Sanya Richards-Ross in action on the final leg of the 4x400m at the 2016 Penn Relays (© Kirby Lee)
In what was her final outing at the event, Sanya Richards-Ross anchored the USA team to victory in the women’s 4x400m on the final day of action at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia on Saturday (30).
The Olympic 400m champion ran a 52.36 leg to bring her team home to victory in 3:26.83 ahead of Jamaica in 3:29.00 and Nigeria in 3:32.37.
On the first leg for the USA team, Natasha Hastings clocked a 51.3 split to give her team an immediate advantage. That was a lead extended by DeeDee Trotter, who was timed at 51.4 on the second leg. Next up was Phyllis Francis, who ran 51.42 to give the USA team an unassailable lead for Richard-Ross’s victory lap on the anchor leg.
“Penn Relays is always special for me,” said Richards-Ross. “Today, the crowd was amazing. My teammates gave me a big lead and I felt like I was running a victory lap. I'm just a runner, but to see the impact my career has had on a lot of young people, it meant a lot to me.”
Richards-Ross, 31, had confirmed at a pre-meet press conference that 2016 will be the last season of her decorated career which – including relays – has seen her win five Olympic medals and seven World Championships medals.
On Saturday the crowd gave her warm cheers when her name was announced at Franklin Field before the race. “Lots of young girls came up to me and asked me not to retire,” she said with tears beginning to fill her eyes. “I don't want to be emotional because every race will be a last race for me. I love being out here doing what I love.”
In the men’s 4x400m, the young squad of the USA blue team – Chris Giesting, Brycen Spratling, Je’Von Hutchison and James Harris – proved a class apart and took victory in 3:02.32.
Jeremy Wariner, the 2004 Olympic 400m champion, made a return to form, clocking a 44.5-second leg for the USA red team and helping them to second place in 3:03.73, narrowly in front of Brazil, who ran 3:03.75 for third.
“It's a big honour to put on the American uniform,” said James Harris, who ran 45.5 on the anchor leg for the winning team. “To get the victory on top of this, it's priceless.”
Wariner, 32, was pleased to help his team to second place, and his split was the fastest of the day. “It's a whole different field for me now,” he said. “A bunch of young kids are coming up. I'm happy I was able to run well and give them some good experiences.”
Elation for US women, frustration for US men
Elite relay sections at the Penn Relays are titled ‘USA versus the World’, and that rivalry of the sprint superpowers was best exemplified by the women’s 4x100m.
US-based Jamaican supporters filled the stands to lend their support, but when the gun fired, it was the USA’s Tianna Bartoletta who started best. She handed over to Candyce McGrone, who passed off to Kimberlyn Duncan, who built a lead for Carmelita Jeter on the last leg. Jeter duly held off Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce to anchor her team to victory in 42.61 ahead of Jamaica’s 42.90.
“I had been hurting for two years, but they believed in me,” said Jeter. “Whenever I get a stick in my hand, I don't think about myself. I think about the other three women who ran before me, and I can't let these women down.”
Right after the victory of the US women, the American fans were brought back down to earth as the USA blue team of Mike Rodgers, Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay and Isiah Young were disqualified in the 4x100m for a zone infringement on the final exchange.
Rodgers and Gatlin had built a lead over Jamaica and the USA red after two legs, but a sluggish handoff between Gay and Young let the Jamaican team of Jermaine Hamilton, Julian Foote, Rasheed Dwyer and Oshane Bailey back into the lead, and it was a chance they didn’t relinquish, taking victory in 38.70.
“I had a good start and good hand off to Justin,” said Rodgers. “It didn't end so well, but we just need lots of practice for Rio. People keep pointing their fingers and downing us, but nobody has ever tried to come out there and help us.”
After the huge disappointment of the 4x100m, the US quartet of Young, Gatlin, Wallace Spearmon and Rodgers took victory in a swift 1:20.94 in the men’s 4x200m.
In the women's 4x200m, USA and Jamaica ran head-to-head until the finish leg, with the US quartet of Candyce McGrone, Kaylin Whitney, Duncan and Cambria Jones eventually taking a narrow win over Jamaica, 1:31.17 to 1:31.34.
Hosts bring the house down with late charge
Elsewhere on Saturday, the University of Pennsylvania took victory in the 4xmile in 16:26.30, the host college running down leaders Indiana in the home straight to make it a double after Friday's success in the men's distance medley relay. In that earlier event, Penn's anchor Brandon Kinner ran a 4:00.77 1600m leg to hand his college victory in 9:35.51 ahead of Georgetown, who were second in 9:36.32.
Jamaican college GC Foster was best in the college men’s 4x400m in 39.31, while the 4x200m title went to South Carolina in 1:22.38.
The University of Florida took a commanding victory in the college men’s 4x400m, coming come easy winners in 3:04.78, while the University of Oregon took the win in a much closer women’s race, beating the University of Tennessee 3:30.11 to 3:30.73. However, there was delight for Tennessee in the women’s 4x200m, their quartet taking victory over UTech in 1:31.84.
In the women’s 4x1500m on Friday, Villanova's Siofra Cleirigh-Buttner unleashed a strong kick on the anchor leg (4:21.7) to hand her college victory in 17:44.29, just coming home ahead of the University of Oregon (17:44.67).
The University of Florida was a dominant winner of the sprint men’s sprint medley relay, their quartet’s winning time of 3:16.87 leaving them well clear of runner-up BYU (3:16.87). The University of Oregon were equally dominant in the women’s event, taking a decisive victory in 3:46.40 ahead of Clemson (3:50.62).
Earlier in the day, the Oregon women were also successful in the college 4x100m in 43.44, with Tennessee second in 43.72.
In the high school events, rising star Drew Hunter underlined his vast potential on Friday by anchoring Loudoun Valley to victory in the distance medley relay (1200m-400m-800m-1600m), running 4.00.73 on his final leg and overcoming a 10-second deficit to beat La Salle Academy by just 0.001 in 10:00.00.
Jamaican school Edwin Allen once again asserted their dominance over their US rivals in the sprint ranks, taking victory in the high school girls’ 4x100m on Friday in 45.73. They made it a double later in the day, winning the high school girls’ 4x400m in 3:40.88 ahead of their compatriots and rivals St Elizabeth Tech, who were second in 3:41.17.
Ayako Oikawa for the IAAF