April 24, 2008

Track Faces High Competition and Crowds at Penn Relays

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That laid-back feeling before the end of the school year has been lingering in the air during the past few days. It’s almost May, which, for Cornell students, means Slope Day is right around the corner. For football fans, it means the return of Mel Kiper and the NFL Draft. And for competitive runners, it probably means participation in one of two events: the Boston Marathon or the Penn Relays.
The men and women’s track teams have been gearing up for their most important events of the season, as the Penn Relays will begin today. For three days, this event features notoriously boisterous crowds numbering in the thousands and a legacy of competition that predates Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency.
[img_assist|nid=30185|title=Good form|desc=Senior jumper Muhammad Halim and the track teams will represent the Red at the legendary Penn Relays today.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“Oh, it’s a completely different feel being in there,” said senior jumper Muhammad Halim. “We don’t get other events where the stands are completely full. All you hear is screaming. There’s a ton of spirit. You really have to control your nerves, because there’s a lot of excitement going on around you.”
The Penn Relays, held every year in late April at Franklin Field in Philadelphia, is the oldest and largest track and field event in the nation, featuring high school and college teams everywhere, from a New Jersey high school to perennial contender Holmwood Tech of Jamaica.
Of course, top-ranked Ivy Cornell also got the invite, looking to repeat some fantastic showings from last year and solidify its confidence before Outdoor Heps and Regionals, according to Halim.
“I think we’ve done good enough, not great, as a team,” he said, “but this weekend in particular the top guys really want to put a stamp [on the season]. The goal is to do really well before Heps.”
Last weekend, Halim tied the school record in the triple jump at the Moravian Invitational in Allentown, Pa.
After a pair of home invitationals, the Red’s season will culminate in the Heptagonal and NCAA Regional and National Championships.
The Penn Relays arrive at a pivotal point in the season — as the last major event before the Heptagonal Championships, many individuals on the team have something to prove, whether it’s one final shot at qualifying for regionals or nationals (as is the case with junior triple jumper Aaron Gadson, among others), an attempt to be the final man on a relay squad for Heps, or simply the chance at winning a gold watch, as Halim is trying to do by winning the triple jump event in the championship division.
With an impressive number of personal records being set by the women’s team as of late and strong showings at both the Cortland Invitational in New York and the Moravian Invitational in Pennsylvania (including an Olympic qualifying long jump from Jeomi Maduka, one of the top ten jumps in the world so far this year), team morale has been very high. Their goal, like that of the men’s team, is to maintain confidence before Outdoor Heps.