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Duke preps for Penn Relays

Senior Kate Van Buskirk, who won an ACC championship last week, will anchor Duke’s distance medley team this week in Philadelphia.
Senior Kate Van Buskirk, who won an ACC championship last week, will anchor Duke’s distance medley team this week in Philadelphia.

Amid one of its best seasons in recent memory, the track and field program isn’t worried about setting high expectations.

With the Penn Relays beginning tomorrow, the enthusiasm within the program is conspicuous—especially in regard to the four-mile relay that features a number of Duke’s top runners.

“Our goal is a little bit more straight-forward.... We want to break the Duke school record, which goes back to 1972,” director of track and field Norm Ogilvie said. “Last year we missed that record by three-tenths of a second, and that’s kind of motivated us all year.”

Bob Wheeler, a former three-time All-American and 1972 Olympic participant, anchored the group that currently holds the school record.

The four-mile relay is labeled as one of the “Championship of America” events that signal the best teams from across the nation. The Blue Devils’ men’s squad is seeded third for the event, the highest seeding Duke received in any of the relays for the three-day competition. This is the highest it has ever been seeded going into the marquee event.

Three of the four Blue Devils who nearly broke that record last year are returning to finally achieve it this year, including senior Josh Lund, who will run the leadoff leg, and senior Ryan McDermott, who won his third consecutive steeplechase at the ACC Championships this past weekend.

“[McDermott’s] time is ranked number four in the country right now,” Ogilvie said. “He’s a special athlete, no question about it. He’s worked very hard, he’s progressed a lot over his time here at Duke, but he’s been a great leader for our team too and he never backs down from a challenge.”

Beyond that main event, the women Blue Devils also have a decent opportunity to compete in the distance medley “Championship of America” event in which they are seeded seventh. Anchoring that crew for Duke is senior Kate Van Buskirk, who won an ACC championship in the 1500-m this weekend. Another event Ogilvie highlighted is the women’s 4x800 relay in which they are also seeded seventh, but face stiff competition.

In addition to the collegiate track and field events, the event is exciting because high school athletes have their own contests and will be exposed to Duke track and field. Ogilvie said the Penn Relays serves both as a recruiting tool and an opportunity for coaches to watch recruits perform in a high-profile event. The relays draw large crowds and attention that included having international icon Usain Bolt run last year.

“Over the course of three days, we’ll compete in front of probably about 130,000 [people],” Ogilvie said. “So, it’s an exciting time—a lot of times, track athletes are kind of laboring in obscurity, but we feel like we’re center stage.”

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