There is alot to like about the Penn Relays.
The track event is old. It's historic. National television broadcasts the Penn Relays and droves of people come out to watch the event. The estimated attendance for this year's Penn Relays is 50,000 people.
“This is a lot of fun,” Tennessee track and field coach Alford-Sullivan said. “It’s one of the most historic meets if not the most historic meet in our sport. Philadelphia is a great crowd and will bring in probably close to 50,000 people to watch our sport.”
Tennessee’s track and field team will make the trip to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 121st running on April 28-30. Joining the team on the trip will be All-America pole vaulter Jake Blankenship who will be making his outdoor season debut for the Vols after going through rehab for an injury.
Blankenship competed last week at Georgia Tech but was unattached, winning the meet down in Atlanta with a bar clearance of 5.50 meters. Head coach Beth Alford-Sullivan said Blankenship’s prior injury is not showing up and he is healthy and ready to compete for Tennessee for the first time in this 2016 outdoor season.
“It’s one thing to train and practice but it’s another thing to go in and compete on it,” Alford-Sullivan said.
The timing couldn’t be better either. At the Penn Relays, Blankenship is a three-time winner in the pole vault and will be looking to make history. In the 121 prior Penn Relays no pole vaulter has ever won the event four straight times.
Alford-Sullivan said the team is excited to see Blankenship go for four straight and will also enjoy having him back in a Tennessee uniform.
“He definitely is a crowd jumper,” Alford-Sullivan said. “He loves the crowd, he thrives off the energy. (The Penn Relays) have a great showcase place for the vault on their facility the crowd really gets into it, follows the event … I can’t speak for him but I would bet it ranks up there and it’s high on his bucket list to accomplish this win.”
It is a good thing Blankenship thrives off the crowd.
As its name suggests the Penn Relays has a strong focus on the relay events and not so much on the individual sprint events. In fact Tennessee won’t run any open events in the sprints. Instead the Vols will focus on the 4x100, 4x2, and the 4x4 for both the men and women.
Also for the first time this outdoor season the Vols will run a men’s Distance Medley Relay team and a women’s sprint hurdle relay.
“That’s really it,” Alford-Sullivan said. “After that you have your field events which we’ll participate in and we’ll have some distance races we’ll participate in but other than that we don’t really get to get after the 100 or the 200 or 400.”
In the field events Alford-Sullivan said she is looking to see continued success in the throwing events. She believes that the throwers will take a good step forward and thinks that facing some different competition will be good. Instead of the SEC and other southern schools Tennessee faces each and every week, at Penn it will see more Northeastern and Ivy League schools.
Mustaqeem Williams will compete in the championship section of the long jump. Alford-Sullivan believes Williams will continue to show improvement and will have the chance to jump past 25 feet this weekend.
With such a large crowd expected and the history behind the event Alford-Sullivan is interested to see how the younger guys and girls who haven’t been there before react.
“For many it’ll be the first time there,” Alford-Sullivan said. “First time, assumedly, that we’ll be in the finals for our relays and have that kind of crowd watching. We’re pretty seasoned yet at the same time we’re pretty young.
“I’m actually intrigued to see how they handle this kind of attention.”
Not only will Tennessee be competing in front of massive crowds in the stadium but the Penn Relays will also be broadcast on TV and live streaming on FloTrack.com. NBC Sports Network will broadcast the event Saturday April 30 beginning at 12:30 p.m.