Each year, Penn Relays punctuates an otherwise stressful time on Penn’s calendar with a weekend of fun, hype, and glory at Franklin Field. The Relays’ 124th edition did not disappoint.
Across the board of high schoolers, collegiate athletes — including scores of Quakers — and Olympians, this year’s crop of competitors at Penn Relays made headlines in practically every event. For Penn track and field, the meet was highlighted by its first relay title since 2016 and its second since 1974.
In the women’s 4x100-meter college championship, the Quakers found themselves up against stiff competition, including Ivy League rivals Cornell and Atlantic Coast Conference powerhouse Notre Dame. Having just missed out on the Championship of America final by finishing 10th in Thursday’s heats, the team of senior Barbara Biney, senior Taylor McCorkle, freshman Camille Dickson, and sophomore Cecil Ene stood tall as favorites when the gun went off in the college championship.
A tight race saw no leader emerge throughout, and just two hundredths of a second separated Ene (45.42) from Notre Dame’s Kyra Lewis (45.44) at the finish line. After a moment’s deliberation, the Quakers celebrated, having won their first relay race since the men’s 4xmile in 2016.
“We were hoping to get into the first final, but when we got the top seed in the second one, we were like, ‘Okay, we have to win,’” McCorkle said. “I was so proud of the team as a whole, especially Cecil, because she was the anchor, but she’s normally a 400 runner, so I was really proud of her, too.”
The race was Penn’s highlight of the Relays, but the weekend saw a number of other historic performances by athletes in red and blue.
In the women’s 3000-meter championship Thursday night, freshman Danielle Orie and senior Abby Hong raced to school record and second best times of 9:23.22 and 9:24.28, respectively, to finish third and fourth in the event. The pair finished just ahead of Orie’s twin sister, Gabrielle Orie of Cornell, to give the Quakers a high-flying start to the weekend.
Another third-place finish for Penn came Friday afternoon, when the women’s shuttle hurdles squad, anchored by sophomore Elena Brown-Soler, placed third in the Championship of America, finishing just behind two powerhouse teams that ran in a separate heat. Their time of 56.43 set a new Ivy League record in the event.
But if Friday was the day for relay teams, Saturday was the day for individual Quakers to shine bright. A pair of second-place finishes on the field gave Penn a proud place in the leaderboards.
In the high jump, junior and reigning Ivy League indoor champion Anna Malizia leapt 1.78m to take second in the college championship. Later that afternoon, sophomore Sean Clarke vaulted 5.30m to take silver in the men’s pole vault championship. Penn track and field coach Steve Dolan noted that although the crowd at the Relays tends to pay more attention to the track events, his team’s field standouts really stole the show early on Saturday.
“They didn’t quite win them, but they were hanging there right with the best,” Dolan added.
Olympic gold medalist Justin Gatlin attracted all the attention on the track Saturday afternoon. In his team’s USA vs. the World 4x100-meter relay race, Gatlin dominated the field and won USA a championship. Afterwards, in an exclusive interview with The Daily Pennsylvanian, he expressed awe for the crowd in attendance.
“[This atmosphere] is unique,” Gatlin said. “It’s not really like measuring against a world championship crowd or an Olympic crowd — this crowd is its own. I mean, look to this community. You don’t get to go to Beijing or the Olympics and see Master’s athletes or grassroots athletes running out there as well. This is the only kind of crowd in America or in the world that’s gonna show you really what the community of track and field really is.”
All afternoon, the crowd roared for the meet’s standout athletes, though Jamaicans and Philadelphians were crowd favorites. McCorkle and sophomore Marvin Morgan received the ovations of hometown heroes when they finished fifth and sixth, respectively, in the women’s and men’s 100-meter dash college championships.
It was a pair of impressive results for the Quakers, given the elite level of competition. National Collegiate Athletic Association perennial sprint powerhouses like Houston and Clemson fielded national champions on Saturday, making McCorkle and Morgan go all-out for their finishes as they dominated the field.
When asked why he makes sure to bring his group of elite sprinters to the Penn Relays every year, Houston sprints coach and nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis told The DP that it’s a no-brainer — the Penn Relays is one of the best meets in the world.
“It’s the biggest meet in the country every year, and it’s on NBC Television. That says it all,” Lewis said. “We like to give our kids a chance to be in front of an incredible crowd like this, because we’re an Olympic-based program … We want to put them in that kind of environment, where they can feel that energy and excitement from all across the country. It’s always great to be back.”
The excitement continued into the evening as the meet’s final events approached. Penn fielded two strong 4x400-meter teams in the men’s college championship and the women’s Championship of America Invitational in an effort to finish their Relays with a bang. The men finished third and the women fourth, capping off a weekend nothing short of memorable.
“We had a lot of people involved [this weekend], but we didn’t overload anybody,” Dolan said. “I think you’ll see us at our best next week.”
Next week, the Quakers will stay home once again to kick off championship season by hosting the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships. Though the meet may not host 50,000 in attendance like this year’s Relays, it will likely see more of the best from Penn track.