USA Red women set American 4X800 relay record at Penn Relays

Flower power: USA Red's Alysia Montano, wearing her signature bloom, celebrates her team's 4x800 victory in the Penn Relays at Franklin Field.
Flower power: USA Red's Alysia Montano, wearing her signature bloom, celebrates her team's 4x800 victory in the Penn Relays at Franklin Field. (RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 29, 2013

Alysia Montaño says it's a "visual clue" of her strength and femininity.

The yellow flower in the U.S. Olympian's hair was more than that during the first race of the "USA vs. The World" showcase series at Saturday's Penn Relays.

It was a sure sign to the 48,871 spectators on a spectacularly sunny afternoon in Franklin Field that something special was happening on the track.

Running in splendid isolation on the anchor of the first 4x800 in the 13-year-old history of the popular series of world-class relay races, Montaño brought the baton, the crowd and that bright artificial flower home in record-setting time.

"When you set a record, you put your name in stone," Montaño said of the American record in the event that she set along with teammates Lea Wallace, Brenda Martinez and Ajee' Wilson.

The foursome running for USA Red in a race that also featured a strong Kenyan squad as well as a USA Blue team anchored by former West Catholic and Louisiana State star LaTavia Thomas didn't just break the American record.

Montaño and Company took down the mark in the same way the 27-year-old Californian used to upend the boys while playing tackle football as a pre-teen: In emphatic fashion.

The previous record was 8 minutes, 17.91 seconds, set in 2009 by a Tennessee team anchored by Penn Relays favorite Phoebe Wright, who ran a strong leadoff leg for USA Blue.

With Martinez breaking open the race with a 2:00.61 split on the second leg and Montaño chasing history with every step on a blazing 1:58.55 split, USA Red finished in 8:04.31 - more than 13 seconds better than the previous mark.

"I never even knew what the record was," Montaño said. "When they announced [before the race] that we were going for the American record, I was like, 'Oh, OK.'

"I wanted to run hard for these other ladies. I was so fired up by their effort, their energy."

Timing is everything in track, and this was the perfect time to stage the first 4x800 in the "USA vs. The World" series, because the American track scene on the women's side is stocked with a deep pool of sensational half-milers.

Montaño is the best of the bunch, a four-time outdoor national champion as well as the fifth-place finisher at the London Olympics.

Unlike many other top Americans, Montaño still is fairly new to the Penn Relays scene. She said she ran here once as an athlete with Southern California's Canyon High School and again in the sprint medley for USA Red in 2010.

"The atmosphere is incredible," Montaño said of the Penn Relays. "It's impossible not to race well."

Montaño said she's been running with a flower in her hair since she took down a friend of some of her male cousins during a football game. Apparently, the guy didn't think she belonged in the game.

"I was the free safety," Montaño said. "This guy was thinking he was going to score a touchdown. I tackled him and there was a daisy on the ground and I picked it up and put it in my hair and said, 'and I'm a girl.' "

She said she has never run a race without a flower in her hair. On Saturday, she also had a baton in her hand.

She took them both and an another appreciative Penn Relays crowd along for a record-setting ride.

Contact Phil Anastasia at Follow @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.

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