The Penn Relays (also Penn Relays Carnival) is the oldest and largest track and field competition in the United States, hosted annually since April 21, 1895 by the University of Pennsylvania at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. In 2012, there were 116 events run at the meet and more athletes run in the Penn Relays than do any other track and field meet in the world. It regularly attracts more than 15,000 participants from high schools, colleges, and track clubs throughout North America and abroad, notably Jamaica, competing in more than 300 events over five days. Historically, the event has been credited with popularizing the running of relay races. It is held during the last full week in April, ending on the last Saturday in April. Attendance typically tops 100,000 over the final three days, and has been known to surpass 50,000 on Saturday. The Penn Relays also holds a Catholic Youth Organization night for Catholic Middle Schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Preliminaries are run on the Tuesday during Carnival Week, and the Finals are run on Friday.
|Sport||Track and field|
|Dates||Thursday Preceding Last Saturday in April–Last Saturday in April|
|Host(s)||University of Pennsylvania|
When the University of Pennsylvania Track and Field committee wanted to add a little bit more excitement to their 1893 spring handicapped meet, they came up with the idea of running a relay race at the meet. The team would consist of four men all running a quarter of a mile one after the other. Today this relay race is known as the 4 × 400 m relay. The sport of relay running was still fairly new at the time of the first Penn Relays, two years old to be exact. During the 1893 spring handicapped track meet, the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University men ran a relay race against each other. The Princeton men won with a time of 3:34, beating the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) by 8 yards. The Penn Relays impacted the history of the sport of relay racing and helped it become as popular as it is today.
The first Penn Relay Carnival
The first ever Penn Relay Carnival was held on April 21, 1895 at Franklin Field and was a huge success. Approximately 5,000 people attended the meet. Nine relay races were run and only two teams were in each race, four of which were high school and prep school races. Another four were college races and one championship college race. The only relay run at that time was the 4x400 yard relay or the mile relay. The first team to win a Penn Relays championship was Harvard University after they defeated University of Pennsylvania with a time of 3:34. Other colleges that competed in the meet were Cornell University, Columbia University, Lafayette, Lehigh, Rutgers, Swarthmore, City College of New York and New York University.
Growth of the meet
The number of entries from the first Penn Relay Carnival to the second Penn Relay Carnival quadrupled. Because of this, a time schedule of events had to be made to keep the meet organized. A rule was established that if a team was not on time to their race, the race would be run without them. In that same year a 5-mile relay was added to the meet which would later become the 4-mile relay. The next year, in 1897, the 2-mile relay or the 4 × 800 m relay was added to the meet. In 1898, The University of Chicago became the first midwestern team to attend the carnival. In the two years after that, the following events were added to the meet: 100 yard dash, 220 yard dash, 120 yard hurdles, the high jump, pole vault, long jump, shot put and hammer throw.
The Term "Carnival" was put into the name of the meet in 1910 because of the carnival-like atmosphere created by the carnival-like tent camp at the meet. Also in 1910, the Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletes of America created The Relay Racing Code. The Code created a 20-foot area in front of the starting line in which a touch off between legs or runners of the relay could be made.This rule would later become the rule for the exchange zone or the 20-meter zone (10-meters in front of the finish line, 10-meters behind the finish line) in which a baton can be passed from one leg of a relay to another. At that time there was no such thing as batons or exchange zones that are used in present-day relay racing, instead runners would stand on the starting line and wait for the runner before them to touch their hand. At the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, exchange zones were used for the first time. In 1913 at the Penn Relay Carnival, the baton was used for the first time. Zones and batons made exchanges from one leg of the relay to the next much more efficient and would eventually make relay times much faster.
At the 1911 Penn Relay Carnival, the college and high school championship events became known as the "Championship of America" races. Ten years later the NCAA hosted the first college championship meet, but before then the Penn Relays was thought to be the national championship meet. In 1914, Oxford University turned the Penn Relay Carnival into an international event becoming the first team outside of the United States to compete. That year Oxford won the 4-mile relay. The 1915 Penn Relay Carnival took place over two days instead of just one like it had in the years before. That same year the sprint medley relay (200m, 200m, 400m, 800m) and the distance medley relay (1200m, 400m, 800m, 1600m) were added to the meet.
At the 1926 Carnival the championship event of the shuttle hurdle relay Shuttle hurdle relay was added to the Penn Relays events at the suggestion Lord Burghley (UK's Olympic hurdler). Around that same time the loudspeaker was added to the stadium which helped inform the spectators of the events on the track. Before the loudspeaker, announcers used megaphones to inform spectators.
In an effort to gain more participants in the relays, six new lanes were added to the inside of the track. This renovation allowed for more athletes to compete in the spinning events. That same year the northwest corner of the stadium, that used to be used as the finishing chute, was now used for the paddock area or the area were athletes were lined up and organized before their race. In the 1950s the schedule of events was changed around so that the more popular events were run on Saturday afternoon.
The Carnival continued to grow as the years went on. In 1956, the number of spectators reacher over 35,000 people for the first time and 4,000 athletes competed. Then in 1958, 43,618 people attended the meet. In 1962 women competed for the first time in the 100-yard dash. Two years later the high school girls 440-yard relays was added to the carnival. That same year Jamaican high schools started to compete in the meet.
The Marathon was added to the Carnival in 1973. The next year, distance events were moved on the schedule of events to be run on Thursday night after the second day of the decathlon. Then in 1976, the events were converted into meters instead of yards except for the mile and the 4x120-yard shuttle hurdle relay. A year later, automatic timing was used for results instead of hand timing. The carnival turned into a three-day meet in 1978 because of the addition of more women's relays.
The Penn Relay Carnival did not only grow in the number of spectators, participants and events, it also started to grow financially. In 1988, the carnival used corporate sponsorship instead of just earning money from tickets sold at the door like it had in the years before. In the years that followed, the crowd and number of participants gradually increased and the carnival would become nationally and internationally more popular.
The 2010 Relays featured a "USA vs. The World" program, pitting American teams against elite runners including Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser and Alfred Kirwa Yego. The event broke all previous attendance records with a single-day high of 54,310 and the total of 117,346 for the three-day festival.
The Penn Relays not only provides young runners a platform to shine, but they also give an opportunity for older runners to show that they still have talent. The Penn Relays Masters Race offers 4×100, 4×400 and 100M dash for men and women who are between the ages of 40 and 70 years old.
Franklin Field was opened in 1895 specifically for the first Penn Relay Carnival. In this same year, Franklin Field was the site of the nation's first scoreboard. According to the NCAA, Franklin Field is the oldest stadium that functions as both a football field and a track and field stadium. In the fall of 1903, it became the first permanent college stadium in the country and the first stadium with a horseshoe design. The stadium was rebuilt in 1922 to its present-day form. The lower deck seating was made more stable and the upper deck seating was added to the stadium to allow for more spectators. After Franklin Field's renovations, it became the first two-tiered stadium. In 1967 the 10 lane synthetic track was added replacing the old overused track. In 1969, the football field became an artificial turf field. Franklin Field plays host to University of Pennsylvania football games and the Penn Relay Carnival.
The plaque was first given out at the 1925 Penn Relay Carnival. The design that is on the plaque and the medals was created by Dr. R. Tait McKenzie. The picture on the awards features the founder of the University of Pennsylvania, Benjamin Franklin, sitting in his library chair holding a laurel sprig in his left hand. Four nude runners stand facing him in a line all holding hands. The last runner in the line is holding the baton of the relay. Former University of Pennsylvania runners Larry Brown, Louis Madeira, George Orton and Ted Meredith posed as models for the design. The design is carved onto an 18" or 8" bronze plate and mounted on a wooden circle. Around the bronze picture, on the wooden part of the plaque, reads "Relay Carnival" above the design and "University of Pennsylvania" below the design. Also in Crash by Jerry Spinelli Penn relays are in it.
Other prizes by event
College championship relays
The winning team in the college "Championship of America" relays will receive an 18" bronze plaque. The individuals on the first place relay will receive gold watches. Individuals on the second place team will receive silver medals. Individuals on the third, fourth and fifth place relays will receive bronze medals.
The winning teams of the non-championship college relays will receive an 8" plaque. Individuals on the second place team will receive silver medals. Individuals on the third, fourth and fifth place relays will receive bronze medals. The prizes for the college relays are the same for the Military Academies races except the individuals on the first place teams will receive gold watches as well and the plaque.
College championship individual events
College individual events
High school championship relays
The winning team in the high school "Championship of America" relays will receive an 18" bronze plaque. The individuals on the first place relay will receive gold watches. Individuals on the second place team will receive silver medals. Individuals on the third, fourth and fifth place relays will receive bronze medals. If a team from outside the United States wins one of these races, watches will also be given to the first American team in this race.
High school championship individual events
First place individuals receive gold watches. Second will receive silver medals. Third, fourth and fifth receive bronze medals. Just like in the high school championship relays, the first American individual will receive the gold watch.
Olympic development relays
The first place relay will receive an 8" bronze plaque. The plaque will go to the first national team whose members are all the same nationality or the first USAT&F registered club whose members are all members of the same club. The individuals on the first place relay will receive gold watches. Individuals on the second place team will receive silver medals. Individuals on the third, fourth and fifth place relays will receive bronze medals.
Olympic development individual events
Masters, Special Olympics, and blind relays
The first place team will receive an 8" bronze plaque. Individuals on the winning relay will receive gold medals. Individuals on the second place relay will receive silver medals. Individuals on the third fourth and fifth place teams will receive bronze medals.
Masters, Special Olympics, and blind individual events
IC4A men's and ECAC women's relays
The winning teams of these relays will receive an 8" plaque. Individuals on the second place team will receive silver medals. Individuals on the third, fourth and fifth place relays will receive bronze medals. If the times of winners of these races are faster than that of the college championship races, they will receive gold watches.
High school Philadelphia, Tri-State, and consolation races
The first place team will receive an 8" bronze plaque. Individuals on the winning relay will receive gold medals. Individuals on the second place relay will receive silver medals. Individuals on the third, fourth, and fifth plea teams will receive bronze medals.
High school 4x400m and 4x800m and prep school 4x100m and 4x400m relays
The first place team will receive an 8" bronze plaque. Individuals on the winning relay will receive gold medals. Individuals on the second place relay will receive silver medals. Individuals on the third place teams will receive bronze medals.
Elementary school, junior high school, middle school, and parochial school relays
The first place team will receive an 8" bronze plaque. Individuals on the winning relay will receive gold medals. Individuals on the second place relay will receive silver medal Individuals on the third place teams will receive bronze medals.
In popular culture
- Bayard Rustin was an African-American civil rights activist and the principal organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Rustin is one of two men who both ran at the Penn Relays and had a school named in his honor.
- In the novel Crash by Jerry Spinelli, a boy is named "Penn" by his great-grandfather, who ran in the Penn Relays. In the end Penn gets to run in the Penn Relays.
Over the course of its history, originally one world record was set at the Penn Relays (though it was revoked following doping results), although there have been additional world bests in non-IAAF recognized events such as the distance medley relay.
|100 m||11.10||Lauryn Williams||United States||April 2004|
|Kelly-Ann Baptiste||Trinidad and Tobago||April 2006|
|Mile||4:26.10||Mary Slaney||United States||1997|
|3000 m||9:03.8||Sabrina Dornhoefer||United States||1985|
|5000 m||15:17.11||Laura Mykytok||United States||1995|
|10000 m||31:30.89||Annette Peters||United States||1997|
|100 m hurdles||12.61 (+1.1 m/s)||Queen Quedith Harrison||United States||April 24, 2010|
|3000 m steeplechase||9:55.43||Brianna Ilarda||Australia||April 25, 2019|
|High jump||1.94 m||Angela Bradburn||United States||April 1996|
|Tisha Waller||United States||April 1998|
|Pole vault||4.45 m||Tina Sutej||Slovenia||April 28, 2011|
|Triple jump||14.20 m (+1.7 m/s)||Thea LaFond||Dominica||April 29, 2017|
|5000 m walk (track)||20:56.88||Michelle Rohl||United States||1996|
|4 × 100 m relay||42.19||USA Red
|United States||April 28, 2012|
|4 × 200 m relay||1:27.46||LaTasha Jenkins
|United States||April 29, 2000|
|4 × 400 m relay||3:21.18||USA Red
|United States||April 28, 2012|
|4 × 800 m relay||8:04.31||Team USA Red
|United States||April 27, 2013|
|4 × 1500 m relay||17:08.34||University of Tennessee
|United States||April 24, 2009|
|Sprint medley relay (1,1,2,4)||1:35.20||Destinee Brown (100 m)
Aaliyah Brown (100 m)
Kimberlyn Duncan (200 m)
Raevyn Rogers (400 m)
|United States||April 28, 2018|
|Sprint medley relay (2,2,4,8)||3:34.56||Sherri-Ann Brooks (200 m)
Rosemarie Whyte(200 m)
Moya Thompson 51.7 (400 m)
Kenia Sinclair 1:57.43 (800 m)
|Distance medley relay||10:48.38||Villanova University
Kathy Franey 3:20.9 (1200 m)
Michelle Bennet 52.9 (400 m)
Celeste Halliday 2:04.7 (800 m)
Vicki Huber 4:29.9 (1600 m)
|United States||April 1988|
|4 × 100 m Shuttle hurdles relay||52.50||Texas A&M University
|United States||April 23, 2010|
The Penn Relays is always held the last week in April and always begins the Thursday of that week. It went on hiatus in 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic, besides 1917–18 & 1942–45.
- "History of the Penn Relays". Official Site of the Penn Relay Carnival. Archived from the original on April 27, 2010. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
- Lee, Kirby (April 25, 2010). Bolt electrifies record crowd with sub-9 second anchor leg at Penn Relays. IAAF. Retrieved on 2010-04-25.
- "Franklin Field". Official Website of the Penn Relay Carnival. Archived from the original on April 27, 2012. Retrieved October 18, 2012.
- "Prizes". The Official Site of the Penn Relay Carnival. Retrieved October 22, 2012.
- Hoover, Brett (2016). "What's in a name". pennrelaysonline. 63rd school listed on page. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved February 29, 2016.CS1 maint: location (link)
- "Discus Throw Results". www.pennrelaysonline.com. April 26, 2014. Retrieved April 27, 2014.
- "5000m Race Walk Results". pennrelaysonline.com. April 27, 2019. Retrieved May 5, 2019.
- "4x100 Metres Relay Results". www.pennrelaysonline.com. April 24, 2010. Retrieved April 25, 2010.
- "Sprint Medley Results". pennrelaysonline.com. April 29, 2017. Retrieved April 30, 2017.
- "100 Metres Hurdles Results". www.pennrelaysonline.com. April 24, 2010. Retrieved April 25, 2010.
- "3000m Steeplechase Results". pennrelaysonline.com. April 25, 2019. Retrieved May 5, 2019.
- "Pole Vault Results". www.pennrelaysonline.com. April 28, 2011. Retrieved May 2, 2011.
- "Triple Jump Results". pennrelaysonline.com. April 29, 2017. Retrieved April 30, 2017.
- Kirby Lee (April 29, 2012). "Felix paces meet records in 4x100m and 4x400m relays at Penn". IAAF. Retrieved April 30, 2012.
- "4x800m Relay Results". www.pennrelaysonline.com. April 27, 2013. Retrieved April 28, 2013.
- Bob Ramsak (April 29, 2018). "Women's sprint medley world best highlight's 124th Penn Relays". IAAF. Retrieved May 1, 2018.