Amid NFL hoopla, Penn Relays ready for 123rd event

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 Mayor Jim Kenney and Penn Relays gather  to discuss the 123rd annual event. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Mayor Jim Kenney and Penn Relays gather to discuss the 123rd annual event. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Philadelphia is hosting some major sporting events this week. Aside from  the NFL draft beginning Thursday, the biggest running meet of the year is also set for Thursday at the University of Pennsylvania.

The Penn Relays, now in its 123rd year, brings the best of the best from around the world, said director Dave Johnson. But it’s more than just a track event, he said.

“It is a cultural institution of Philadelphia.  It has become a part of many family’s heritage.  It is a time for family reunions, reunions of fraternities and sororities,” Johnson said. “It’s a time to remember old friends, meet new ones and reminisce about that over the course of a wonderful three days.”

Mayor Jim Kenney said the event played a part in the start of many well-known people, not only in the track world.

“Some notable participants include NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain, who competed as a student at Overbrook High,” Kenney said. “Second man on the moon, Buzz Aldrin. Music mogul Sean Combs. Democratic presidential hopeful and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and civil rights leader and West Chester native Bayard Rustin.”

That’s not to mention all those who participate from around the world. Many countries use the relays as a training event for Olympic athletes, according to Penn spokesman Mike Mahoney.

“Thirty gold medals from last year’s Olympic games are Penn Relay alums,” he said. “So we are looking forward to three great days on the track at Franklin Field.”

About 225 colleges and more than a thousand high schools will participate from as far away as Africa are scheduled to take part in the event. 

Officials, who point out there is a trail from the NFL draft events that runs to Franklin Field, said they believe many will take advantage of the walk if the weather stays good to take in both events.

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