Franklin Field, a historic stadium of over 55,000 seats, only ever fills up on one weekend every year. That weekend is almost here, and people from all over the world have already begun to descend upon Philadelphia for the 123rd running of the Penn Relay Carnival.
“There’s nothing like the Penn Relays,” Penn track and field coach Steve Dolan said. And he’s right.
The oldest — and largest — meet in the United States is truly a national treasure, and it blesses our campus every year without fail. Superstars like Usain Bolt grace Franklin Field with their presence, and this year will be no different, with a whole host of Olympic medalists coming to Philadelphia to duke it out for international glory.
In total, over 100,000 people will pass through the stadium between Friday and Saturday, and those numbers include some of the craziest fans that you’ll ever see from across the globe.
If you haven’t gotten the chance to experience the atmosphere first-hand, you need to. For a pair of reasons, University City turns yellow and green for the weekend.
One is that half of Jamaica comes up to watch the world’s finest sprinters in action. But the other is that West Philly oddly becomes Jamaican for a weekend, donning its yellow clothing and even cheering on the visiting sprinters over Team USA.
Perhaps the greatest consequence of the Jamaican presence is the happenings outside of the stadium. Blaring music, dance competitions, The Bickle and more make the area surrounding Franklin Field into an atmosphere that can only be described as ... honestly, lit.
But the best part about it all might be that Penn isn’t just a host site, either. Last year, the Quakers’ 4xMile relay squad won the team’s first event since 1974, but several other relay teams and individual athletes came close to achieving that feat themselves with second and third-place finishes.
On Saturday, two of the four members of last year’s 4xMile team will return to attempt a daring repeat victory — on national television, nonetheless. NBC will be broadcasting the Relays live for two hours on Saturday during the USA vs. The World events which border the 4xMile, and this year, NBC will also show one hour of events on Friday afternoon, live.
It’s a meet that has national and international appeal. Last year, Penn Relays was used as a stepping stone event leading up to the 2016 Rio Olympics. 200 athletes who filtered through Franklin Field made it to Rio later in the summer, and the level of quality on tap this year should be no different.
On the collegiate level, two of NCAA’s historic powerhouses will return to the Relays after a year off in 2016. Stanford and Oregon will make the trip across the country to give Penn a run for its money in the distance events in particular, but almost every area on the track and the field.
Expect the Quakers to make strong cases in the 4xMile, 4x800-meter and distance medley relays on the men’s side. The women, meanwhile, could realistically take the 4x100m title, having assembled the best sprinting quartet in program history. Additionally, Dolan expressed his confidence that the women’s shuttle hurdles and 4x400 teams could take stabs at a title themselves, too.
There is no other time of the year when Penn has the chance to make such a grand statement on such a grand stage.
Simply put, the Penn Relays is not only a bucket list experience, but it’s one that should keep you coming back, too. The roaring — and conspicuously Jamaican — crowds, the star power, the fanfare, the atmosphere and so much more provide everyone in attendance something to enjoy.
So take a few hours off from studying on Saturday afternoon and make the trek down to Franklin Field. You won’t regret it — I promise.