has shown 27:30 fitness, then a person like that is a threat." That may be especially true at the Trials where the 10,000 is likely to be somewhat tactical.

And as the days leading up to the USA Track & Field Trials continued to slip away, Olinger, like so many others, ultimately had to make a decision about which event - the steeplechase or the 10,000 - he would run in Eugene in his quest to capture a coveted spot on the Olympic team. "It is full steam ahead with the steeple," said Olinger in an interview earlier this week. "During the past ten days, I have had 3 of the best hurdling sessions of my career." Olinger will head off to the west coast this weekend to compete in his first 3000 meter steeplechase of year at the USATF Oxy High Performance Meet at Occidental College. "If the competition is there, I am hoping to run under the "A" standard [8:23.1]."

But even after his Eugene event selection has now been made and even after this upcoming Olympiad is over, there is yet another event - the cruelest of mistresses - that beckons his name...the marathon.

It is undeniable that Olinger has made his mark on the track. But Olinger's upper range of versatility may not stop with 25-lappers. As this year began, using the USA's expanded qualifying standards, Olinger parlayed an earlier 10,000 qualifying time of 28:07.52 to gain entry into the USA Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston this past January - even though he had never run a marathon and had never raced farther than 7 miles [First American finisher in Falmouth in 2011]. What? How does that happen? How does it make sense for a 3000 meter steeplechase guy to all of sudden hop into the Olympic Marathon Trials? "I must admit that it was a vocabulary word ["marathon"] that we [Coach Gary and I] had never exchanged back and forth in ten years of working together," notes Olinger. "But the timing was such that it made sense."

Olinger's unorthodox qualifying credentials for Houston's Trials race made him a center of media attention and, to the uninformed, prompted speculation about his fitness to compete with the country's best marathoners. But Olinger prepared diligently for the Trials with a steady diet of 100+ mile weeks featuring high-quality long weekend runs of 20+ miles. "With Coach Gary on the bike, it would be 5:40 pace right out the door. After about 6 miles, we'd drop it down to 5:00 pace for about 13 miles before we cooled it down to the end." And in January pre-race interviews, Olinger made it clear that he was in Houston not merely to compete in the Trials, but to make the team: "I wouldn't be here if I didn't think I had a legitimate shot to finish in the top three." He backed up his words with race day action as he was one of a small pack of runners bold enough to respond to Ryan Hall's opening gun salvo of 4:50 miles. And while his back door departure from the lead pack at around the 10 mile mark was hasty - and ultimately led to a DNF - his spirited and gutsy performance at the Trials prompted many to view Olinger's Trials experiment not as ill-conceived, but as courageous. It has even caused some to speculate that Olinger - with his proven leg speed, with the right training for an extended period, and with more experience - may be able to cultivate a most successful future for himself in the longer event. Olinger, too, has allowed himself to think about it: "It [the marathon] intrigues me. It is something I want to do again. And I want to put forth an honest effort. I like the training. It is right in my wheelhouse. I am more of a road guy than a track guy."

Olinger_Brian-USOlyT12.JPGBrian Olinger, 2012 US Olympic Trials-Marathon, photo by PhotoRun.net


With his Olympic Trials choice, Brian Olinger has faced - and made - a critical decision about his track & field journey. He gauged his training, he ran in some high quality races, and he made a difficult choice: if he is to represent the United States in the London Olympics, it will be in the steeplechase. But Brian knows that pivotal decisions about his future path in track & field remain. One of many would be: how, if at all, does the marathon fit into his future? We can be sure that Brian Olinger, a measured and thoughtful young man, will make this and other key decisions with care and only after great thought. But, even then, no one will ever know - not even Brian - if he made the right choices. But those choices, to paraphrase Robert Frost, will make all the difference.


Justin Gatlin, Doc Patton, Walter Dix, Daegu 2011, photo by PhotoRun.net


Americans Shut Out World / Baton Unbruised

As 49,810 track & field fans streamed into Franklin Field Saturday morning, there was a festive air of excitement that permeated the throng. As reggae music flowed, you could sense that the happy, international crowd was ready to watch some special performances on the track and in the field. When the day is over, they will not leave disappointed.

While there are many moving parts to every Penn Relays day, Saturday at Franklin Field has come to feature "USA vs. The World' - an international competition between the elite athletes from around the globe and America's very best performers. And while it is true that many countries are represented [Belgium is here...] USA's primary rival has grown to be Jamaica. While it's a healthy competition founded upon mutual respect, it is truly intense.

Several weeks ago, Larry Eder, the mastermind behind RunBlogRun who has been in the business for years, had to be quietly chortling to himself as he responded positively to my request to cover the 118th Penn Relays. I knew, of course, about the Penn Relays, but I had never witnessed this nearly week-long celebration of track and field. No worries, I thought, I've written daily journals at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials - a 10 day event. Penn should be a piece of cake. What was I thinking? A bionic blend of a youthful Jim Dunaway and Superman himself couldn't fully capture the bustling and beautiful kaleidoscope of activity that is the Penn Relay Carnival.

The sights, sounds, and aromas of Penn are incessant and ever-changing: the determined drive in the women's 4 x 200 by the Texas A&M anchor, her crimson-dyed hair flowing in the breeze; the curious aroma mix of nasty fries and pungent analgesic balm wafting through the ancient hallways of Franklin Field; the fluorescent tangerine full-body suits of the Clemson women's 4 x 100 relay team - almost a mutant version of the Blue Man Group. A botched baton exchange can be followed by an inspired stretch drive to the tape. Despondent finishers sag as exuberant victors dance with their teammates. For every observation you make, you know you missed so many more.

There was more than just spirited competition taking place at the Penn Relays on Friday. Inside and adjacent to Franklin Field, an afternoon press conference was held featuring selected elite athletes who would be competing in Saturday's marquee relays: USA v. The World. Here's what they had to say:


Taylor_AngeloQ-World11.JPGAngelo Taylor, photo by PhotoRun.net

Olympic Gold Medalist / Angelo Taylor:

On Penn and its international competition: "It's a preview to the Olympics - especially the relays."
On his extended career: "I am proud of this. It's about paying attention to your body."


Merritt_LaShawn4x4Q-World11.JPGLaShawn Merritt, photo by PhotoRun.net


Olympic Gold Medalist / Lashawn Merritt:

On his Olympic year training: "I only ran one indoor meet - Millrose, where I won. I have moved to Florida, have a new coach, and my training is going well."

Dix_Walter200FL-World11.JPGWalter Dix, photo by PhotoRun.net

2008 Olympic Bronze Medalist in the 100 / Walter Dix:

On his coaching switch: "John Smith is my new coach. He is teaching me to be fast. My training is definitely technical. He is working on my form and teaching me about the stages of the 100."
On the USA v. The World Relays: "They're a sneak preview of the Olympic Relays."

On baton passing: "It is more complicated than making a five foot putt or sinking a foul shot. The sprinters are running 25 miles per hour. We just need to work and focus."


Gatlin_JustinQ-USind12.jpgJustin Gatlin, photo by PhotoRun.net

Olympic Gold Medalist / Justin Gatlin:

On Penn: "This is our equivalent of the NBA's All-Star Weekend. It is a chance for us to work together as teammates and not as competitors."
On his coaching switch: "Dennis Mitchell has been my coach since November. He is helping me a lot."
On his new world indoor title in the 60: "I haven't raced the 60 since I was 19. It felt great."
On baton passing: "It's about camaraderie and working together. It can be a scary situation. We just have to man up and get that stick around."


Richards_SanyaFH1-USind12.jpgSanya Richards-Ross, photo by PhotoRun.net

Olympic Gold Medalist / Sanya Richards-Ross:

On her 50.18 outdoor opener: "I am happy to have run so close to 50 seconds in my first race of the season. I have never started this fast. I am running in Jamaica next week and hope to run even faster."
On Penn: "It is the official start to the outdoor season."
On legendary Clyde Hart: Coach Hart is 76 and he isn't going to change [his training approach] much. But he has helped me to change. He has helped me to bring more focus to my training."


Felix_Allyson-Doha11.jpgAllyson Felix, photo by PhotoRun.net

Olympic Gold Medalist / Allyson Felix:

On a possible Olympic 200/400 double attempt: "I haven't completely ruled out the double. My focus has been on the 200. I won't decide [on the attempt to double] until shortly before the Trials."

Jamaican Olympic Gold Medalist In the 100 / Shelley Ann Fraser-Pryce:

On the competition: "I try not to focus on my the competition or on how others are performing. I stay focused on myself."
On her training: "I work to stay focused on my training. I want to stay healthy and train hard."


Jeter_CarmelitaQ-World11.JPGCarmelita Jeter, photo by PhotoRun.net

Olympic Gold Medalist / Carmelita Jeter:

On Penn: "I love the crowd participation here. When I am out on the track waiting to anchor the 4 x 100, I love being in that corner. The excitement, the crowd shouting out my name - it is wonderful."
On the international competition at Penn: "The focus is not about me being an American; it is about me being a sprinter."
On her training: 'I have been doing more 400 training this year."
On baton passing teamwork: 'It's a trust game. We have to stay focused to get that stick around."

Back amid the swirl of activity inside the stadium - everything from the Camden Diocese Girls 4 x 100 Relay to the all-important qualifying heats of the College Men's 4 x 400 - two outstanding relays in particular stood out on Friday: the College Women's 4 x 1500 Relay and the College Men's Distance Medley Relay. In the women's race, Oregon dominated. But sometimes you have to look to find the race within the race.

And while her Lady Duck teammates gave Oregon anchor Becca Friday an insurmountable lead, a battle was brewing between two all-Americans: Sheila Reid and Emily Infeld, the talented anchors for Villanova and Georgetown.

Taking the stick almost together, the two ran in tandem over the final 1500 as they cut into Oregon's lead. Reid worked hard to shake her competitor, but Infeld wouldn't let go. While Oregon wouldn't be caught this day, a strong sprint by Infeld down the final straight gave her a narrow edge over her Wildcat rival. But the most electrifying relay of the day had to be the College Men's DMR. With 14 of the country's top collegiate squads toeing the line, the crowd braced itself for a great race. On the leadoff 1320, the field began cautiously until Princeton's Joe Stillen made a strong move to open a meaningful gap with 600 remaining. And while the field closed on the final straightaway, Stillen's opening 2:59.0 gave the Tigers a slim lead at the first exchange. A powerful 46.3 quarter by Princeton's Tom Hopkins lengthened the Tiger advantage. Princeton's third runner, Michael Williams, paid dearly for his over-zealous first lap as the half-milers from Oregon, Columbia, and Indiana erased the Princeton lead going into the final leg. Sensing the field bunching, the milers slowed the pace. An opening quarter of 68 seconds allowed the 12 of the 14 teams to clump behind the Princeton anchor man - All-American Donn Cabral.

You could feel the Franklin Field buzz as the crowd knew a furious finish was in the making. Successively-quicker laps placed Cabral in the lead - and in control of the race - as the bell lap began. With 300 to go, Indiana's Andrew Bayer made a determined push for the lead, but Cabral's response held the Hoosier at bay. Coming of the final turn, six teams battled for places on the podium. And while the first six teams were separated by less than 1 second, Cabral's final circuit in 54 seconds went unmatched as Princeton captured the victory. Last year, the Tigers' win in the Men's 4 x Mile was its first relay victory at Penn in 71 years. Now, just a year later, it had captured another.

As the sun began to set and as I rode the Thorndale train back to Philadelphia's Main Line communities, I reflected on the entire day, the total over-stimulation of the non-stop performances on the track and in the field. I was fully satiated from heaping helpings of the Penn Relays. And while the train rolled on and I couldn't imagine taking another bite, I was already looking forward to my Saturday return to Franklin Field's buffet.

M4x400-2-Penn04.JPGPenn Relays, Men's 4 x 400m, (this one, 2004), photo by PhotoRun.net


Iconic Relay Carnival Affirms Its Greatness

It's an election year. Hey, maybe Penn Relays Race Director Dave Johnson and his legion of experienced officials should be installed to run our country. If the Thursday edition of the 118th running of the Penn Relay Carnival is any evidence, they would likely do a pretty damn good job. On a cool and overcast day, Johnson's crew faced the formidable task of coordinating 82 running events and 22 field events. And Thursday's schedule - featuring Penn's Distance Night - ran like a Swiss watch, or should we say, like a Penn Relays' watch.

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Dunaway AwardAt the 2019 annual meeting of the Track and Field Writers of America, Dave was presented with the James Dunaway Memorial Award “for track & field journalism excellence.”

Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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