The Penn Relays and Boston Marathon are essential dates on the American track and field calendar. They represent a sport all about the fastest and strongest at their biggest and boldest.
The parallels between the Relays and the Marathon are undeniable. They are each the oldest events of their kind in the United States, dating back to the twilight of the 19th century, when they first captured the imagination of the American public. Perhaps not coincidentally, they were founded within two years of one another and take place in the same two-week span in April.
Both events have iconic locales. The setting of Franklin Field for Penn Relays is timeless, and for the Boston Marathon, “Heartbreak Hill” has become a ubiquitous metaphor for a great and terrible challenge.
This year’s Boston Marathon was a great and terrible challenge for all the wrong reasons. In the wake of a bombing at the finish line of the world’s oldest marathon, security concerns for the Penn Relays — the oldest and largest track and field competition in the nation’s history — are unavoidable.
Even with the suspects accused of the bombing deceased or in custody, the events of the most recent Marathon Monday won’t be far from the minds of security officials in managing the projected 22,000 athletes and 110,000 attendees for the three-day track bonanza.
It’s impossible to predict precisely how security measures will affect the experience at the Relays. In a press conference Monday, Vice President of Public Safety Maureen Rush emphasized that security will be more strictly enforced, likening the measures to those enforced by the TSA.
There may be a couple of minor inconveniences when entering the event. There may be a few minutes lost to security checks in a special effort to ensure the safety of the droves of athletes, friends, families and sports fans that will flock to Franklin Field beginning on Thursday.
But vacationers don’t define their travels by security checkpoints, and in the end, this year’s Penn Relays will not be remembered for having a longer line at security.
It would be a challenge for anyone to recall those details after experiencing the flurry of activity of the Relays. Olympic champions and fourth-graders alike will take the same track that athletes have mounted for 118 years, and dozens of 4×400-meter relays will alight from the start line in dazzling succession, spurred on by a chorus of voices hailing from every corner of the planet.
Some parts of the stadium will become engrossed in the performance of a high jumper or pole vaulter — the anticipation of the crowd as an athlete goes into the air feels like a collective holding of breath, only released when the athlete’s body finds the mat — either in triumph or defeat.
The Penn Relays may have security at an all-time high this year — and appropriately so. The stakes are high for everyone in attendance and for the world of athletics.
But with hundreds of events, thousands of athletes and quite possibly half the population of Jamaica present, it’s hard to imagine the line at security becoming the Relays’ most memorable feature.
When it’s an extra pat-down up against 118 years of tradition in a competition for track and field’s greatest event, I don’t like the former’s chances.
KENNY KASPER is a sophomore philosophy major from Santa Rosa, Calif., and is a former associate sports editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.
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