U.S. stars will be out at the Penn Relays

Manteo Mitchell will compete in the Penn Relays 4x400. He ran on a broken leg in the Olympics.
Manteo Mitchell will compete in the Penn Relays 4x400. He ran on a broken leg in the Olympics. (MARTIN MEISSNER / AP)
Posted: April 24, 2013

The Penn Relays again will receive worldwide attention with the 14th annual "USA vs. the World" competition, renewing the passionate rivalry between the United States and Jamaica and, this year, involving athletes who won gold medals in the 2012 London Olympics.

However, the Drake Relays, always held on the same weekend in Des Moines, Iowa, are striving to get noticed in the same circles thanks to an assist from Hy-Vee, a local supermarket chain that is helping Drake put up almost $500,000 in prize money for events featuring Olympic medalists from last year.

The 13 Drake events, on Friday night and Saturday, include six on the track that will be worth $50,000 each, and seven in the field for $25,000 each. Two of the competitions, the men's 110-meter hurdles and the women's pole vault, will include the gold, silver, and bronze medalists from London.

Drake will have 20 Olympians who competed in London from more than a dozen countries.

"I think this is terrific for track in general, and they're putting the money mostly into the elite athletes," said Dave Johnson, director of the Penn Relays. "I think it dovetails very well for what we do. They are getting a different group of athletes than what we draw here. It gives almost all the major professional athletes a good weekend of competition, either at Penn or at Drake. So I think it's terrific."

The Penn Relays highlight six USA vs. The World relays - the men's and women's 4x100-meter and 4x400, plus a distance medley relay for men and a 4x800 for women - on Saturday. Though the entire field won't be announced until Tuesday, the stars will be coming out.

The top U.S. women's 4x100 team of Tianna (Madison) Bartoletta, Allyson Felix, Bianca Knight, and Carmelita Jeter, which set a world record of 40.82 seconds in winning gold in London, will be back. That quartet, running in the same order, won the relay at Penn last year, part of a six-race sweep by American teams.

Jamaica's Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, winner of the last two Olympic gold medals in the women's 100, returns to lead her team in the 4x100.

One of the U.S. teams for the men's 4x400 will feature Manteo Mitchell, who broke a leg during a preliminary round of the relay at the Olympics but finished the lap. This will be his first competitive race since then.

The gold-medal men's 4x400 relay team from the Bahamas is expected back at Penn in its entirety. A pair of London individual gold winners - Kirani James of Grenada (400 meters) and Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic (400 hurdles) - will compete for the Caribbean all-stars in the same race.

By the way, Sanchez initially was entered at Drake but switched to Penn.

Twenty-four athletes who have competed at the Penn Relays won Olympic gold last year. Usain Bolt, who captured three golds for Jamaica, ran here for his high school team from 2001 through 2005.

USA vs. the World kicks off the outdoor track season for USA Track and Field, a four-meet run that concludes with the national championships in June, coincidentally in Des Moines. The nationals will determine who competes for Team USA in the world championships later in the summer in Moscow.

Johnson said he is intrigued enough by the prize money being offered by Drake to see if the Penn Relay Carnival "could step up to the plate and do something similar." But he added that putting on races for prize money would be "a tough 'if' to get past."

In addition to acquiring sponsorships to fund the money pool, a concern would be finding the time to conduct the races given that the Penn Relays are jam-packed with more than 300 events over three days and that nearly all the work involved to conduct the carnival is done by volunteers who pay their way to Philadelphia.

"We run our officials ragged over three days," he said. "One of the reasons for not going to Sunday is to give people a full day to fly home, get their feet back on the ground, get some sleep, and go to work Monday. There's also the expense of running this on a Sunday. The costs for personnel would be staggering."


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