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Track and Field to Visit Philadelphia for Historic Penn Relays

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Distance runners, pole vaulters, and long jumpers alike will travel to Penn to participate in the nation’s oldest and largest track and field event, the Penn Relays.

When scanning through the Harvard track and field schedule, a three-day, mid-season meet in Philadelphia doesn’t exactly jump off the page. The team has already made trips to Kentucky, New Mexico, Washington, Arkansas, and Florida, and will compete at Heps next weekend before ECACs, Regionals, and Outdoor Championships.

A six-hour trip to the City of Brotherly Love seems like a small drop in a big bucket. But make no mistake about it—the Penn Relays is not just another track meet. The five-day meet is the nation’s oldest and largest and will bring together middle schoolers and masters, Olympians from Kingston and amateurs from Kensington, first timers and athletes who have been competing since they were eligible (fourth grade). For the Crimson, nine athletes will be taking to 122-year-old, 52,958-seat Franklin Field for this historic event.

“Penn Relays has been a crazy inspirational environment—athletes come from all over the world to compete,” said junior pole vaulter Marlee Sabatino. “Our outdoor season always seem to fly by, but I’m stoked to have this last opportunity to jump before Ivies, harness all the energy and excitement, and go big.”

Sabatino, who is coming off a fifth-place finish at last weekend’s Cardinal Classic, and Nicole Trenchard will be the first Harvard athletes to participate in this year’s Penn Relays as their event kicks off at 10:05 Thursday morning. Junior distance runners Elianna Shwayder (5,000-meter) and Fiona Davis (10,000-meter) will run their respective races under the lights on Thursday evening while junior Tyler Spear and sophomore Collin Price will race in the night’s final event—the men’s 10,000-meter.

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Anthony DeNitto is the only Harvard freshman making the trip to Philadelphia as the Waban, Mass., native will be representing the Crimson in the men’s long jump competition on Friday afternoon. Senior Efe Uwaifo and sophomore Ian West will be competing on Saturday afternoon, in the triple jump and pole vault championships, respectively. Uwaifo finished third in the triple jump last weekend at Stanford. West took part in the Penn Relays as a senior at Fike High School in Wilson, N.C.

“Anytime you get to represent Harvard is just an honor from an individual standpoint,” West said. “Those of us who are competing are really dialed in, putting ourselves in a championship mentality and knowing this is the time to be serious, this is the time that big time players are going to make big time plays. We’re very focused in the opportunities that are presented to us.”

The Penn Relays is as much a part of the social fabric of Philadelphia as cheesesteaks, the Liberty Bell, and spring weekends on the Schuylkill River.

It is truly the pinnacle of track and field in the city. The event was founded as a carnival and still maintains that feel to this day. Youth track coaches take their teams after practice to watch the races on Thursday night.

High schoolers cut class on Friday afternoon to take in their classmates’ races and college relays. Spectators lay out in green spaces around Franklin Field while athletes stretch and go for warm-up runs. University City’s famous food trucks cater to local business people, fans, and athletes alike, with lines winding down the one-way streets.

For some schools, athletes, and families, the long weekend is a holiday in and of itself. Megan McCloskey, a junior high jumper for Penn State from Lower Gwynedd, Pa., will be participating in her 12th Penn Relays on Saturday.

She made her debut as a fourth grader for St. Alphonsus School. Her older sister, Kiernan, a former Lehigh basketball player, took part eight times, while the sisters’ younger brother, Kyle, a Villanova-bound football player, will run for Germantown Academy’s 4x400-meter relay team on Friday, in what will be his fifth go-round at Franklin Field.

Each day of the meet, three of which will feature Harvard athletes, has its own special flavor to it. Tuesday is the kick-off for the five-day event while Wednesday features the college men’s and women’s decathalons in the morning.

Thursday is all about the girls at Franklin Field.The day begins at 10 a.m. with the 400-meter hurdles and concludes with the 10,000-meter men’s race, which starts at 11:05 p.m., one of only two events featuring men on the day. In addition to 18 field events, there are 107 track races on the day, including 34 heats in the high school 4x400-meter category.

Local bragging rights are on the line as the top runners from Philadelphia’s Catholic and Public Leagues as well as from the Pennsylvania suburbs and Camden compete for the bronze plaques that are awarded to the winners.The night features a full slate of distance races, with diehards staying in the haunted bleachers well after sundown. Highlights include the high school and college distance medley championships.

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