Usain Bolt electrifies the Penn Relays

Local high school athletes competed amongst some of the world's elite track and field competitors at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia on April 24 and 25.
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 25, 2010

PHILADELPHIA -- Pandemonium erupted just before 2 p.m. across the metal bleachers at historic Franklin Field on Saturday, making the stately old place vibrate and rattle. Throngs of yellow-and-green clad fans leaped to their feet, wildly shook Jamaican flags, pounded their noise makers and belted out cheers.

It was, in short, a pretty animated hello.

The applause had nothing to do with the high school race just about to get underway on the track; it was generated solely by the mere entry onto the stadium infield of the world's fastest man, Jamaican Usain Bolt, who sauntered out for some easy sprints about an hour before he anchored a Jamaican relay team to a dominant victory in the men's 4x100-meter relay.

"When Usain walked on the track," said U.S. Olympian Lisa Barber, who was preparing for a later U.S. victory in the women's 4x100 relay," I couldn't hear the music in my headphones."

Miki Barber, Lisa's twin sister and relay teammate, wondered "was the President here?"

To the record crowd of 54,310, Bolt's presence was surely bigger than that. For a meet that has drawn great fields throughout its 116-year history, luring a certified megastar without being forced to produce a six-figure bonus represented a huge boon.

It was Bolt's first race in the United States since he lowered his two world records in the 100 and 200 meters at last summer's world championships in Berlin, Germany. The venerable meet on the University of Pennsylvania campus represented an appealing chance for Bolt to work out the kinks while also offering him something of a homecoming, since he had competed at this three-day relay event for four straight years as a high school kid from Jamaica.

Bolt did not waive his typical appearance fee, but he accepted a much smaller offering, according to a source with knowledge of the figure.

"The crowd's always been wonderful [but] it was just awesome, a wonderful feeling," Bolt said. "There's nothing like a home crowd."

Of course, this wasn't really a home crowd. The stadium announcer pleaded with fans to sit down and quiet down before the featured race, saying, "Folks, the runners cannot hear. Wait until the race starts, then cheer your hearts out."

The spirited attempts of some of the U.S. fans in the stands to match the enthusiasm and volume of the Jamaican party-goers failed quite miserably, in part because of Bolt's blistering relay leg, which was timed at 8.79 seconds and made American anchor Ivory Williams look as if he were sprinting through sand.

Mario Forsythe, Yohan Blake, Marvin Anderson and Bolt brought the stick around in 37.90, topping Americans Walter Dix, Mike Rodgers, Shawn Crawford and Williams, who came home in 38.33. The U.S. foursome blamed bad exchanges for the second-place finish.

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