by Renee Di Pietro
The streets were crowded. Blocks full of buyers, sellers, venders and travelers, all present for one reason. The 2001 Penn Relay Carnival was coming to an end. The carnival started earlier in the week and Saturday, April 28, was the final day of all of the track and field events.
The traffic on the street was overpowering Saturday as 48,522 bodies moved into the stands of Franklin Field, the home field of University of Pennsylvania and also the home of the annual carnival. This was the 107th running of the Penn Relay Carnival.
Athletes were found everywhere, on the field, in the stands and on the streets. They were warming up, cooling down, competing on the track and field and cheering on their team from the stands.
The atmosphere of the carnival this year and every year is one of excitement, glory and celebration. The crowd is made up of fans of all ages, ex-Penn Relay competitors, and the media. The athletes are made up of just of a variety, representing all classes of competition. Professional athletes, college competitors and high school students grace the field, as well as special guests who appear in random events, like the men’s 4×400-meter relay event that was compiled from companies such as Sprint.
The biggest race of the day was the men’s USA vs. World 4×400 meter relay that was broadcast live over ESPN. Before the race began the commentator announced for everyone on the field to get down so that the officials would have full view of the track for the race.
Olympic gold medal winner Michael Johnson ran the last leg of the USA team. Johnson is a 200 and 400 meter racer and has been referred to as the second best runner of the 20th Century. This was his last race on Franklin Field, because he is retiring at the end of this year’s season.
The race began just like any other, the runners anticipated the smoke and pop of the gun; but for this race, the silence of the crowd before the start was bone chilling.
Johnson received the baton at the same time as the last leg runner from Jamaica, but he chose to duck in behind Jamaica and wait until the final turn to take the lead. After he moved ahead on the final turn it was all smooth sailing down the final stretch. The crowd came to a frenzy of cheers and chants for the USA victory.
“USA, USA,” could be heard in unison throughout the entire arena. Johnson jogged his last victory lap waving to his audience with a grin on his face.
The Penn Relay Carnival is not only about the runners, but also the various field events. When the running events are in transition the eye does not have travel far to find another event to focus on. The triple jump took place along the main straightaway of the track, where the finish line sits. The high jump took place along side the second turn of the track where athletes leap backward over heights exceeding their own height. A nerf javelin event took place where the athletes launched small nerf javelins into the center of the field.
The most exciting of the field events was the poll vaulting, which took place on the far straightaway, opposite of the finish line. The winner propelled his body over an 18-foot-1-inch pole and set a new record for the event.
All and all, the day was eventful and enjoyed athletes and their fans.