Philadelphia, USAThe spectacle of the 'USA vs. The World' competition could be more aptly titled 'Usain vs. The World' with the appearance of Usain Bolt at the 116th Penn Relays which concluded on Saturday at Franklin Field.
The Jamaican World record holder in the 100m and 200m attracted a record crowd of 53,310 predominantly dressed in green, yellow and black, many of which began lining up in the morning more than eight hours before Bolt’s appearance in the 4 x 100m Relay.
Bolt didn’t disappoint as he anchored a Jamaican quartet of training partners Mario Forsythe, Yohan Blake and Marvin Anderson to a meet-record 37.90 to dip under the mark of 37.92 run by the U.S. last year and the world’s fastest time of 2010.
With compatriot Asafa Powell watching from the infield in street clothes, Bolt crossed the line and pointed toward the Jamaican crowd before embarking on a five-minute victory lap that brought the meet to a standstill.
"It was a wonderful feeling,” Bolt said. "There’s nothing like the home crowd for me so the experience was wonderful."
Bolt’s anchor leg was electronically timed at 8.79 on his leg to relegate a U.S. team of Walter Dix, Michael Rodgers, Shawn Crawford and Ivory Williams to second in 38.33. A week earlier, Bolt never received the baton after a botched handoff on the second exchange in the UTech Invitational in Kingston.
"I told the guys to make sure I didn't have to work, because I really didn't want to do much, Bolt said. “I go the baton pretty much in front, so I wasn't really worried about anything else.”
Lightning Bolt strikes Penn
Bolt created a buzz from the moment her arrived in Philadelphia. A special press conference was held at a downtown hotel on Friday for Bolt apart from the pre-meet interview session for the rest of the athletes at Franklin Field.
On Saturday, he was escorted to the meet in a private vehicle instead of a shuttle bus with the other athletes. Bolt was whisked onto the infield by eight security guards two hours before his race. When he appeared on the track for some pre-race drills, the thunderous ovation from Jamaican flag-waving fans forced the start of a race on the track to be halted.
"It was so loud. It was like the President of the United States was here or something,” said U.S sprinter Mikele Barber, who was unable to hear music through her headphones while warming up.
Saturday’s race was Bolt’s first appearance at Penn since running in 2004 while attending William Knibb High. There wasn’t much time to reminisce for Bolt, whose post-race conference was limited to three minutes of questions.
"I have been surprised by the amount of people that know me, or the welcome that I get when I go to track meets or just go to functions,” Bolt said. "For me, I’m still trying to get used to it. It’s getting bigger and I’m really enjoying it, so for me I just continue working hard and staying focused."
U.S. wins three of six relays
Although Jamaica’s win in the men’s 4 x 100m Relay was the featured attraction, the U.S. came out on top in three of six relays with wins in the women’s 4 x 100m Relay and both the men’s and women’s 4 x 400m Relays.
In the women’s 4 x 100m relay, a team of Me’Lisa Barber, Allyson Felix, Mikele Barber and Carmelita Jeter defeated Jamaica, 42.74 to 42.94, with Jeter holding off 2008 Olympic champion Shelly Ann Fraser on the final leg.
The U.S. women also defeated the Jamaicans in the women’s 4 x 400m Relay with Debbie Dunn, Lashinda Demus, Dee Dee Trotter and Felix running 3:26.12 to their rival’s 3:27.72. Felix fought off a challenge from Jamaica’s Shericka Williams on the anchor with a 50.70 split. Sanya Richards scratched from the event after feeling a twinge in her hamstring during a workout on Friday.
In the 4 x 400, an American team of David Neville, Jamaal Torrance, Bershawn Jackson and Angelo Taylor won in 3:00.60. Jackson and Taylor broke the race open with splits of 44.60 and 44.51 on the third and fourth legs.
Jamaica opened the USA vs. The World competition with a win in the women’s Sprint Medley Relay with Shillonie Calvert (200m), Kerron Stewart (200m), Melaine Walker (400m) and Kenia Sinclair (800m).
Sinclair gradually pulled away from Alysia Johnson of the U.S. over the final two laps with a 1:57.48 split.
The most competitive event of the session was the men’s Distance Medley Relay won by a Kenya team of Alex Kipchirchir (1,200m), Mark Mutai (400m), Alfred Kirwa Yego (800m) and Josephat Kithii (1,600m).
Kenya won in 9:24.97 with Kithii outleaning Americans David Torrance and Leonel Manzano at the tape. The U.S. teams finished second and third in 9:25.02 and 9:25.04.
Mayo and Centrowitz lead record-breaking collegiate action
Gabby Mayo and Matthew Centrowitz of Oregon were named the women’s and men’s college athletes of the meet for relay events.
Mayo, a 2008 World Junior silver medalist in the 100m, ran on Texas A&M’s victorious 4 x 200m (1:29.42) and Shuttle Hurdles Relays (52.50) that set collegiate records and the Aggies’ winning 4 x 100m Relay (43.09).
Centrowitz, the son of former American 5000m record holder Matt Centrowitz Sr., ran a split of 2:56.09 on the 1200m leg on Oregon’s distance medley relay that won in 9:30.69 and anchored the Ducks 4 x Mile Relay to a win in 16:15.14 with a 4:05.2 leg. The wins were first ever for Oregon at Penn.
Queen Harrison of Virginia Tech and Walter Henning were the Individual Athletes of the Meet. Harrison, the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials runner-up in the women’s 400m Hurdles, won the 100m Hurdles in a meet-record and PB 12.61.
Henning, the 2008 World junior champion in the Hammer, won with a throw of 72.46m. The effort was the No. 5 mark in Penn Relays history and the farthest in 15 years.
Saturday’s attendance of 54,310 broke the Penn Relays single-day total of 50,827 set in 2002. The three-day attendance totaled 117,346 to eclipse the mark of 114,194 in 2006. Kirby Lee for the IAAF