Track & Field Readies for Penn Relays

by Will Stafford (@WillStaffordLSU)
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Track & Field Readies for Penn Relays

BATON ROUGE – The 116th running of the Penn Relays Carnival is sure to be one for the ages as the LSU track and field teams make their return to historic Franklin Field in Philadelphia this weekend to line up against many of the nation’s top-ranked programs in one the unique spectacles in all of sports.

The three-day carnival is set to begin Thursday at the University of Pennsylvania and will come to an end with the exciting “USA vs. The World” events during Saturday’s competition.

ESPN2 will air tape-delay coverage of the “USA vs. The World” portion of the meet from 7-9 p.m. CT on Saturday night that also includes LSU’s participation in the men’s and women’s 4×200 and 4×800 relays.

The atmosphere at Franklin Field on Saturday afternoon is sure to be unlike any in the previous 115 years of the Penn Relays. Three-time Olympic gold medalist, three-time World champion and three-time world-record holder Usain Bolt will run as a member of Jamaica’s dominating 4×100-meter relay team as part of the “USA vs. The World” festivities before a crowd of more than 50,000 fans.

The final event of this year’s meet will run Saturday at 5 p.m. CT as the nation’s premier men’s collegiate 4×400-meter relay teams will line up in the Championship of America final.

This weekend marks the last time the Tigers and Lady Tigers will have the chance to compete before they kick off the championship season at the 2010 SEC Outdoor Track & Field Championships, which will run from May 13-16 at Tom Black Track at LaPorte Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn.

Fans can receive live updates from the Penn Relays by becoming a fan of the LSU Track & Field page on Facebook and by following @LSUTrackField on Twitter.

“We look forward to coming back to the Penn Relays each year because this is the last time our teams get the opportunity to compete before the championship season,” said LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. “They will compete in an atmosphere unlike anything they have ever seen before, especially Saturday when they run in the ‘USA vs. The World’ portion of the meet. It will be electric.

“You don’t have to be a fan of track and field to enjoy the spectacle that is the Penn Relays. While it’ll be easy for our athletes to get caught up in this kind of an atmosphere, it’s important they understand that we need to take advantage of this one final opportunity to improve before the championship season.”

LSU is among the most successful programs all-time at the Penn Relays as the Tigers and Lady Tigers are winners of 58 Championship of America relay titles and 54 individual titles in meet history.

The Lady Tigers enter the meet as the three-time defending champions of the sprint medley relay as it was LSU’s only Championship of America relay crown during the competition a year ago.

The Lady Tigers already captured the sprint medley relay title at the 83rd Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays in record-setting fashion earlier this season as the team of Samantha Henry (200 meters), Kimberlyn Duncan (200 meters), Cassandra Tate (400 meters) and LaTavia Thomas (800 meters) set a new school record and meet record of 3 minutes 43.98 seconds for the victory.

A Philadelphia native, Thomas has anchored LSU’s sprint medley relay to three-straight Championship of America titles at the Penn Relays. With a win this week, Thomas would become the only female athlete in meet history to anchor the same relay to four Championship of America titles in a row.

It is believed that Mark Belger of Villanova is the only athlete in Penn Relays history to run anchor on the same relay to win four-straight Championships of America titles as he did so in the 4×800 in the 1970s.

The Lady Tigers are also threats to take home the title in the 4×100, 4×200, 4×400 and 4×800 relays. They enter the meet with the nation’s No. 2-ranked time in both the 4×100 (43.37) and 4×400 (3:31.46) relays. Not only that, but the Lady Tigers feature four runners who rank among the nation’s top seven performers in the 800-meter run. Thomas ranks No. 1 in the NCAA at 2:01.40, while Kayann Thompson ranks No. 2 at 2:03.54, Brittany Hall ranks No. 3 at 2:03.76 and Charlene Lipsey ranks No. 7 at 2:05.89.

Like the Lady Tigers, the Tigers also enter the meet as a favorite to take home the sprint relay crown with a record-setting win at the Texas Relays already under their belt this season. The Tiger foursome of Caleb Williams, Gabriel Mvumvure, Robert Simmons and Richard Jones set the school record at 3:16.01.

The LSU men are also among the favorites to win the Championship of America crown in the 4×800 relay as they feature the nation’s top-ranked performer in the 800-meter run in senior Richard Jones, who ran a new personal best of 1:46.90 at the LSU Alumni Gold last weekend. Jamaal James ranks No. 6 nationally at 1:48.34, while Sadiki White (1:49.13) and Garrek Thompson (1:50.75) also boast impressive times.

In addition, the Tigers currently rank No. 6 in the NCAA in the 4×100 relay with a time of 39.43 and rank No. 7 in the NCAA in the 4×400 relay with a seasonal-best time of 3:05.80.

While LSU captured just one relay championship at the Penn Relays a year ago, the teams combined for a program record five individual event wins in three days of competition at Franklin Field.

Three LSU athletes will look to defend their individual crowns this week. Last season, Henry captured the women’s 100-meter title with a winning time of 11.22, while sophomore Rachel Laurent won the women’s pole vault with a meet record clearance of 13-10 ½ and junior Walter Henning captured the gold in the men’s hammer throw with a winning mark of 225-6.

For her record-setting performance in the pole vault, Laurent was named the College Women’s Individual Athlete of the Meet. In fact, LSU swept individual accolades as former Tiger All-American Jeremy Hicks was named the College Men’s Individual Athlete of the Meet for his win in the long jump.

Texas is the only other program in meet history to sweep College Men’s and Women’s Individual Athlete of the Meet honors when it accomplished the rare feat back in 1998.

LSU great and 2009 NCAA champion Trindon Holliday also made history last year by becoming the first LSU Tiger in meet history to win the men’s 100-meter title with his winning time of 10.16. After using up his eligibility last season, Holliday is preparing for this week’s NFL Draft beginning Thursday.