April 27, 2003
PHILADELPHIA -- Tennessee closed the 109th Penn Relays at Franklin Field Saturday with a solid performance in a loaded 4x800m relay field. Behind the running of Frank Francois, Kenny Schappert, Joakim Daun and Marc Sylvester, Tennessee finished fourth with a time of 7:21.91 behind only Arkansas, Kentucky and Georgetown, all talented middle-distance schools.
The Philadelphia weather alternated between merely dreary and dreadful with rain and chilly winds on much of the meet's final day. However, the beloved meet still drew 39,783 on the final day, the fourth-largest crowd ever. Poor weather or not, the Penn Relays remains a spectacle as the "City of Brotherly Love" makes room for everyone. It's the only meet in America where one can watch the world's fastest man Tim Montgomery and the Special Olympics 4x100m relay on the same day. The Penn Relays retain staying power because at no other meet can fans watch Philadelphia elementary fourth graders run the shuttle hurdle relay and see 101-year-old phenom Everett Hosack of Over the Hill Track Club run the master's 100m dash, albeit finishing last in 55.73 to winner and 78-year-old youngster Mel Larson's impressive 14.45 time, but still getting the same thunderous applause showered upon Team USA.
Tennessee's 4x800m relay time of 7:21.91 shaved more than six seconds off its
previous season-best winner at the Sea Ray Relays. Perhaps leadoff man
Francois' leg was the most noteworthy. Francois started off a bit slow,
struggling in 11th with one of his two laps in the books. However, Francois
turned on the jets with 250 meters to go, passing people continuously to hand
off the baton to Schappert in third. Schappert ran a solid leg, his relay
lifetime best, to hand off the baton to third leg Daun in fourth. Daun ran a
steady leg and handed off the baton to anchor Sylvester in fifth place. After
his rousing anchor leg to capture the sprint medley relay Friday night,
Sylvester passed one team to move the Vols to a fourth-place finish in the
"I didn't get out as well as I wanted to," Francois said. "I wanted to get out and run with the leaders. The leadoff leg at Penn is always crazy with some pushing, shoving and bumping. I was feeling good with 300 meters to go. I made a move on the outside and tried to pass as many people as I could. I know Kenny had a relay PR. Joakim had a great leg. Unfortunately, we were just a little out of the race when Marc got the baton. He did everything he could and ran a great split. Overall, it was a pretty good finish, but we have plenty of room to improve."
Damond Campbell opened the day's slate with a 53.71 time to place 33rd in the 400m hurdles. While the Clarksville native has run faster this sesaon, he easily won the seventh section. Tennessee scratched its 4xMile relay and Dwayne Bell Jr. in the 400m hurdles. Meanwhile, Rondell Mershon passed on the triple jump after finding himself not up to full speed with a slight leg injury.
However, the professionals in the USA vs. the World competition sent the biggest jolt of electricity through the crowd. Hundreds of Jamaican flags waving in the rain-soaked stands at Franklin Field counterbalanced with chants of "USA" created an exciting atmosphere as some of the world's best sprinters/relay competitors lined up against each other in what could be a preview of the 2004 Olympic Games.
Former Vol Justin Gatlin dazzled the home crowd by leading his quartet to victories in the USA vs. the World 4x100m and 4x200m relays. Running for the USA Red squad (Jon Drummond, Gatlin, Coby Miller, Tim Montgomery), Gatlin ran the best legs for both relays in his first outdoor meet as a professional. In the 4x100m relay, Gatlin's USA Red foursome clocked in at 38.62 to defeat runner-up USA Blue by .05 of a second. Running the second leg, Gatlin made up a slight deficit by running down the leader on the west straightaway with feet-flashing fury. Gatlin established a lead on the second leg that USA Red would not relinquish.
Gatlin's performance anchoring the USA Red's 4x200m relay to a victory in a speedy 1:19.16 time, just .05 of a second off the Penn Relay record set in 1992, offered more proof. The fact that Gatlin has picked up a step since his former teammates last saw him on Tennessee's Hallowed Hill is undeniable and certainly a terrifying proposition for anyone lining up in the lane beside him. After legs by USA Red team members Shawn Crawford, Ramon Clay and Darvis Patton, Gatlin took the baton on the last 200m leg with a fraction of a lead. The margin didn't remain a fraction for long as Gatlin opened up about a 15-20 meter lead when he broke the tape. Gatlin's strong anchor leg led the USA Red team to a 2.27-second victory margin against the USA Blue team, an eternity in that race in professional track and field.
Saturday's action bookends the 109th Penn Relays, but Tennessee's weekend work is not yet done. The Volunteers return to campus Sunday to host the Knoxville Invitational. Admission is free.