U.S. sprinter Lisa Barber was getting ready for the women's 4 √ó 100-meter relay at Philadelphia's Franklin Field last Saturday when a roar engulfed the venerable stadium. "I couldn't hear my music through my headphones," Barber said. Her twin sister and relay mate, Miki, jokingly asked herself, Is the President here?
Close enough. Usain Bolt had arrived. The three-time Olympic gold medalist and the world-record holder in the 100 and the 200, Bolt, 23, is a one-man stimulus package at every track he visits. That was especially true of the 116th running of the Penn Relays, America's oldest and most hallowed track meet, which has become just as much a Jamaican celebration (down to the Nike-sponsored hair-braiding station staffed by yellow-and-green-clad workers). Saturday, the meet's final day, brought a record crowd of 54,310 to see Bolt compete in the men's 4 √ó 100, his lone appearance at the three-day event. Director Dave Johnson had spent much of Friday scrambling to print more race schedules because all 11,000 of the $10 programs had sold out. "We've had a crowd over 50,000 before," Johnson said, "but we've never run out of programs."
By the time Bolt took off from his anchor spot near the stadium's southeast "whoop corner" (named for the noise made by the heavily Jamaican crowd along the last curve), his leg was anticlimactic. The top U.S. team, with Olympic medalists Walter Dix and Shawn Crawford running first and third, respectively, had been expected to give anchor Ivory Williams a lead, but thanks to sloppy U.S. handoffs, Jamaica was slightly ahead when Bolt took the baton. His leg, therefore, was merely the first 8.79 seconds of a victory lap that included two of the famed "lightning Bolt" poses, each of which induced delirium among fans who practically spilled out of the stands.
Bolt downplayed the unofficial split—one of the fastest ever—in his first race of the year. "I told the guys to make sure I didn't have to work," he said. As usual, though, history was made. Jamaica's time of 37.90 beat the meet's previous record by .02 of a second and marked just the second time in 10 years that Jamaica had beaten the U.S. in the 4 √ó 100 at Penn. When asked about the record, Bolt said, without irony, that it was nice to perform well in front of a home crowd.
May 2, 2010
Darvis (Doc) Patton, who was on the U.S. 4 √ó 100 team that took third, has run in a lane to Bolt's left three times when the Jamaican has set world records. So Patton has mastered the art of inventing new expressions for running in Bolt's wake. At last year's worlds he compared Bolt to a video game cheat code. This time? "I'm competing in the era of Jordan, the era of Barry Sanders," he said. "It's awesome." Patton will undoubtedly need to stockpile more superlatives for meets to come.
Now on SI.com
For more track and field coverage from David Epstein and Tim Layden, go to SI.com
Tennessee miler and half-miler Phoebe Wright now has six of the gold watches that Penn Relays winners receive. Wright (below), a senior with a 3.96 GPA, helped the Lady Vols complete a double triple: two straight years winning the 4 √ó 1,500, 4 √ó 800 and distance-medley relays.... The vaunted Oregon men's team returned to Penn for the first time since 2007 and won the 4 √ó mile and distance-medley relays, which was anchored by Andrew Wheating's 3:59.84 mile. Wheating, a senior, was an '08 U.S. Olympian in the 800 meters.... Virginia freshman Robby Andrews, who held off Wheating in a furious anchor-leg kick in the 4 √ó 800, has won every race of his young college career but one, the 800 in the ACC outdoor championships.