Each year when the calendar hits April it is time to check the Milesplit rankings nearly everyday and see who is the comeptiton this year, who will win which races, and sometimes the most prudent question who will fight with the Jamaicans the longest. For those that make this annual trip whether it be as a competitor, coach, or fan, it is one to always remember. It starts months in advance looking at times throughout the indoor season. It then speeds up quickly with New Balance Indoor Nationals and the Gibson Relays happening in March which both highlight many of the teams to be competing. Through all those travels and flights from across the country and long road trips with coaches driving hundreds of miles the trip now comes down to just seven days and seven short blocks from Philadelphia's 30th Street Station.
All of these questions and many more will be answered in this year's installment of the most famous track and field carnival in the entire world. Each year more athletes compete here then the entire Olympic games and amongst these will be athletes ranging from middle schoolers to high school, to collegiate, to professional to the very entertaining and fan-favorite 75 and older 100m dash. Though there are many events to watch and many that will be fun to cheer on, here are seven events you cannot miss.
High School Boys 4x400 Championship of America
For those that have been watching the races down south, well very south in Jamaica, you already know that this year it is going to be blistering fast in the high school boys 4x400. If things go to form, it may take a very fast college team to even give Calabar a run for their money this year. Calabar ran 3:07.00 earlier this season at the Gibson Relays, this was after running 3:15 in qualifying. This team is the clear favorite and it is honestly hard to put an american team inside the top three favorites with such fast times this season. Union Catholic of NJ, New Balance Indoor National Champions, will likely be the American hope in this race. Those boys 3:15.53 indoors.
College Women 4x400 Championship of America
Anyone who watched the epic battle between Texas and Oregon at the NCAA Indoor National Championships knows why this event will be one to watch. These two programs, two of the most storied and fastest all-time programs, will definitely be looking to either solidify or rectify their indoor performance. For those that missed it, Texas only needed to win the 4x400 to win the national team title but Oregon walked them down on the final stretch to win in a photo finish and consequently win the team title. Texas is no neophite in this event, they have taken home the wagon wheel trophy a record ten times in this event alone, more times then the next three teams combined. Texas is also the national record holder in this event at 3:23.75 and were the relay record holders until last year when Oregon set the new mark at 3:26.73.
High School Boys 4x800 Championship of America
Anyone who watched the New Balance Indoor Nationals is ready for this outdoor rematch. This race and races will feature some of the fastest individuals and teams in the entire nation. Three teams to keep an eye on, of the many teams competing are Chaminade (NY), Osbourn Park (VA), and Blacksburg (VA). All three of these teams were very much in contention and all probably led at some point at nationals. The title was ultimately won by Chaminade (7:40.80) followed by Blacksburg (7:41.95) and Osbourn Park (7:44.55). Not only was the race close but it was historically fast with mutliple teams in the top 5 all-time. On a much larger track that is more spread out it should create quite the show, and it doesn't take a math genius to add up their splits and realize the potential for record implications.
In the qualfing rounds it will be very interesting as the nation's first and second best 800m runners will both likely be anchoring their teams. These two boys are Kenneth Hagen of Blacksburg and Derek Holdsworth of Lafayette. Indoors both these guys dropped the entire field and made it a head-to-head race where Holdsworth won at the line. Hagen lost a shoe about 300m into this race and will definitely be looking for a victory at Franklin Field. Regardless of who wins, this first section of qualifying will have some of the fastest splits in the entire meet.
College Women 4x200 Championship of America
All three of the sprint relays are very exciting but this one seemingly always finds a way to be the best of both worlds. What is meant by this is that the 4x200 is both a very fast relay dependant on starts, precision, and hanfoffs as well as a relay based on the correct balance of speed and endurance. It is a great race to watch and one that gets really close at the final exchange of the 4-turn stagger where all the teams converge. Texas A&M will be the likely favorite in this event as they are the event, facility, and national record holders in the event and have only lost once since 2008 (2012 to LSU).
College Mens 4x100 Heats
This event and heats will be the equvilant of that first weekend in March Madness. These races will be stacked with teams from across the country and even Jamaica. It will be a battle not only of speed and competition but of great handoffs and precision deciding how and if these teams advance. Each of the past years one of, if not the, top seeds has dropped the baton or had a poor exchange in the qualifying rounds. Unlike other levels, at the collegiate level the competition is so stiff that to qualify teams will have to get the baton around cleanly and quickly. Some teams that will likely be near the top are Texas A&M, Florida, Clemson, and Auburn amongst others.
USA vs. The World Mens Distance Medley Relay
Despite this race being one that will rap around Franklin Field a total of ten times, it seemingly always ends with a kick at the end and all the runners, sometimes four teams, sprinting the final 200 meters to win the race. This race also has a strong likelihood of being close to World Record pace, as it is very rarely run and the world record was actually set there in 2006. Since then basically every team has come very close to that record. This race will also feature some of the best runners in the entire world from USA, Kenya, and elsewhere.
High School Girls 4x100 Championship of America
Despite only being third in the national rankings, Long Beach Poly (CA) will be America's best hope in this Jamaican-dominated event. Poly has ran 45.73 earlier this year at the Texas Relays and will no doubt be looking to and have to better that time to have a chance at winning another title. Poly is the only American team to win this event, guys or girls since 2004. Poly will have the ultimate weapon with senior Ariana Washington likely anchoring this team. Washington has run 11.38 in the 100 this season and was a freshman on the Cal Poly team that won in 2011. Unfortunately for them they will have to run very fast to beat the tough Jamaican competition or to break their school record, which is the national record too, a common theme at Poly. Edwin Allen (JAM) will be the favorites coming into this race with their 44.48 clocking earlier this season, that is better the the 44.50 US national high school record.