Two “MJs” Highlight Penn Relays
PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ The two ``MJs″ are back for the Penn Relays.
Michael Johnson and Marion Jones will return to Philadelphia tomorrow for one of track and field’s oldest and most prestigious meets. And once again, they’ll have their sights set on setting records in what has become the meet’s signature event, the 800-meter relays.
Johnson, a three-time Olympic gold medalist, will team Saturday with Jon Drummond, Maurice Greene and Tim Harden in a quartet that could threaten the world record of 1 minute, 18:68 seconds. Greene and Harden finished first and second in the world indoor 60 meters this year in Tokyo, separated by .01 seconds.
Franklin Field, site of the relays, has seen the 800 record fall before. A team featuring Carl Lewis broke the American record in 1992 and a women’s team anchored last year by Jones became the first American team to dip under 1:30.
``You don’t come to the Penn Relays not ready to run,″ said coach Bev Kearney of Texas, one of the favorites in the collegiate women’s field.
Jones, the world’s top-ranked sprinter and long jumper last year, will also team with Gail Devers, Inger Miller and Susanthika Jayasinghe on a 400-meter relay team. In the last outdoor world championship in 1997, Jones won the 100 while Jayasinghe, representing Sri Lanka, won the silver in the 200.
Other Olympic medalists scheduled to compete in the three-day meet include Allen Johnson, Deon Hemmings, Chryste Gaines, Quincy Watts and Bruny Surin.
In men’s collegiate events, the distance specialists from Arkansas are strong contenders again to dominate the 1,600-meter distance medley and the 4-mile relay.
The Razorbacks have won the distance medley six times this decade, but were thwarted by Michigan last year. Arkansas hopes to reclaim the title this year with a likely lineup of Sharif Karie, James Karanu, and Matt Kerr and Kwame Lassiter, who previously made their marks in the relays while in high school.
South Carolina coach Curtis Frye hopes his crew can slow Arkansas, along with other favorites Texas Christian and Texas, but is also wary of other schools.
``The people with the horses are the West Coast teams _ USC and UCLA, plus those (TCU and Texas),″ Frye said. ``We’re awfully young. It will take a couple of years to get into the chase with them. I try to tell the kids the Penn Relays mean a lot.″
TCU is the favorite in the shorter relays but faces stiffer competition in the 400 relay it won last year in 38.91. That’s because seven teams in this year’s field, including TCU, have already gone below 39.50 this spring.
On the women’s side, streaking Texas is the favorite in the shorter relays. At this year’s Texas Relays, the Longhorns broke its collegiate record in 1:30:93, winning the race by 4 1/2 seconds with a team of Aminah Haddad, Suziann Reid, Lakeisha Backus and Nanceen Perry.
Kearney says her squad will face stiff competition from LSU.
``LSU always has Texas as a motivation and vice versa,″ the Texas women’s coach said. ``But when it comes right down to it and the gun goes off, if you don’t do your job, it doesn’t matter. We may not be at each other’s forefront in our thinking, but we’re definitely on each other’s minds.″
LSU coach Pat Henry says he wishes he could set a goal of winning four relays this year, something Texas thinks it has a chance of achieving.
``There’s so many factors in Philadelphia that dictate what happens. You’ve got to be ready to make some changes as the meet goes,″ Henry said. ``We just want to run hard, compete well and leave healthy.″
Wisconsin, Villanova and Georgetown are contenders in the distance medley and 6,000 relay. In the latter race, the Wildcats can field a team that includes two NCAA champions (Carrie Tollefson and Carmen Douma) and one NCAA runner-up (Krissy Jost).