PHILADELPHIA (AP)—They began filling up the streets around the University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field hours before, a sea of black, green and yellow.
Thousands of Jamaican track and field fans had come to see their star, three-time gold medalist Usain Bolt, live up to his fitting last name, and dazzle in his return to Philadelphia.
|IMPRESSIVE SPRINT—Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt smiles after crossing the finish line to win the 4×100 relay at the Penn Relays athletics meet, April 24, in Philadelphia.
Bolt dazzled them all with a lightning fast final leg of the 400-meter relay, taking the baton in a near dead heat, then overtaking USA Blue’s Ivory Williams to win the event at the Penn Relays.
A quartet of Mario Forsythe, Yohan Blake, Marvin Anderson and Bolt finished in 37.90 seconds for Jamaica Gold, setting a competition record. Bolt took a perfect handoff from Anderson and blazed for the final 100 meters to a raucous ovation.
Bolt’s dash lasted an unofficial, but exhilarating 8.79 seconds.
|THE PENN HILLS GIRLS 4 X 100 RELAY TEAM— From left: Paige Fields, Christina Roberson, Deshaun Squires and Iman Wilkerson, ran a 48.36 second race to make a good showing at the Penn Relays.
“I told the guys to make sure I didn’t have to work, because I really didn’t want to do much,” Bolt said with a laugh. “I got the baton pretty much in front, so I wasn’t really worried about anything else.”
Bolt, 23, holds the world record in the 100- and 200-meter runs, and his appearance at the Penn Relays—his first competition of 2010—was responsible for the highest single-day attendance (54,310) in the event’s 116-year history. A total of 117,346 fans watched the three days, also a record.
Despite losing to Jamaica Gold, USA Blue rebounded to win three of the event’s six events. Lisa Barber, Allyson Felix, Mikele Barber and Carmelita Jeter took the women’s 400 with a time of 42.74, and the men and women won their respective 1,600 relays.
Bolt, an international, track & field sensation, was the biggest draw from the moment his participation was announced. The excitement began to swell from the moment he appeared on the field, about an hour before his race.
|BILL COSBY gives some sprinting tips to middle school girls at the Penn Relays. Cosby was the starter for the grade school and middle school relay races.
“It was so loud, I thought, ‘Is the president here?’” said Miki Barber, of USA Blue, who was warming up for her race at the time.
By the time Bolt and his team took the track, the celebration had gone full- blown, with USA and Jamaican fans chanting for the respective countries, so much so that an announcement was made asking for quiet to start the race.
When it began, Jamaica Gold and USA Blue remained close through the first three legs. Shawn Crawford later said his team struggled with bad handoffs, the Jamaicans played flawlessly, leading to Bolt’s impressive sprint.
“If I’m in front of Usain Bolt, I don’t think he’s going to catch me, to be honest,” said Ivory Williams, who ran the final leg for USA Blue. “I ran a real good fourth leg, but I couldn’t pass him up (Bolt). I don’t care if it’s Usain Bolt or not, I’m trying to win. When they’re cheering for Usain Bolt, I feel like they’re cheering for me. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to pass him up, but I was trying. I think we really can beat these guys.”
Bolt’s victory lap was met with a deafening roar, and he stopped twice to make a “lightning bolt” motion in front of screaming Jamaican fans. He also mingled before leaving the grounds, signing autographs and posing for pictures.
“Over the past two years I’ve been surprised by the amount of people that know me and the welcome I get when I go to track meets or functions,” Bolt said. “I’m still trying to get used to it and I’m enjoying it.”
Bolt’s popularity has also helped raise the profile of track and field for all competitors.
“It excites and it motivates,” Crawford said. “The more excitement (Bolt) brings to track and field, we all get the attention because we’re on the same field. It motivates me because I want to be that guy winning. I want to get up there and showboat a little bit and be in the spotlight so I can talk a little mess.”
Two Penn Relays records were set this year. Texas A&M’s quartet of Jeneba Tarmoh, Dominique Duncan, Jessica Beard and Porscha Lucas recorded a time of one minute, 29.42 seconds in the 800. That was also a NCAA record. Queen Quedith Harrison of Virginia Tech set a record in the women’s 100-meter hurdles, with a time of 12.61.