'I love Penn, but I hate Penn'
Notes from the second Penn Relays media luncheon.
'I love Penn, but I hate Penn'
I thought that headline might get some attention.
Unfortunately for a few of you, though, those words weren't spoken by anyone associated with the Quakers. They came from Villanova track coach Marcus O'Sullivan at this afternoon's Penn Relays media luncheon.
O'Sullivan was one of six coaches who spoke today, and he appeared in person along with Penn men's track coach Charlie Powell. Providence's Ray Treacy, LSU's Dennis Shaver, Arkansas' Chris Bucknam, Washington's Greg Metcalf, Florida State's Bob Braman and Texas A&M's Pat Henry participated by telephone.
But O'Sullivan took the headlines, talking at length about how important are the Penn Relays are for his program and how his team is looking this year.
And let there be no doubt that he gets what the Penn Relays mean.
"I'll be honest: of all the Olympics [and] World Championships I've ever run, post-collegiately, I've never felt the same way as the pressure when I've come here," said the former Wildcats distance runner. "The pressure I used to feel out here was just daunting."
"Because you're at home," O'Sullivan said, and then he went on an almost Jay Wright-like riff.
"If you ever have to play a game of any sort in front of your home crowd, it's probably the most daunting thing to have to do, particularly there's something at stake," O'Sullivan said. "Because when you do win, it's magnanimous and it's so glorious, but when you don't, God, it's terrible. So it's what I've always said: I love Penn, but I hate Penn."
This despite an admission from the Irishman that "you have to be from here to really understand what the Penn Relays is."
"I've had freshmen come here from other countries and you know they don't know what's coming," he continued. "And then they get down here and they go, 'Oh, gosh. I didn't know it was going to be like this' "
This year, O'Sullivan is optimistic about what he's bringing to Franklin Field, especially in the men's Distance Medly Relay.
"I'll probably have the most depth [in the DMR] I've ever had in my 11 years" as a coach on the Main Line, he said.
O'Sullivan added that because of his team's depth, he's "hoping" to have teams in the 4x800, the 4xMile and the DMR.
"This year I think we're going to start with the 4xMile - it doesn't make sense not to - and then see what we have for the 4x8 at the end," he said. He then told a tale of how he once found himself in a similar situation when he ran for the Wildcats.
"We never knew we were running the 4x8 until after Jack Pyrah, after he got instructions from Jumbo [Elliott], would meet us out in the grass, and we're legless at this point," O'Sullivan said. "You knew when Jack was coming, you were saying, 'Oh, shoot, you know he's running the 4x8.' And we're not really hiding, but thinking, we might as well put our feet up because we can't go home yet."
- This is Bucknam's first Penn Relays ever. He's never come as an athlete, assistant coach, or head coach anywhere else. So of course he'll make his debut as the sucessor to legendary Razorbacks coach John McDonnell. No pressure there.
"It's certainly testing all my coaching and management skills," Bucknam said. "There's nothing like the Penn Relays - it's a bowl-type atmosphere for our sport, and that's what makes it a lot of fun."
A Southeastern Conference coach would refer to it that way, wouldn't he.
- Braman's Seminoles have two off-the-track matters to deal with: the investigation into allegations of academic fraud in the school's athletic department, and Michael Ray Garvin's NFL prospects. You can hear Braman's remarks on those subjects in the audio player below. It would be quite a story if Garvin gets drafted on the same day he runs at the Relays, but Braman said he's going to be a second-day pick.
- There was a bit of news about participants in the USA vs. the World races. Penn Relays executive director said that Asafa Powell is "listed on a preliminary lineup." My guess is that means the Jamaican 4x100-meter relay team, as I doubt he'd be in any races at other distances. But he could run the Olympic Development 100m sprint.
I've also heard from good sources that Shelly-Ann Fraser, who won the gold medal in the 100-meter sprint at last year's Olympics, will lead the Jamaican women's contingent. That hasn’t been explicitly confirmed yet, though. Fraser won the same event at the Penn Relays last spring as a collegian, and is featured on the cover of this year's Relays program.
(I will leave it to Joe Juliano to give you the annual reminder that the program, which includes the full schedule and decades' worth of results and records, is still a bargain at $10.)
An email from USA Track and Field that I received this afternoon listed the following athletes as participatns in a Friday afternoon press conference ahead of Saturday's races: LaShawn Merritt (2008 Olympic 400m gold), Walter Dix (2008 Olympic 100m and 200m silver), Leonel Manzano (Outstanding Men's Athlete of the Meet the last two years), Allyson Felix, Lauryn Williams (reigning 100m world champion), and Sanya Richards (Currently the world's top ranked female sprinter).
In other words, a really fast bunch. Just don't drop that baton.