By Alyssa Palfey, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn Relays have always been known as a carnival to most track and field athletes. This meet is held at Franklin Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and is the largest and oldest track and field competition in the United States.
This year marks the 124th Penn Relays, where more than 15,000 participants from high school, colleges, and track clubs come to compete. For Penn State head coach, John Gondak, the meet means more to him.
"Personally, I grew up in Philadelphia, so heading home for the weekend is always nice. I think the best part about the Penn Relays is it's a carnival. It's a fun meet, there's great crowds, there's great competition," Gondak said. "We just work with the team to go down there and enjoy the experience and do something that they are no often to get the chance to do. If you're competing at the stadium Friday or Saturday it might be the only chance you have to run in front of 30-40,000 people, so it's a pretty exciting atmosphere."
For freshman pole vaulter Katie Jones, this meet offers an opportunity to be back somewhere that she's used to competing. Jones competed at the Penn Relays when she was a junior in high school at South Williamsport.
"It will be nice to be back. Everywhere that I've competed for Penn State has been a new place for me. Going back to somewhere that's familiar to me will be fun. It's also always fun to have my parents there watching," Jones said.
When Jones was last at the Penn Relays competing, she broke her best height. Having that moment made her memory of the Penn Relays positive. She says that the competition pushed her to compete her best.
"It was a lot of fun, I had a big PR that meet. I cleared 13' for the first time, so it's really special. The stadium was huge, it was raining that day, so there weren't as many fans. The competition had all be over 12', so the competition was really good," Jones said. "It was big meet, it actually had more competition than states for me. It was more than just Pennsylvania competitors, it was people from other states."
Along with the crowd, other aspects of the meet and stadium make it a great atmosphere for Jones to compete.
"Just being there. You have the different awards that are given and all the action that's going on around you. Pole is right along the home stretch, so it's always so cool being in the middle of all that action and watch everything that's going on while you're competing," Jones said.
Although it is a bonus to have competed at this large meet before, the transition from high school competition to college is something that athletes have to take into consideration. Gondak says how Jones has made this transition smooth so far but will need to have that continue into the weekend at the Penn Relays.
"Each person transitions from high school to college differently. The events are different, the competition is different and you're back to that freshman year of high school thing again where you're sometimes wide eyed and taking in the competition," Gondak said. "Katie has done a phenomenal job of transitioning to wearing a Penn State uniform. I am very proud and excited of everything she has accomplished so far this year. "
Individual events at the Penn Relays win a watch if they come in first place. Gondak explains how last year they had a lot of athletes come close to winning one of these famous Penn Relays watches.
"The field events will have opportunities to win individual watches, and I think we have a lot people in position to do that. I think last year we had one winner and a lot of second and third placers, so hopefully we can add to that winning column this year when we go down there," Gondak said.
Even though this meet is more of a carnival to most, Jones is going to use it as a preparation for the Big Ten Championships in two weeks.
"I want to build and try to improve whether it's height, technique or consistency. I just want to continue to improve and get ready for Big Tens," Jones said.
Gondak is confident that Jones will continue to do just that as she heads into the 124th annual Penn Relays this weekend.
"She probably had her best meet of the year last weekend, so I'm excited for her to continue that momentum this weekend at the Penn Relays, a location she's had a lot of success at in the past," Gondak said.