By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Embarking on yet another stepping stone toward a championship, Penn State track and field is headed to Philadelphia to compete in the Penn Relays Carnival.
Unlike any other meet, the Penn Relays is the oldest, largest track meet in the country celebrating its 121st year this weekend and with over 15,000 athletes, of all levels, from around the country competing in over 120 events, the Nittany Lions have a big three days ahead.
"I don't think it's that you prepare any differently. I think it's that you have to respect and understand what the history and the tradition of the Penn Relays are. It's one of the oldest track meets in the country. Right now, if you get a sunny day, from the attendance stand point it will be one of the largest attended track meets in the country," said head coach John Gondak.
With its long-established tradition, the Penn Relays has bred more than just another exciting meet weekend. The carnival-style display has sparked careers, dreams, and motives.
"There have been so many Olympians and champions whether it's at the high school, college, or professional level that have competed at the Franklin Field. It's a very hallowed ground of our sport," said Gondak. "It's the track meet I attended that got me into the sport back when I attended in the 10th grade and it has been, in my opinion, what launched my career."
"Although the Penn Relays are hosted by the University of Pennsylvania, at Penn State we still take pride in having one of the largest track and field meets in the country being held in our home state. [There is] pride that is involved with [being a part of] the blue and white...Talking about the history we are involved in gives you a little bit of added motivation and a different type of respect for the meet," said Hill, Philadelphia native.
"It's always really exciting to get into the Philly area and compete. It's exciting to have my parents come out and support me. I know the facilities and some of the officials...and it's the Penn Relays. It's always exciting to go back.
To add to the motivation, Penn State is entering this weekend as the sole owner of the men's 4x800-meter relay record time of 7:11.17 for the 30th straight year.
"It's an incredible sense of pride for our alumni, those that ran in that relay and the program in general. It's talked about at every alumni gathering and event," said Gondak. "Records are out there in an attempt to be broken but it has been 30 years and no one has broken this one. It's something that I know is in the back of our minds for our team to go out there and try to accomplish that."
Returning shot put champion, Hill knows very well the excitement that comes with big accomplishments but notes that the most important part is to focus on the now.
"You have to stay focused on the task. It goes on for a few days but the excitement about it helps you soak in the atmosphere and use [it] to your advantage. You have to be focused on the goal," said Hill. "I understand that it's a new year. I won last year, which was cool but it's a new feel and a lot of good competition so it's going to take a good day to repeat a championship. I'm prepared and that's the goal but I understand that it's going to take [a lot]. I can't underestimate anybody."
The most exciting weekend of the year begins Thursday, April 23 and lasts through Saturday, April 25th.