For Jamaican runners, Penn Relays are like a 'home meet'

Fitzroy Dunkley, left, of Jamaica edges out Calvin Smith, right, of the USA Red team in the USA vs. the World Mens 4x400m race on April 29, 2017 at Franklin Field.

It's always kind of green and gold and black on Saturday at the Penn Relays.

It's always sort of reggae and dreadlocks and jerk chicken.

It's always a little bit of that enchanting lilt to the language and a lot of those remarkable high school runners who arrive from the Caribbean nation intent on turning this event into a state-side version of the island championships.

But there were signs in the morning that the last day of the 123rd running of the world's oldest and largest track and field carnival was going to have even more of a Jamaican accent than usual - the sultry weather, for one, and the unusually large contingent of folks in those omnipresent colors on 33rd Street outside Franklin Field.

And by the time the competition hit high gear - like a sprinter turning "Woooo" corner and racing for home - the lower section of the old stadium was the shining sea of Jamaican national colors, and there was a palpable sense that something fast was coming around the bend.

So then Elaine Thompson took the baton for the Jamaican team in the 4x100 meters in the first race of the USA vs. The World series and flew down the track like a female version of the legendary Usain Bolt - part human, part hovercraft.

But here's the truly remarkable thing: The Olympic champion in the 100 and 200 at Rio de Janiero in 2016 and current title holder as World's Fastest Woman was only a warm-up for a high school team.

Make no mistake. Thompson's anchor that lifted the Jamaican team to victory in the first event of the six-race competition was a breathtaking display of world-class speed that set the tone for the island nation's first three-victory showing in the 18-year history of the USA vs. The World series.

"She shocks the world every time," Team USA member Miki Barber said of Thompson.

Barber and fellow Team USA athlete Wallace Spearmon both smiled during a late-afternoon news conference while discussing the huge pro-Jamaican contingent in the crowd.

"There's not even a question. It's always going to be a Jamaica," Spearmon said.

Said Barber, "All I heard was 'Jamaica.' "

The 3-3 split with Team USA in the relay series was highlighted by Thompson's anchor work and Fitzroy Dunkley, whose blazing 45.13-second split brought the Jamaican men home in the 4x400.

And G.C. Foster of Spanish Town in Jamaica won the college mon's 4x100 Championship of America race as well.

But nothing underscored Jamaica's dominance of this day like Calabar's performance in the high school 4x100 Championship of America race as the team of Tyreke Wilson, Christopher Taylor, Michael Stephens, and Dejour Russell - all sophomores, by the way - ran an astounding time of 39.00.

"We wanted to put on a show," said Russell, the team's imposing anchor.

To put that time in perspective, consider: Calabar would have finished second in the college men's 4x100 championship race, ahead of Oregon, Auburn, Penn State, and Houston.

In fact, Calabar would have been second in the USA vs. the World men's 4x100, ahead of USA Blue, the Dominican Republic, and the Jamaican national team.

Imagine a high school team hanging with a national championship-caliber college basketball team in a pickup summer game. Or with an NBA team, even.

Calabar is a predominantly male school in Kingston established in 1912 by the Jamaican Baptist Union. It has produced five Rhodes scholars and is renown for its track and field program.

Calabar has been coming to the Penn Relays for years, along with other Jamaican powerhouse high schools such as Kingston College and Camperdown and St. Jago's and Wolmer's and many others.

The promise of spectacular showings by Jamaican high school teams is a big reason there always is so much green, gold, and black in Franklin Field on Saturday at the Penn Relays, so many Jamaican flags waving in the West Philadelphia breeze.

Asked if the event on an 85-degree afternoon felt like a home meet, Russell flashed the braces on his teeth but never hesitated.

"This is a home meet," he said.