Penn Relays Preview: Sprint Relays

Penn Relays Preview: Sprint Relays

NEW ORLEANS — The Penn Relays don’t take place on the same planet as other American track meets. On that planet, meet organizers and coaches are scrambling to make meets shorter and better attended. On this one, a track meet can be forty hours long and attract tens of thousands of raucous spectators in a major American city. There’s nothing like it. It’s tempting to compare Drake or Pre to Penn, and the quality of the professional performances at the former two is certainly higher. But they’re also in much smaller stadiums in much smaller cities. Those two meets are concerts; Penn is a festival.

We’ll have three separate previews for the sprint relays, the distance relays, and the individual events in Philadelphia, which start in earnest today (THURSDAY) but really kick into gear tomorrow. The entirety of the meet will be on Flotrack Pro; if you don’t have a subscription but do have cable, it’ll be on NBC Sports Network on Saturday from 12:30 to 3:00 Eastern. That time slot includes the men’s 4xMile, 4×100, and 4×200 and the women’s 4×200. Below is a breakdown of the sprint relays. The alternative way to preview this portion of the meet is to dive down the rabbithole of SEC sprint twitter.

Live stream | Schedule, start lists, and live results

Women’s 4×100

Heats Thursday, 1:10 PM
Final Friday, 1:00 PM
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From an NCAA championships perspective, this is the biggest race of the weekend. Texas A&M won the event at outdoor nationals in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013, and 2014, and probably internally give themselves credit for a title in 2011 and 2012 when they took second to LSU teams that included convicted drug cheat Semoy Hackett.

The Aggies have won six straight Penn Relays titles, in addition to arguably having won eight straight NCAA titles. In 2007 and 2008, LSU won Penn and TAMU won NCAAs. All told, the Tigers and Aggies have utterly dominated the one-lap relay on the collegiate level for the last decade, going 1-2 at nationals in some order in ’07, ’08, and ’10-12.

Sparknotes: the best women’s 4×100 team in the nation has won this race at Penn every year in the Obama administration.

Way back in 2006, Texas was the last team other than these two to win a national championship. (Caryl Gilbert Smith‘s USC and UCF teams have ended the top-two hegemony with second place finishes at nationals the last two years) The ’06 Longhorns also won the 4×1 at Penn Relays that year.

Texas A&M, LSU, and Texas are 1-2-5 on the descending order list this year, and all entered at Penn. Joining them as potential spoilers in Philly are Oregon and Jamaica’s UTech. Oregon’s Jenna Prandini and UTech’s Elaine Thompson are the co-world leaders in the 100 this year at 10.92 seconds. With injured Ariana Washington not running for Oregon this weekend, UTech is the likeliest team to snap Texas A&M’s streak. The Jamaicans have run 43.13 this spring, ahead of LSU’s 43.23 and Texas’s 43.61 but behind TAMU’s 43.03.

Women’s Sprint Medley

Straight final, Friday, 6:20 PM
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UTech is the defending champ, while Clemson and Natoya Goule go for the Tigers’ first wheel since 1992. Per Penn, Goule is the consummate Relays veteran–she competed there for Jamaican high school Manchester and already won a wheel in this event when she ran for LSU two years ago.

Though Annie Leblanc is coming off the weekend of her life at the Oregon Relays, the third-seeded Ducks probably can’t provide enough sprint power to cover the four-second spread between her and Goule’s 800 PRs. That’s no knock on studs Prandini, Jasmine Todd, and Christian Brennan; it’s a fact of the event that beating a good team by four seconds over legs of 200, 200, and 400 meters is basically impossible. Clemson’s potential 2-2-4 legs are, at worst, about two and a half seconds slower than those three, which is not enough of a cushion for Leblanc (2:04 PB) to beat Goule (1:59 PB).

This is a two-team race between UTech and Clemson.

Men’s Sprint Medley

Straight final, Friday, 6:45 PM
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LSU stole this race out of the slow heat last year, which is always fun. In what other sport can you win the game without playing in it? The Tigers are the top-seeded team this year, ahead of Penn State and Texas A&M. Those two teams are both entered in the DMR, which is four hours earlier; LSU will likely only be slightly fresher, as their sprint legs will have presumably run one or both of the 4×1 and 4×2 heats, which are six and five hours earlier.

Men’s 4×100

Heats Friday, 12:35 PM
Saturday, 1:40 PM
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Unlike the women’s 4×1, the men’s 4×1 at Penn has very little correlation with the race two months later at NCAAs. Out of the last ten Relays winners, only 2006 LSU has gone on the take first at nationals. (That statistic is slightly skewed by the fact that the top women’s relays usually compete at Penn, while Florida–winners of four of the last six men’s national titles–generally doesn’t run a relay up north)

UTech has won the last two wheels and is heavily favored to take their third. They ran 38.23 four months ago, which would be tied for the collegiate record and is over half a second faster than the 38.9 and change that TAMU and LSU ran at Texas Relays a month ago. Those two are the only American teams entered this year that have dipped under 39 seconds, though if this race is Trentavis Friday’s college 100m debut, Florida State could be dangerous.

Women’s 4×200

Heats Friday, 2:20 PM
Final Saturday, 2:25 PM

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Men’s 4×200

Heats Friday, 1:40 PM
inal Saturday, 2:45 PM
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It’s tough to know what to make of the 4×2. The 4×1 is mostly about quality handoffs. The 4×4 is all about quality talent. The 4×2 is closer to the 4×4 in that regard, but the handoffs still matter a little bit. That ship was sailed into the port by Captain Obvious.

Women’s 4×400

Heats Thursday, 6:25 PM
Final Saturday, 5:50 PM

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The Penn website claims that frosh Ariel Jones will be the one to replace the graduated Briana Nelson on Texas’s 4×4 this weekend, which would be a departure from their indoor nationals and Texas Relays lineups that included Morolake Akinosun. It shouldn’t matter, though–a relay that includes Courtney Okolo, Kendall Baisden, and Ashley Spencer could be filled out by their forty-four year-old coach Tonja Buford-Bailey and still get All-American.

Texas has the meet record–set last year–plus the 2014 NCAA outdoor title, the 2015 NCAA indoor title, and the fastest time in the world this year. It’s just a question of what they’re trying to accomplish this weekend. UTech is the only other team in the world to have broken 3:30 this year, but again: it’s hard to imagine a Texas team with three sub-51 second women on it losing to anyone. Clemson and Texas A&M are the next highest-seeded American squads and neither came within two seconds of the Horns at indoor nationals.

Men’s 4×400

Heats Friday, 4:25 PM
Final Saturday, 6:00 PM

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LSU’s collegiate record was set at the Penn Relays ten years ago this weekend, and the team that missed it by 0.01 seconds at outdoor nationals last year will be in Philadelphia. Texas A&M very well could finally claim the record for themselves, as Bralon Taplin has given the Aggies a rare second man (after, of course, Bowerman winner Deon Lendore) on the same team who has broken 45.00 in the open 400. Their chances of running 2:59.59 or faster, then hinge on Gregory Coleman and Shavez Hart. Neither of those men has broken 46 in the open 400, but LSU and UTech–teams that have gone 3:02 and 3:04 this spring–could bring out the best in them.

It’s a shame Florida isn’t in this race. The Gators ran 3:01.78 two weeks ago in Gainesville, the fastest time in the world this year. They’d have the most to prove after getting knocked out of the NCAA indoor final last month, and their presence alongside the team that knocked them out–LSU–would bring a real frisson and not just internet muscles to the start line.

Still, it’s an outstanding event to have close the meet. It’s clear that LSU has a little bit of an internal reputation as, say, the Clippers of SEC sprinting–talented and perhaps not universally beloved by their peers. If LSU is the Clips, then Texas A&M is the Spurs–won it all already, with their Caribbean superstar a little dinged up but game for one last title run. This is the only time the two squads will go at it in front of forty thousand people.