Villanova women win DMR at 118th Penn Relays

Villanova's Sheila Reid reacts after winning the college women's distance medley championship of America with a time of 11:01.03 at the Penn Relays athletics meet at the University of Pennsylvania Thursday, April 26, 2012 in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

April 26, 2012 4:59:10 PM PDT
Villanova dominated down the stretch and showed it can still beat the elite at the Penn Relays.

The Wildcats turned back the clock in the women's distance medley relay and won the signature event Thursday in 11 minutes, 1.03 seconds.

Emily Lipari, Christie Verdier, Nicky Akande and Sheila Reid helped bring the title back to Villanova for the first time since 2006. Reid, the senior anchor, ran a fantastic final 400 meters, urged on by yells of "Go Nova!" down the backstretch.

"Our school puts a lot of emphasis on this," Reid said. "Once I had the baton in my hand, I wanted it to be strictly business."

Tennessee was second in 11:03.53, and Penn State third in 11:08.41.

The gloomy weather and threat of rain early didn't deter fans at Franklin Field on the University of Pennsylvania's usually quiet campus, which hosted the famed track and field meet for the 118th time.

Most of the fans who came out to the ancient stadium were there to root on the Wildcats.

Reid became the fifth Villanova woman to have won an individual cross country national championship, at least one indoor national title and outdoor national title, as well as at least one Penn Relays title.

Reid was aware of the pressure entering the event to win the marquee race.

By the time she built a comfortable lead with 50 meters left, Reid broke out a wide smile that fans didn't need the videoboard to see.

"She was definitely feeling pressure to not leave Villanova without a Penn Relays victory," coach Gina Procaccio said. "But, in order for her to get that done, you need to have three studs in front of her putting her in the race."

Villanova took the lead at the bell that signaled the final 400-meter leg of the race.

Lipari ran 3:22.9, Verdier 52.8, Akande 2:04.5, and Reid 4:40.8.

Winning the DMR used to be routine for the Wildcats. They won from 1987-91 and three of four DMR's from 1994-97.

"It puts us in some good company with some really great women that came before us," Reid said.

The 118th Relays kicked off with Illinois' Latoya Griffith winning the 400 hurdles in 57.88.

Griffith, out of St. Andrews, Barbados, knew the Penn Relays was the place to be if she wanted to prove herself as a future Olympian.

"We usually go to Drake. Half our team is there now," she said.

Plenty of competitors ran, jumped and tossed at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa.

But the biggest names in track and field come to Penn.

Every April, the Ivy League school's campus just blocks away from downtown Philadelphia hosts small colleges, NCAA champions and Olympians for three days in the sport's oldest relay event.

While Saturday's "USA vs. the World" event draws the headlines and national TV, the Penn Relays are really about what happens on Thursday and Friday when the college and high school athletes get their chance to compete in front of some of the biggest crowds they'll ever see.

All the fans will get a taste of the Olympics on Saturday. Allyson Felix, Justin Gatlin, Bernard Lagat, and Nesta Carter are all scheduled to run in Saturday's marquee event.

In other events Thursday: TCU had a pair of championship winners. Whitney Gipson won the long jump for the second straight year in 21 feet and Kelsey Samuels won the shot put with a mark of 52-7 1/4.

Penn State's Melissa Kurzdorfer won the hammer with a toss of 205-1. Kurzdorfer's winning throw came on her first attempt. She followed with five fouls. The Nittany Lions also brought home double championships when Lauren Kenney won the javelin with a throw of 160-8.

One more A-list name is on tap for the weekend: Comedian Bill Cosby is a regular at the Penn Relays and organizers expected he would participate in some form over the next two days.

Former Olympian John Carlos mingled Thursday with fans outside Franklin Field.

The bronze medalist in the 200 meters at the 1968 Olympics, Carlos struck his iconic pose on the medal awards platform with a raised clenched fist and bowed head during the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Carlos and gold medal-winner Tommie Smith were expelled from the Mexico City Games after using their spots on the victory stand to focus attention to the plight of blacks in America. His message was denounced and equated to the Black Panthers.

"They always made me the bad guy of the whole scenario," he said. "That's not the way I was raised, that's not the type of person I am."

Carlos said his dignified act of defiance was about humanity and he wanted to tell the full story in his autobiography.

"If I sit back and think about what happened in '68 and think about what happened with ground zero, they would think we were trying to destroy America in the same vein," he said. "It was so far from the truth so it was necessary to put my words down."

Carlos signed copies of his book "The John Carlos Story" for $20. He videotaped at least one message for a school teacher and posed for pictures with scores of fans who called him their hero.

Wearing a red Penn Relays cap and an "Obama 2012" button, Carlos said he gave his medal to his mother and hoped it would be passed down to his kids.

"That medal I won didn't mean jack to me and it probably will never mean nothing to me," he said. "But it probably means everything to my kids."

Carlos won the Olympic Development 100 in the Penn Relays in 1966 and 1970. He was later drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1970 but a knee injury suffered at Franklin Field ended his potential NFL career.

"Every time I limp now, I think about Franklin Field," he said.

He's had plenty of time to think about the legacy of his defining Olympic act. He's proud that some of today's athletes aren't afraid to follow his lead. Carols singled out LeBron James for posting a picture on Twitter that showed the Miami Heat wearing hoodies, with each of the players' heads bowed and hands in pockets - a simple and dramatic honor for slain teenager Trayvon Martin.

"I thought it was a great statement collectively by a team to stand up and say, 'We have a concern as a team about the injustice that's taking place in Florida.' I think it's a wonderful thing," he said.