At Penn Relays, follow the roar of the crowd and you'll find Bolt

The Penn Relays crowd loved Usain Bolt.
The Penn Relays crowd loved Usain Bolt.
Posted: April 26, 2010

At 1:40 p.m. Saturday, the single-day record crowd of 54,310 at the 116th Penn Relays at Franklin Field - many clad in yellow, green and black - began to roar. It was the type of moment that will live on as another chapter in the storied history of the Carnival.

And to think Jamaican superstar sprinter Usain Bolt was merely just beginning to warm up. His "USA vs. the World" 4 x 100-meter relay race wasn't going to start for another hour.

As Miki Barber, a member of the victorious USA Blue 4 x 100 women's team put it: "It was so loud, I thought, 'Is the president here? [Michael] Jordan?' "

So loud, in fact, that the start of a high school race had to be delayed.

It was the type of reception certainly fit for the commander-in-chief or His Airness. But for the fastest man in the world?

Well, he's still getting accustomed to it.

"Over the past 2 years, I've been surprised by the amount of people that know me and the welcome I get when I go to track meets or functions," said Bolt, a three-time Olympic gold medalist who holds the world records for the 100- and 200-meter dashes, as well as being part of the Jamaican world record-holding 4 x 100 relay. "For me, I'm still trying to get used to it and I'm enjoying it."

Bolt told reporters on Friday that they shouldn't expect anything from him. He was just going to take it easy.

So much for that.

With his team barely trailing entering the final leg of the race, Bolt received the baton and, running like a gazelle, used his lightning quickness to dash past USA Blue's Ivory Williams and lead Jamaica Gold to a win in a Carnival-record time of 37.9 seconds.

"I told the guys to make sure I didn't have to work, because I really didn't want to do much," said Bolt, whose gallop was unofficially measured at 8.79 seconds. "I got the baton pretty much in front, so I wasn't really worried about anything else."

Bolt, 23, hadn't run at the Penn Relays since 2005, when he was still a teenager with aspirations of making it big. He remembered how raucous the Jamaican fans were, especially on the homestretch.

That was the case during his race - and the victory lap that ensued.

"Well, the crowd always has been wonderful," Bolt said. "I haven't been here in a while, so I was really looking forward to it.

"It was just awesome. It was a wonderful feeling. There's nothing like a home crowd for me. So the experience was wonderful. I love running here."

Williams, like the rest of his USA Blue teammates, was upset he lost. Blue finished second with a time of 38.33 seconds. However, Williams embraced the crowd and was able to feed off its noise.

"They were cheering for Usain Bolt, but I'm thinking they're cheering for me," Williams said. "I knew I wasn't going to be able to pass him, but I was trying. I think we can beat them. If I get in front of Usain Bolt, I don't think he's going to go by me."

Said Bolt: "It's a very good steppingstone to show that our track club is stepping up and doing well. Especially on this 4 x 100, we've been doing baton changes for 2 weeks. We came here really focused and ready and we came out there and executed."

Bolt's impact on the sport has been felt ever since he began smashing world records at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

And the Penn Relays' ticketing department couldn't be happier. A record 117,346 fans passed through the turnstiles during the 3-day event.

"Any one person that can get attention for the sport as a whole is good for all of us," said Lashinda Demus, a member of the USA Blue 4 x 400 women's team. "If we can use Bolt, we're going to use Bolt."

The only question left for track-and-field enthusiasts across the Delaware Valley, as well as shirt vendors and even ticket scalpers, is this:

Is he coming back next year?

"Ask my coach," Bolt said.

One can only hope so.

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