50 Years Of Penn Relays Glory

Six members of Kingston College’s first Penn Relays team. From left: Lennox Tulloch, Alex MacDonald (captain), Rupert Hoilette, Tony Keyes, Jimmy Grant and Lennox Miller.

The Penn Relay Carnival, simply known as the Penn Relays, was inaugurated on April 21, 1895,  in conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania’s Spring Handicap Track and Field Games.

According to this article from the university’s Penn Current:

“The origins of the Relays—as well as the modern sport of relay racing—date back to 1893, when planners of Penn’s Spring Handicap Track and Field Games came up with the idea to create a race composed of four men running a quarter mile in succession. The proposal generated enough interest that a team from Princeton was invited to participate.

Two years later, the concept of relay racing had garnered so much interest that Penn officials decided to sponsor a relay meet—the first annual Penn Relays. The original races were surrounded by an unintentionally festive atmosphere; as college students pitched tents to use as changing facilities, the event took on a “carnival-like” appearance that has remained through present day.

The first year’s schedule included nine relay events: four for high schools and prep schools, and five for colleges. The Penn vs. Harvard matchup is regarded as the first college championship race. All events were held at 4×440 yards—what is now considered the classic mile relay. The first Relays event also coincided with the dedication of Franklin Field.”

The meet, which will celebrate its 120th anniversary this year, holds the distinction of being the longest uninterrupted collegiate track meet in the United States. The Current states that the 2014 Penn Relays will attract more than 18,000 competitors from some 60 countries to participate in three-day, 425-event carnival of speed.

Vere Technical’s winning 1982 Penn Relays girls team after they were
honoured at a luncheon at the Pegasus Hotel by the Honourable Hugh Shearer, Minister of External Affairs and member of Parliament.

Jamaica’s participation in the prestigious event dates back to 1964, when a small contingent from Kingston College left its mark on UPenn’s Franklin Field. Of course, in true Jamaican fashion, the KC team did not fly all the way to Philadelphia just to make up the numbers – they were there to win. According to an article from the KC Times website, the team of Tony Keyes, Lennox Miller, Rupert Hoilette, and Jimmy Grant claimed the 4×110 yards relay victory, breaking the 21-year record held by Brooklyn High School, when they returned a time of 41.7 seconds. KC also placed second in the mile relay.

Since then,  KC and other Jamaican teams have gone on to represent their schools and country with distinction, claiming many Championship of America titles and records. Not to be outdone, our university and senior athletes have also been in winning form over the years. Who can forget 2010 when team Jamaica Gold stormed to a 37.90-second victory in the 4x100m relay, anchored by the one and only Usain Bolt? It was a display of exhilarating speed and smooth baton exchanges between Mario Forsythe, Yohan Blake, Marvin Anderson and Bolt, whose anchor leg split was reportedly an astounding 8.79 seconds. Last year, it was time for our female sprinters to exact revenge after years of losing to American teams. Sherone Simpson, Kerron Stewart, Anniesha McLaughlin and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce romped to victory in 42.42 seconds, much to the chagrin of American star sprinter Carmelita Jeter, who had to sit out the race due to injury. Not to be left out, the University of Technology men’s team created history as the first from Jamaica to win the college men’s sprint relay.

Members of the Excelsior High School 4X110 yards relay team that won the event at the 1967 Penn Relays

In 2012, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller presented the Jamaican flag to UPenn President, Dr Amy Guttmann, to be officially flown at the Penn Relay Carnival every year beginning in 2013, into perpetuity. This honour was in recognition of Jamaica’s golden jubilee and the significant contributions made to the relays over the years by our athletes. Jamaica is the only country to be so honoured.

This year, Jamaica’s team is even more formidable than ever, with many athletes coming off a record-setting ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys’ and Girls’ Championships and a historic CARIFTA Games.