Penn Relays draw big crowds

April 23, 2009 4:47:03 PM PDT
Track stars of the past, present and future converged on Franklin Field today.

They came from around the country and around the world.

This marks the 115th year for the storied track and field competition at the University of Pennsylvania.

Former Olympic track star Norman Tate got his start at the Penn Relays back in 1963. That's when he won his first championship, in the triple jump.

"From that point on, I knew I could compete with the best athletes in the country," said Tate. "And I went on the same year to win the NCAA Championship."

Tate's success led him to thirteen gold watches for first-place finishes, and a spot on the 1968 Olympic track and field team. Now, he passes his expertise on to the next generation of track stars at Rowan University.

"To me, next to competing in the Olympic games, this is the greatest track meet in the world," he said.

Colleges from all over the country come to Philadelphia for the Penn Relays every year.

The elite level of competition provides inspiration for thousands of younger athletes. They compete alongside college teams, knowing they might someday be the star.

"It makes me want to run in college, work hard, do my best and show what I can do," said Ayanna Fields, a student at the Academy of Notre Dame in Villanova, Pa.

"We see a lot of high schools and colleges," said Lasarah Harris, from the Freedom Academy in Camden, NJ. "This is their future, and when we grow up it could be our future."

The talent on the field changes every year, but many of the Penn Relay officials have been doing this for decades. They keep coming back because the thrill of competition never goes away.

"I enjoy watching the kids run," said relay official Karen Guy, "and making sure they all have a fair start."

The Penn Relays continue through Saturday.

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