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The World’s Fastest Man, Usain Bolt, brought crowds to Franklin Field last year, but Relays won’t have that same electricity without him in 2011.

Excited for the Penn Relays?

Neither am I. Or at least not as excited as I was last year.

This year’s Relay Carnival is still one of the biggest track and field events in the country. But it’s missing the main event — the world’s fastest man.

Sure, the Relays will still feature USA versus the World events, but Asafa Powell, Angelo Taylor and Bernard Lagat just don’t have the same clout as Usain Bolt.

“There is no bigger name,” Penn Relays director Dave Johnson said. “There’s nobody in the sport who’s comparable.”

Without the name, does an incentive remain for Penn students to spend their reading days at a track meet?

Maybe not, but it’s unclear how much of an impact Bolt’s presence had on the student body. Johnson attributed a 2,000- to 3,000-person rise in Saturday attendance — the day of the USA versus the World competition — to general sports fans coming out, rather than Penn students specifically.

Still, it is very unlikely this Saturday’s attendance will top last year’s record of 54,310. Johnson expects 50,000, which would be the second-highest in Relays history.

It’s not that the Penn Relays have died down — they’re just quieter.

Without Bolt, the hype within the greater sports community is lost.

While ticket sales are yet to be determined, the media credential requests indicate less hype, as well. According to associate director of Athletic Communications Chas Dorman, who handles all media relations for the Relays, Penn received 489 media requests last year, 249 of which came after the announcement of Bolt’s participation. As of Sunday, this year’s requests are down slightly to 429 requests. (Coincidentally, 335 were approved both this year and last.)

One person’s presence can surely bring energy and an extra boost to Penn Relays, but Bolt’s absence cannot detract from the event.

According to the Penn Relays Office, more spectators have watched this meet than every other in the world except the Olympics and World Championships. That fact will not change without Bolt. Relays faithful will always flock to Franklin Field and Jamaican fans will always represent the northeast “woo corner” during the last weekend in April, as they have for years.

But nothing quite entices new fans like an Olympic gold medalist with an electrifying smile and even more electrifying gait the way Bolt did last year.

Even so, what draws me to Penn Relays is the same spectacle that drew me to last year’s Thursday and Friday competitions.

Elementary school students running for thousands of spectators, high-school students and fans flying all the way from the Caribbean, and college teams that begged their coaches to compete, much like the Brigham Young women’s team did.

“The specific names … [are] not driving our crowd,” Johnson said, “as much as knowing that something great is going to be here. Someone really important in the sport is going to be here.”

Nothing beats the Penn Relays — except Usain Bolt.

So while the media hype’s no longer, the Carnival is still the same whirlwind weekend it’s always been.

MEGAN SOISSON is a sophomore in the Nursing school from Mechanicsburg, Pa., and is Sports Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. Her email address is soisson@theDP.com.

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