Duke track and field looks to continue success at the storied Penn RelaysThe Blue Devils will continue a program tradition dating back before World War II when they take collegiate track and field’s biggest stage this weekend at the country’s oldest and largest competition.
Duke hopes to add to its rich history of success at the 120th annual Penn Relays with talented relay squads and individual performances starting Thursday in Philadelphia.
What began as Pennsylvania’s effort to add more excitement to its 1893 spring handicapped meet has grown into the world’s third most-watched track meet behind the Olympics and the World Championships. The first official Penn Relays Carnival was held in 1895 and offered nine relay races, but with the addition of high school and Olympic development contests, the event count has surpassed 100 more than a century later.
“The crowds are bigger than any we have seen,” director of track and field Norm Ogilvie said. “Typically 30,000 people on Thursday, 40,000 people on Friday and 50,000 people on Saturday. This is as big as it gets.”
The Blue Devils’ relay success in the early outdoor season has set them up to have a slew of impressive performances in front of this big crowd. Duke will look to post some of the top times in school history in preparation for the NCAA East Regional Championships in late May.
The women’s 4-x-200 meter and 4-x-400 meter relays, led by juniors Lauren Hansson and Elizabeth Kerpon, are poised to break Duke records. The 4-x-200 record has already fallen once this year and the 4-x-400 looks to be next after the squad posted a 3:38.60 in the 4-x-400, only a second off the record of 3:37.51.
The women’s distance medley relay enters the meet positioned as the sixth and final team in the first heat, but for a meet of this caliber, a sixth seed is an opportunity to compete against and surprise the top teams.
After earning her first ACC title in the mile last weekend, freshman Haley Meier will anchor the Blue Devils’ effort.
“They probably have the best chance to win of all our relays,” Ogilvie said. “We have a loaded team and could really bring it together for a victory.”
Saturday Duke will also take a shot at the men’s 4-x-mile relay record of 16:22.34 which has stood for more than 40 years. Adding up the personal best mile times of the four fastest Blue Devils—Brian Schoepfer, Nate McClafferty, Mike Moverman and Alec Kunzweiler—gives Duke the potential to match the record.
“This is one of the oldest school records at Duke, dating back to 1973,” Ogilvie said. “Taking that record down is a big goal for us, and it’s not out of reach.”
Adding to the tens of thousands of Philadephia spectators, Saturday’s competition will be televised live on NBC Sports Network from noon to 3 p.m.
The majority of the 32 Blue Devils will compete in events, but a few athletes will take to the field individually.
Sophomore Megan Clark enters the pole vault as the top seed after her season-opening vault of 14 feet, 7 1/4 inches at the Carolina Relays.
Redshirt sophomore Thomas Lang, fresh off his ACC title in the javelin, enters this weekend’s meet seeded fourth.
Although his competitors have recorded outstanding marks this season, the Pennsylvania native could win the event if he gets fired up by the challenge and a home crowd, Ogilvie said.
Competing in the discus, redshirt senior Austin Gamble could break his own record of 184 feet, which he set at this competition last year.