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Penn Relays on Saturday, April 26, 2014 Credit: Analyn Delos Santos , Analyn Delos Santos

Last year, then-sophomore distance runner Thomas Awad came out of the Penn Relays as the victor in the Olympic Development open mile with the second sub-4:00 mile in Penn history. But don’t expect a repeat this year.

Now a junior, Awad will compete once again in this weekend’s festivities. However, he will not defend his open mile title. Instead, he will look to lead two of Penn’s relay teams — the 4xMile and distance medley squads — to success on track and field’s biggest stage.

“Thomas is a team captain and a big part of what we do as a team, and I think he values the opportunity to run with his teammates,” coach Steve Dolan said. “I think after college he’ll have plenty of opportunities to run individually.”

Last year, Dolan explained, he didn’t believe the team had a “championship-caliber relay,” which was a big factor in the decision to run Awad individually. Now, Dolan is more confident that Penn’s relay teams can make a dent and “put Penn on the map as a team.”

Awad’s 3:58.34 time in the mile last year was the second-best in school history behind D. Elton Cochran-Fikes, who is now the compliance officer for Penn Athletics. A few days before the race, Dolan said that Awad would break the four-minute mark, and Awad himself believed it was achievable.

“I felt really good in the race, so I knew breaking 4:00 was definitely possible,” Awad said. “And running 3:58, I was excited to get the opportunity to do it. I wasn’t super-surprised that I ran that fast.”

“What a great time to break 4:00 for the first time,” Dolan added barely masking his enthusiasm.

Awad is not upset about missing out on individual events this weekend. Instead, he’s thrilled to get the chance to contribute to the Quakers’ overall team success.

“It’s Penn Relays, after all,” he said. “It’s all about the relay events and running with your team. And as much fun as it was last year, I really want to put forth a really good relay.”

Awad’s inclusion in this year’s relay squads presents some interesting matchup possibilities against some of the nation’s top runners, including a potential (albeit unlikely) faceoff with the reigning king of college running, Oregon’s Edward Cheserek.

Although Awad has not necessarily devoted all of his training time to relay events, he prides himself on his versatility as a runner.

“I look at myself as a distance runner. I’ll run anything from a mile to the 10K,” Awad said.

And it’s not just talk — he has proven his versatility with his wide range of success over the past two years.

In addition to his astounding run at last year’s Penn Relays, Awad was able to drop a four-minute mile indoors earlier this year, this time surpassing Fikes’ program record.

Furthermore, the star junior also has track Heps titles in both the 3,000-meter and 10,000-meter. At one point in his dominant 2014 outdoor track season, he won six consecutive races at six different distances.

Ultimately, though, runners are not recognized — at least by the general public — for consistent greatness, but rather for brilliance shown on the sports biggest stages. And none are bigger than Penn Relays.

Awad has already shown that he is up to the task. Let’s see if lightning can strike twice.

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