The Carnival showcased the best the USA will have in its track aresenal. As Michael Johnson walked up Franklin Field's north straightaway this past Saturday afternoon, donning gray-and-black warm-up duds, a few sections of the 45,203 fans in attendance raised their voices, as if to let the Olympic gold-medalist know that they recognized him. When Johnson returned the favor with a grin and a turn of the head, it became obvious to those in attendance just what USA Track and Field, ESPN and a host of sponsors had in mind when they cooked up the idea of the "USA vs. The World" events that highlighted Saturday's Penn Relays schedule. The organizers of this assemblage of sprint relays and the men's 4x1,500 meters wanted to give America's top athletes a chance to shine in front of an enthusiastic crowd -- the biggest they will see in the States in even this, an Olympic year -- under a gentle, late-April sun and against some of the best that the rest of the globe has to offer. And the American athletes did everything they could to oblige. Although not an official part of the USA vs. The World promotion, the women's 4x200 Olympic Development relay played host to something that one rarely sees at the Penn Relays -- a new world record. The USAB Nike Blue quartet of Latasha Jenkins, LaTasha Colander-Richardson, Nanceen Perry and Marion Jones finished first in a time of 1:27.46, shattering the previous world record of 1:28.15 set by an East German team in 1980. The achievement was notable both for the long-standing nature of the record and also for the fact that it fell in April, early in the season for most world-class athletes. "As soon as we found out who all was running, each of us spoke to one another and were whispering to each other, 'OK, do it now,'" Jones said. "We can get this record. We know what we're all capable of running, and let's just put it together." Another world record was supposed to be in danger on Saturday. In the Olympic Development 4x1,500, a Kenyan Puma team that boasted a slew of sub-3:40 1,500 runners looked like a lock to eclipse the record time of 14:38.8. Unfortunately for the fans at Penn, however, three key members of the squad set to be anchored by Bernard Lagat were unable to acquire immigration visas in time for the Carnival. The race was still a joy to watch. In the third leg of the relay, a squad made up of Arkansas alumni was in the lead, and when Phil Price handed the baton cleanly to ultra-charismatic Seneca Lassiter, it looked like the Razorbacks were in control. An outstanding 3:40.8 anchor split by Matt Holthaus of the Reebok Enclave team made things very interesting. As he and Lassiter headed into the final curve, the Arkansan enjoyed a relatively comfortable lead. Always the showboat, Lassiter extended his hand to the cheering crowd in a Babe-Ruth-like gesture of victory. Things almost took an embarrassing turn from there, as Holthaus closed hard and nearly made Lassiter the goat. The Arkansas team won by a thin margin of .24 seconds, 14:52.13 to 14:52.37. "He's definitely the hometown favorite, and he's got such great speed, we knew that this would be a great race in front of an appreciative crowd," Price said of Lassiter. In the sprint relays, the contest was -- at least according to the heavily Caribbean-leaning grandstands -- essentially USA vs. Jamaica. Chants for and against each country dominated Franklin Field during the marquee races between the world's fastest humans. At the end of the races, the dominant chant was "One-two," meant to emphasize the fact that American teams usually took first and second in every featured event. In the 4x100 men's relay, USA Red edged just past USA Blue to take the victory in a time of 38.22. The Jamaicans took third in 38.96. On the women's side the story was the same. America went one, two, with the islanders in third position. The script read the same in the 4x400, with USA taking top honors in both and with Jamaica crossing the line in the three spot.Comments powered by Disqus
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