Victorious with watches in hand. (Photo by Don Rich)
In the much-anticipated USA versus the World competition during the final day of the 118th Penn Relays Carnival, the Americans put on a show for the nearly 50,000 that filled the stands at Franklin Stadium by sweeping all six events.
Perhaps creating as much excitement as the professional athletes that graced the track oval on Saturday, the last day of competition, was the four members of the Westfield 4x800-meter squad.
Spurred by an electrifying final two legs, the Virginia team captured the Championship of America title with a six-second personal-best clocking of 7 minutes, 39.73 seconds.
Jamaican squads Kingston College (7:40.52) and Holmwood Tech (7:45.47) finished second and third, respectively. Chariho RI was fourth with a state record of 7:46.26.
“I knew we could do it. I just didn’t think this early,” said anchor leg Tyrone Walker. “Our goal coming in today was to run 7:45 or faster, which is our PR from indoor. This is a bonus coming in at 7:39.”
Westfield, which achieved its previous best of 7:45.51 by finishing fifth at the New Balance Indoor Nationals (NBIN) in March, didn’t move into contention until third leg Nathan Kiley blasted his two laps in 1:51.3, the fastest split among the 12 teams in the field. Kiley forged to the front with roughly 1,000 meters remaining, but Kingston’s Sanj Powell (1:54.5) regained the top spot with 500 to go.
It was then that Walker did his part. Still trailing by the time he got the baton, Walker shifted to an extra gear on the back straightaway, taking command with about 300 meters left. He then held off a strong effort by Powell down the stretch.
“I didn’t really necessarily have a plan,” Walker said. “I didn’t know how the other runners were going to run. Once he started to kick early, I knew I could out-kick him for the 300. That’s the normal point where I kick so I was pretty confident the last 300 taking the lead.”
Westfield coach Kelly Deegan wore a smile as her talented quartet was being interviewed after their win. She admitted Walker’s gutsy move did have her a little nervous.
“I would have felt better about him sitting behind that guy there and not going so early,” she said. “But he makes good decisions all the time, and if he’s ready to make the move I say go for it.”
Kiley felt that pressure was on for him and his teammates after earning the top seed with their 7:48.39 effort a day earlier.
“Coming in as the first seed after the (preliminaries) I think there was a big target on our backs,” he said. “All of us played significant roles (today).”
The chill in the air. The early-morning start. None of that seemed to faze Eric Futch in the 400 hurdles.
The Penn Wood PA senior captured the COA 400 hurdles with a 51.77 clocking, a time that ties for sixth-best all-time at the Relays.
“It’s really big to come out here and win among a thousand fans,” said the Houston-bound Futch. “I just tried to come out here and ignore the noise and run my race. Last year in the summer I ran 51.67. I tried to come out and run faster, but I still won so I am happy with that.”
Futch was in fourth with about 100 meters remaining. He moved into second, behind top-seeded Jamaican Javarn Gallimore.
Futch took the lead going over the tenth and final hurdle and then powered to the finish. The star hurdler, who moved to No. 1 in the U.S. rankings, didn’t feel he had the race won until the last stretch.
“Actually I thought (Gallimore) was going to keep going,” Futch said.” Once I got next to him, he messed up on the hurdle, and that’s when I knew I had the race from there. He clipped the hurdle coming off the turn. Once he clipped that, I knew I had it.”
Penn Wood coach Lenny Jordan was confident Futch had the race won by the tenth hurdle.
“I have seen him run many times,” Jordan said. “Once the young man passed him on the inside, he didn’t panic.”
Gallimore struggled to sixth overall at 53.02. Kadesh Roberts of Bay Shore NY was second at 52.43.
Futch, a 48-second 400 runner, has only had a limited time practicing on the hurdles. He recently copped the 300 hurdles (37.15) at the Jack Armstrong Invitational on April 20, but his last time in the longer hurdle race was in the summer at the AAU Junior Olympics.
“Basically we just do a lot of speed work, which kind of enables him to run in between the hurdles,” Jordan said. “He hasn’t run over a hurdle since last week.”
The coach believes the newest Penn Relay champion strength lies between his ears.
“He doesn’t like to lose,” Jordan said. “He’s a hard worker. He wants to constantly stay focused. He wants to win. That’s his real, big strength.”
Lakeland VA senior Anaquan Peterson cracked the 50-foot barrier for the first time, hitting the mark on the button to capture the COA triple jump.
“There was really no pressure,” said Peterson, a multiple state titlist in the long jump and the triple jump. “I just came out here and jumped. I like the crowd. I like the pressure.”
Peterson, a second-place finisher at NBIN, achieved his winning leap on his fourth attempt. Imani Brown of Reading PA was second overall at 48-11 ¾.
“It feels great. It feels good,” Peterson said. “This is what I wanted to do. It was something to accomplish, one of my goals. Hopefully next are New Balance Outdoor Nationals and a couple more state titles.”
Michael Jensen of Appoquinimink DE had a personal best by more than five inches to win the pole vault with a height of 16-4 ¾. The junior nearly eclipsed the meet mark of 16-6 ½, set last year by Jordan Yamoah of Arlington NY.
Jensen’s previous best came back in January when he won the Delaware Pole Vault Invite at the University of Delaware.
Clive Pullen of Kingston made it three straight for the Jamaicans in the long jump with a distance of 24-3. Woodbury’s Anthony Averett NJ took the COA crown and second overall at 24-1/4 with Adoree Jackson of Junipero Serra CA placing third at 23-10 ¾.
“I came with the expectations of qualifying for the World Junior Games,” Pullen said. “I came under very difficult conditions and I came through victorious and I am happy to win the championship.”
Jamaica won its eighth consecutive crown in the 4x100 relay with three-time defending champion Wolmer earning the victory with a time of 40.34. Wolmer led its country to a 1-2-3 sweep with Jamaica College (40.57) and Herbert Morrison (41.03) taking the next two spots.
Potomac MD was fourth with its team of Tavon Young, Dondre Echols, Ronald Darby and Josh Thorne combining for a time of 41.47. Suitland MD was fifth at 41.47.
It was an All-International finish in the 4x400 with Jamaica’s Munro College, sizzling to a time of 3:11.91, thanks to a 45.8 leg by anchor Delano Williams. Kingston was second at 3:13.13 and Barbados’s Lodge finished third in 3:13.67. Jamaican teams swept the next three places. The only two U.S. teams – Junipero Serra CA and Trenton Central NJ – were disqualified.
Wolmer’s Christoff Bryan copped the high jump at 6-11 ½. Damar Robinson of Calabar JAM placed second at 6-9. Ubn Short of Hershey PA was third at 6-9.