The Power of the Black, Green and Gold at the Penn Relays

My running career was as long as a 100m dash, short and a thrill ride.  I always had an interest in track growing up as I watched the Summer Olympic Games only to view the track and field events.  At that time, USA legends like Gail Devers and Maurice Greene were at the top of the results listings.  They inspired me to run track my freshmen year of high school.  I ended up transferring the next year to a school that didn’t have a sports program, but my love for the “individual” sport has never gone away.  Every Olympic season, I have lived vicariously through young American stars fulfilling their dream racing for a medal.  However, USA isn’t the only team I am cheering for every four years.

My Jamaican heritage from my parent’s native country is deeply rooted in the sport of running.  The statistics don’t lie either.  Since Jamaica’s first Olympic Games participation in 1948, the country has sent athletes to every Summer Games.  According to the official website of the Olympic Games, Jamaica has won 55 medals, only one of which not from a track and field event (it was for cycling, go figure. And we never won anything for bobsledding).  And with the world’s fastest human credited to the land of black, green and gold, I guess you can say Jamaica has always been a thorn in America’s side on the track.

Everyone knows before you can get to wear a Team USA or Team Jamaica uniform to represent your country to the entire world, you have to prove yourself at the Penn Relay Carnival.  Held every year at the University of Pennsylvania since April 21, 1895, the Relays showcase some…well darn near all of America’s brightest high school and college athletes.  For the high school and college events it’s mostly American students participating, but Jamaica has had an international presence for four decades.  This year, the Caribbean nation sent 23 schools to Philadelphia to compete.  So yes, track is a BIG DEAL for Jamaicans.  The audience wasn’t shy about showing their pride either.  I didn’t even see this many Jamaicans at a West Indian Day parade in Brooklyn on any given year.  These people support their own…and with deep pride.

So when you think about ticket sales from event goers and the schools that pay to participate, Penn Relays has greatly benefitted from this small Caribbean island.  After decades of committed attendance, the University of Pennsylvania recognized that too.  The prime minister of Jamaica, the Most Honorable Portia Simpson-Miller came to the grand competition and witnessed the greatest honor the university could have awarded her country.  To comemmorate the country’s 50th anniversary of independence this summer and its commitment to sending athletes to the game every year for the past 40 years, the Jamaican flag was presented and was announced it will fly at the Penn Relay Carnival every year beginning in 2013, the only foreign nation to receive such honors.

The Carnival itself was enjoyable, as it was my first.  It was cold sitting on a bench for seven hours in windy and chilly 50 degree weather but the excitement of seeing my father (who also ran track) and uncles’ alma maters competing in races shows the baton has been passed from generation to generation and there is no stopping this nation.  High schools like Camperdown, Vere Tech and Calabar to name a few, have consistently produced legends that have gone on to represent their country in the Olympics.  Amidst all this hype as we count down to London, they came up short against the mighty red, white and blue in the pro races.  They came in 2nd place during most of the USA vs. the World competitions, with USA winning all six events of the day.  Team USA showed us a sample of what to expect this summer.  Carmelita Jeter took the bend in the 4x100m relay like it was a cloud winning by more than a yard in her heat.  This girl is more toned than Vin Diesel and has a record similar to the late Flo Jo.  Veteran Justin Gatlin and a young Ryan Bailey (eye candy alert) ran through their competition with ease.  Some say the men’s events were easy to win because Jamaican powerhouses Usain Bolt (fastest man in the world) and Asafa Powell weren’t there to heat up the track.  We’ll have to wait a few months now and see what happens when the gun goes off for a rematch from 2008’s Beijing competitions.  I am now even inspired to join a runner’s league to get myself back on track, however, I’ll be glued to my chair this summer once again daydreaming about the day I thought I would be in cleats running for the gold.  Le sigh.  Instead, I will cheer for two nations I hold dear to my heart.

Couldn’t make it to Philly, no problem mon! Take a look at my photos below.

Another day Back n Brooklyn…Philadelphia, PA

Follow me on Twitter @ChanBacknBklyn

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