Jon Drummond Is A Fixture At The Penn Relays The Former Overbrook Sprinter And Olympic Medalist Belongs.

Posted: April 22, 1999

As Jon Drummond remembers the occasion, he ran his first Penn Relays race as a wide-eyed fourth grader, giving his all for Robert E. Lamberton elementary school.

His event was a 4x75-yard shuttle relay contested on the Franklin Field infield, and the crowd, the cheering and the competition that afternoon were heady stuff for a 9-year-old, whose exhilaration prevailed even after his team finished second.

``It was like the Olympics,'' Drummond said. ``All year long, you'd hear people saying: `I can't wait for Penn Relays. Penn Relays. Penn Relays.' As a little kid, it was like the Olympics.''

Drummond went on to compete for Overbrook High School, Texas Christian University and the United States. He has traveled the European circuit, sprinted to a relay gold medal in the World Championships and a silver medal in the 1996 Olympic games.

But Drummond's best-remembered sentiments will be reawakened this weekend when he competes in the 105th Penn Relays - for the 17th time, he thinks. Drummond can't remember the exact total with absolute certainty, but it is probably safe to say he holds the Relays record for appearances among athletes competing here.

As of last week, Drummond's workload for the Nike International team that should include Maurice Greene and Michael Johnson was tentative. He should run the leadoff leg in the Olympic Development 4x100- and 4x200-meter relays, and if the weather cooperates, maybe take a shot in the open 100 meters.

``I can tolerate a little cold,'' said Drummond, who lives and trains in Los Angeles these days, ``but not cold and wet at the same time.''

If it is all a far cry from his elementary school days, the excitement is still the same for Drummond, the well-known ``Clown Prince of Track and Field,'' who never met an audience he didn't like.

``The worst thing I could ever hear is someone say, `I was at a meet and saw Jon Drummond, but I couldn't get near him.' I never wanted to be unreachable.''

Conversely, Franklin Field crowds rarely have seen a Jon Drummond performance they didn't like, starting with his debut in that comical, back-and-forth relay.

The best of them all occurred on April 30, 1991, when Drummond ran the leadoff leg for the TCU 4x100-meter team that included Carey Johnson, Ralston Wright and Horatio Porter.

The Flyin' Frogs that day more than lived up to their slogan: ``Fastest Stick-Shifters in the West.'' Drummond & Co. rocketed through their one-lap tour of the Franklin Field track in 38.80 seconds, a Penn Relays record that still stands. TCU's marvelous baton passes throughout the race, one of sport's most demanding tests of hand-eye coordination, should have been captured for use as a training film.

``That was the most exciting, most electrifying, most enjoyable, most fulfilling - it was the most moment of my track career,'' Drummond said with audible joy, ``because I was with the team I always dreamt I would be with and we came there and we dominated. It was incredible. We had the prettiest uniforms. We set the meet record.''

The emotions were a little different in high school, when the Relays served Drummond and his Overbrook teammates as an exercise in machismo.

``In high school, I began to understand the importance of bragging rights,'' said Drummond, ``because that's what it basically came down to - your school having the best relay team in the city. In being a member of Overbrook, a city championship team, going to the Penn Relays was a tradition. You had to do well there.''

Unfortunately for Overbrook, those were the seasons that William Reed was running relay anchor legs for Central. A precocious quarter-miler with devastating speed, Reed still ranks No. 11 on the all-time U.S. juniors list, with a personal best of 45.17 for 400 meters.

``We would beat them for three legs,'' said Drummond, ``and then it was William Reed. Kind of like of the end of the story. But the whole excitement was gearing up for Penn Relays. The Penn Relays to us was the meet of the season. Everything else was just, you know, fillers.''

And Drummond fully expects the old anticipation and exhilaration to return when he walks into Franklin Field tomorrow.

``Definitely,'' Drummond said, ``The reason is everyone knows who you are. When you go to a meet like the Penn Relays, you don't have to worry about people wondering who you are. From the littlest kid to the high school, college and elite level, they know you by name and they've followed your career. Those stands are filled with true-to-form, 100 percent, bona-fide track fans.''

Drummond will join their number when he isn't competing, to enjoy the Penn Relays like any other spectator, and to take bemused interest in the regards of his rivals.

``The thing I like about track and field more than any other sport is that we're athletes and fans, too,'' said Drummond. ``But the people who are going to race you, they're not going to give you too many accolades. They're going to pay their respects, but at the same time, they'll give you that look that says: `Yeah, but I'm going to beat you the next time we meet.'''

And will several members of Drummond's Philadelphia family be on hand, to give him a hand?

``My mom usually takes care of that,'' Drummond said, ``but Philly is home, so basically everyone there who knows me is family.''

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