April 30, 2005
Tennessee wrapped up its most successful run at the Penn Relays since 2002 Saturday afternoon in a steady rain at historic Franklin Field in Philadelphia, Pa. Former Vols Justin Gatlin and Leonard Scott helped the USA Red team exact some revenge in the 4x100-meter relay after getting edged at the 2004 Olympics in a spirited USA vs. The World competition.
"Our guys handled the rain well," head coach Bill Webb said. "I think we had a pretty good meet with a few disappointments because of injuries. I don't think any are serious. We have the Knoxville Twilight Meet Friday then it's championship time."
Courtesy of three victories in college and championship competition, Tennessee bumped its all-time total to 69 since 1949. The Volunteers won the shuttle hurdle relay championship Friday with Robert Boulware, Drew Brunson, Damond Campbell and Aries Merritt getting the nod. Tennessee's 14th shuttle hurdle relay win more than doubles the total of any other school and gives the Vols their 30th relay championship at Penn since 1966, the third-best total of any school in the time period. Jeff Day won the college steeplechase Thursday. Eric Pierce won the college long jump Friday.
Garland Porter provided Saturday's highlight with a runner-up finish in the championship hammer throw. Porter's mark of 209 feet, 4 inches stands as a regional qualifier but not quite a season best. In the college hammer, Josh Whisman finished fifth with a 192-6 regional qualifier. Knoxville Central grad Jim Sexton finished 14th with a 180-5 measurement.
Despite losing leadoff leg Matthieu Pritchett, Tennessee still finished third in the 4x100 relay championship final with another regional-qualifying time of 39.88 seconds, three-hundredths of a second faster than the Vols' Friday prelim time. Jeremy Burton ably subbed for Pritchett to get the Vols out of the hole. The remainder of Tennessee's lineup went unchanged as Jonathan Wade, Merritt and Rubin Williams ran the last three legs. Tennessee's 4x100 relay team got some national television exposure as NBC chose to televise the race as part of its USA vs. The World coverage Saturday afternoon.
After winning the college long jump Friday, Pierce took third in the college triple jump Saturday with a 49-3 leap, just three inches off his season best. Tennessee's 4x800 relay had to do some lineup shuffling, as well. Tennessee's leading 800 man Paul Cross fell ill and had to be replaced. The Vols finished 12th in 7:37.13. Day, Kenny Schappert, Frank Francois and Karns grad Yarrick Kincaid passed the baton after running two laps each.
After Great Britain upset the U.S. for the 4x100 relay gold by one-hundredth of a second at the Athens Olympics last summer, the stage was set for a dramatic showdown in Philadelphia, a city put on the map by confrontation between the American rebels and British redcoats. The most volatile and exciting relay in track and field was made even more so by the boisterous Jamaican fans present in large numbers and cheering their quartet at Franklin Field.
Meet organizers could have renamed the 4x100 relay the former Vols vs. The World as Scott and Gatlin authored the best legs on the victorious USA Red foursome. USA Red took top honors in 38.58, the second-fastest time in the world this year. USA Blue's 38.60 effort proved good enough for second. Jamaica took third (39.38) and was followed by Great Britain (39.56). Coby Miller led off for USA Red. Scott ran the second leg and put his squad in position to win. Shawn Crawford, the 2004 gold medalist in the 200, took the third leg and handed off to Gatlin with about a five-meter deficit to USA Blue's anchor J.J. Johnson. Gatlin churned through a masterful anchor leg to erase the deficit and nip USA Blue at the tape, showing no intention of handing over his title of "World's Fastest Man" earned with a gold medal in the Olympic 100.
"For me, the experience within itself of running with some of the greatest to ever do it was terrific," Scott said. "We wanted to move the stick and get it around. This is a great start for all of us. When we step on the track, we want to win. You represent the USA, and the USA is all about winning. That's what we want to do."
Scott and Gatlin created a formidable sprint relay combination in their days at Tennessee. They both ran on Tennessee school record efforts in the 4x100 and 4x200. On the school record 4x100 relay time of 38.66, set in 2001 and 2002, the two switched places, as Gatlin took the second leg and Scott held down the anchor.
"They told me I was between five and seven meters behind," Gatlin said. "Somebody like J.J. [Johnson, USA Blue anchor] and his stride pattern, if you see what he did in 2003 [when he came from behind to anchor Team USA to gold at the world championships], I had my work cut out for me. I had confidence in my team and confidence in myself. I was just proud to win. This is my first race on the track this year. I think I got the tone set and a piece of confidence in my pocket."
In addition to returning the Americans to the top of the 4x100 relay world, Gatlin has a full day planned. After leaving the Penn Relays, Gatlin will join President George W. Bush at the White House Saturday night for dinner in recognition of his achievements in 2004.
Tennessee wraps up the home schedule Friday night with a low key Knoxville Twilight Meet at Tom Black Track.
Penn Relays, Philadelphia, Pa.
Saturday, April 30, 2005
|4x100 relay-championship final|
|1. LSU||39.06 *|
(Burton, Wade, Merritt, R. Williams)
|4x800 relay-championship final|
(Day, Schappert, Francois, Kincaid)
|1. Michael Whitehead, Mich.||50-11 *|
|3. Eric Pierce, Tenn.||49-3|
|1. J.P. Smolenski, Purdue||212-9 *|
|2. Garland Porter, Tenn.||209-4 *|
|1. Cory Martin, Auburn||211-10 *|
|5. Josh Whisman, Tenn.||192-6 *|
|14. Jim Sexton, Tenn.||180-5|
|SB-season-best mark, PR-personal record/career-best mark, *-NCAA regional qualifier.|