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Usain Bolt an absolute crowd pleaser at Penn Relays


Philly2Philly's Erik Uliasz shares his experience of watching Usain Bolt at the Penn Relays.

Even though I coach high school track and field, I have never had the opportunity to see the Penn Relays. I have heard over and over again that they are simply the best track meet you can go to in this country. In the last weekend of April every year since 1893, track fans make a sacred  The relay team of Mario Forsythe, Yohan Blake, Marvin Anderson and Bolt finished in 37.90 seconds for Jamaica Gold, setting a Penn Relays record. Photo: http://oneclick.indiatimes.com/photo/09S42gebmKdpq?q=Usain+Boltpilgrimage to the University of Pennsylvania’s  storied Franklin Field  where they can be with some of nation’s the most passionate fans.

What makes this meet real special is not just the sheer size of the event, but the thousands of cheering Jamaicans who holler their signature “wooo-wooo” every time one of their countrymen are racing down the track. This was not just any average day at the Penn Relays. Track’s reigning rock star, Usain Bolt was going to anchor Jamaica’s 4x100m relay against of bevy of present and future Olympians in the USA v. the World Race. My expectations were not just met…. they were completely shattered.

I arrived at Franklin Field early in the morning around 8’o clock, and the Jamaicans were already filling up the streets around the University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field; an ocean of black, green and yellow could be seen for blocks. They had come to see their star, three-time gold medalist Usain Bolt, live up to his fitting last name. Bolt competed every year in the Penn Relays from 2001 through 2005. In 2003, he anchored Jamaica's 4x200 team to third place in the USA vs. the World race. Bolt also ran the third leg on Jamaica's 4x400 team that finished third in 2004, and led off with a 200-meter leg for the sprint medley relay team that took fifth in 2005.

As they day progressed, the crowd became more animated as the stadium began to fill to near capacity. The acoustics of the U-Shaped Franklin Field made the crowd seem even louder. Then, during the high school boys 4x100 races, the crowd thundered with cheers and applause when Bolt stepped onto the infield. It was hard to miss the six-foot-five athlete as he left a fenced-off area and took a few strides down the middle of the field and waved to the adoring crowd who exploded. The meet stopped and everyone just went nuts as announcer Ron Lopresti was forced into the thankless role of overmatched substitute teacher of a massive and unruly class, asking everybody to sit down and shut up. Sorry, teach-- no one in Franklin Field was going to sit during this race. And Jamaicans are hard to keep quiet.

"The starter was telling the crowd to be quiet," Bolt said. "That's one in a million. When you go anywhere else in the world, they are quiet. You get in front of Jamaicans, and they make noise."

Bolt wowed the crowd with a lightning fast final leg of the 4x100 meter relay, taking the baton in a near dead heat, then blowing away USA Blue’s Ivory Williams to win the event at the Penn Relays. The relay team of Mario Forsythe, Yohan Blake, Marvin Anderson and Bolt finished in 37.90 seconds for Jamaica Gold, setting a Penn Relays record. Bolt took a perfect handoff from Anderson and blazed for the final 100 meters to a raucous ovation. Bolt’s dash lasted an unofficial but exhilarating 8.79 seconds.

Bolt’s appearance at the Penn Relays — his first competition of 2010 — was responsible for the highest single-day attendance (54,310) in the event’s 116-year history. A total of 117,346 fans watched the three days, also a record.

I left Franklin Field that late afternoon in disbelief of the spectacle I had just observed. The Penn Relays was a greater event than I could possibly imagine, and Bolt’s performance made it one for the ages. For the rest of my life, I can say that I saw the fastest man in the world race before my eyes. Even more remarkable, this once in a lifetime event occurred practically in my backyard.

Contact Erik Uliasz at euliasz@wyoarea.org

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