Team USA aiming for relay superiority in All-Star events

Updated: April 27, 2007, 9:31 PM ET
Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA -- Call it a Texas two-peat.

Texas won its second straight distance medley title in the Penn Relays, getting a strong anchor run from Leo Manzano to win in 9 minutes, 29.60 seconds Friday night.

"If I could, I'd want to come back every year here and compete," Manzano said.

Much like last year when Manzano anchored Texas to its first win in the event, the Longhorns grabbed the Texas flag and ran a celebratory lap around the water-logged Franklin Field track.

Lightning forced everyone off the track only 30 minutes into the start of the day's events, the first of two delays that left the track soaked and pushed events back about two hours.

"It's the same conditions for everyone," Texas' Erik Stanley said. "You have to stay on top of your game, be patient and be ready to run."

Stanley (2:56.8), Joseph Davis (46.8), Jacob Hernandez (1:48.1), and Manzano (3:57.9) helped Texas edge second-place Villanova (9:32). Tennessee was third in 9:32.95.

Once the rain stopped, the only thing close to falling were records.

In front of what was left of the second-highest Friday crowd ever of 39,166, Michigan set a collegiate mark in the 6,000-meter relay, winning in 17:15.62. Villanova set the mark of 17:18.10 in 1990.

Katie Erdman (4:22.0), Geena Gall (4:21.4), Anna Willard (4:13.9), Nicole Edwards (4:18.3) earned a nice ovation from the crowd.

"We're ecstatic to set the record," Erdman said. "To come here, to win the race and to set the record is a long-term accomplishment we had."

Stanford won the event the last three years, but skipped it this season.

In other notable college events, the LSU women won the 400 relay in 43.66 and the sprint medley relay in 3:47.09; and Florida State won the men's sprint medley relay in 3:14.68.

Matt Centrowitz of Broadneck (Maryland) High School broke the meet high school mile record with a time of 4:08.38. Gordon Oliver of Bethesda-Chase in Maryland set the previous mark of 4:08.7 in 1972.

This year's 113th running of the sport's oldest relay event saw amputee athletes compete for the first time. While Marlon Shirley won the 100 dash in 11.41, the loudest cheers came for veteran Kortney Clemons. Clemons is a former U.S. Army combat medic who had most of his right leg blown off in Iraq and now runs on a mostly carbon fiber and titanium leg.

Clemons, who finished seventh in 14.88, played a year of football at East Mississippi Community College and turned to power weightlifting and track to prove he could still compete.

"It's one of the things I can do at the competitive level and get the same adrenaline as I had when I played football at college," he said. "I like the competition. Good competition. Everybody's proud of everybody."

Clemons, who was injured in a February 2005 roadside explosion, now attends Penn State and hopes to graduate in 2008 unless he competes in the Paralympics next summer. He's become a minor celebrity, sharing his inspirational story and offering hope, something he views as a gift for all the grueling rehab needed just to get to this point.

"It's pretty rewarding to me," he said.

While the high school and college events are the heart of the Penn Relays, Saturday's "USA vs. the World" event will draw the headlines and packed crowds. Nearly 150 athletes from 10 countries -- including the women's top-ranked sprinter, Sherone Simpson of Jamaica -- will compete in the six All-Star relay events.

Team USA has dominated the event since its inception in 2000, though the Americans have lost a relay meet in each of the last two years. The Jamaican team won the 1,600 relay in 2005, and a Kenyan team won the distance medley relay last year.

This year, the Americans are going for the sweep.

"You have to start and make your own name," said Wallace Spearmon, the 2006 USA outdoor champion in the 200. "It's a new breed and we're going to do our own thing."

Back when Lauryn Williams was in college and competing for a win in the 100, she was hoping to one day run with the nation's elite in the "U.S.A vs. the World" meet. The best way to achieve that goal was to put on a show.

"I was kind of intimidated by them," Williams said. "I wanted to go and put up a big performance in front of them. I knew they'd be watching. I wanted the bigger athletes to see me and see me do well. Now, I am I guess the bigger athlete and I hope the college athletes want to see me do well."

Williams ran for Miami in 2004 when she won the 100 in 11.15 seconds. She made a bigger impression later that summer when she took the silver in the Olympics, and has earned a reputation as one of the world's top sprinters. Now she's the one who leaves the amateurs awe-struck.

"Maybe they'll have the same motivation that I had and I'll motivate them to do well tomorrow," Williams said.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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