The Philadelphia Eagles aren’t the only stars that have graced Franklin Field with their presence in the past. Over the years, the Penn Relays has drawn some of the biggest names — both American and international — in track and field to compete in University City.
Back in 2010, the fastest man on earth, Usain Bolt, made an appearance at the Frank. He and the rest of the Jamaican men’s 4x100-meter relay set a meet record in the USA versus the World race with a blazing time of 37.90 seconds.
American star Justin Gatlin, who won gold in the 100m in the 2004 Athens Olympics, is a Relays regular, making several appearances in the early 2000s for Tennessee and competing professionally on the United States relay teams for the last four years. Gatlin was once again invited to compete in this year’s Relays.
Fellow American sprinter Tyson Gay was also invited to the 2016 Relays and will reportedly be competing on the United States 4x100m relay for the USA versus the World race. Gay’s track heyday came in the late-2000s, when he won three events at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka and later set the American record in the event in 2009 in 9.69 seconds. He is just now returning to the sport after serving a one-year ban in 2014 for testing positive for an illegal substance.
Olympic years tend to bring an even longer list of professional competitors to Philadelphia, as many athletes use the Relays to get a taste of what the world’s fastest runners have to offer before their respective Olympic Trials meets. For Americans, the Relays come nearly two months before trials, held the first week of July in Eugene, Ore., where only the top three qualifiers in each event earn berths on the American Olympic team. Jamaican runners are in a similar position, with Senior Trials taking place from June 30-July 3 in Kingston, Jamaica.
This year, female sprint stars Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price of Jamaica, English Gardner and DeeDee Trotter of the United States will reportedly be competing at the Penn Relays.
Fraser-Pryce took home the gold in the women’s 100-meter race in both the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, making her only the third female to go back-to-back in the sprint in Olympics history. Now 29, Fraser-Pryce has the chance to become the first ever three-peat winner in the event this summer, but she first is expected to run the 4x100m with Jamaica at Penn Relays.
If anyone is to unseat Fraser-Pryce from the 100m throne, it very well may be the rising 24-year-old star Gardner, a New Jersey native whose personal best of 10.79 seconds in the event in 2015 ranked second in the world only behind Fraser-Pryce’s 10.74. Although the two won’t battle individually this weekend, they will likely go head-to-head in the loaded 4x100m race.
Trotter has had a long and successful career as a long sprinter, earning gold medals at both the 2004 and 2012 Olympics as a member of the USA women’s 4x400m team while also medaling in the individual 400m in 2012 with a third-place finish. Now 33, Trotter has run in the 4x400m with USA for six consecutive Penn Relays, earning titles at the meet in 2010, 2013 and 2014.
Although they’re not professionals yet, many college athletes competing at the Penn Relays are Olympic hopefuls. Penn boasts two of its own, in senior javelin specialist Kelsey Hay and senior discus thrower Sam Mattis.
At the Philadelphia College Classic in March, Mattis recorded the longest discus throw in the world — a staggering 67.45 meters. That throw would have placed fourth at the 2012 London Olympics and makes Mattis a top contender for the U.S. Olympic team come July.
Hay finished in fifth in the women’s javelin at last year’s Penn Relays and, after going on to take 13th at Outdoor NCAA Championships in 2015, is poised to improve upon that result in the 122nd running of the Penn Relays.
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