Fans cheer on their team as the Jamaican women trounced the US side on April 25, 2015 at the Penn Relays. (Ann Walters image)

 By Barrington M. Salmon

News Americas, PHILADELPHIA, PA, Fri. May 8, 2015: Jamaica’s minister with responsibility with sport, Natalie Neita-Headley, says she is negotiating with Philadelphia city officials to strengthen ties between the US city and her homeland of Jamaica.

Minister Neita-Headley’s comments to NAN comes on the heels of the 121st running of the oldest and largest track and field competition in the United States, the Penn Relays, and the celebration of the 21st anniversary of Team Jamaica Bickle, a non-profit group founded to support Caribbean athletes at the relays.

Neita-Headley says she is focused on twinning Philadelphia with Spanish Town, which is the site of the G.C. Foster College, the incubator for the training of Jamaica’s track and field coaches.

And she said she has also had discussions around the issue for remunerations for Jamaica from the estimated $2.7 million the Penn Relays Carnival generates every year.

An Excelsior High School old boy who said he ran on at the relays in 1964, said sharing the pot with Jamaica, and by extension the athletes, is the right thing to do.

“I come here every year. When I came in 1964, there may have been 20,000 people,” said the former Delta Airlines employee and Florida resident who declined to give his name. “The University of Pennsylvania is making money, companies and concessions – all of them are making money. They need to be sending some of that money to Jamaican schools. The (Jamaican) government’s been saying they’ve been negotiating for 15 years (but nothing has happened).”

This year’s 121st running of the relays marked the 12th year that attendance topped 100,000 over the course of three days. By 11 a.m. on the final day, Saturday April 25th much of the stadium had been filled. As the sun burned off the morning chill, vast crowds descended on vendors and concession stands, sampling Jamaican foodstuff, and buying food while listening to DJs spin selections of thumping Rhythm and Blues, Reggae and Dancehall.

In addition to the Jamaican contingent, athletes from Guyana, the Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago also competed.

Chas Dorman, associate director of Athletic Communications, deemed the event a success.

“This is another great Penn Relay Carnival. We had 110,000 people and some really good events and strong athletic performances despite the bad weather,” he said. “It was a team effort for a great event. Our fans, Philadelphia and Jamaica have passion for this event which grows every year and brings it to a new level.

“Jamaican fans bring enthusiasm. The fan base helps drive the effort. They have flair and passion, more so perhaps than any other group. Their passion brings this event to life which is really cool. I get to see them come every year and take pride in the part they play.”

Jamaican Roots Actor In The House 

Actor Dule Hill stood up with his family on Saturday, April 25, watching intently as athletes stormed around the track in one of the eight races billed as “USA vs. The World.”

Before and during the race, loud cheers of the 49,103 spectators rattled around the stadium as people raised and waved flags of all sizes, blew discordant vuvuzelas, tooted horns, clanged cowbells and shouted at the top of their voices in an attempt to propel their teams to victory.

Hill said he’d finally made it to his first Penn Relays to see his nephew – a student at Marlboro High School – compete. His work schedule and job had proven to be obstacles in the past but Hill, the son of Jamaican parents, said he thoroughly enjoyed the experience, which is an annual rite-of-passage for significant numbers of fans.

“The last few years I’ve been out-of-town in Vancouver (Canada) and elsewhere. I plan to come back again,” he said. “I’m cheering for Jamaica unless my nephew is running.  His team came in sixth. This is a good experience for him. It’s showing him what he needs to do to excel. ”

Hill, most well known for roles in ‘Psych’ and ‘The West Wing,’ stood among the throng of people in the stadium to watch as one of two American teams competed against the likes of China, Guyana, Canada and Hong Kong.


The US won the 4×100 meter race in a time of 38.68 seconds, while Jamaica finishing second with a time of 36.88 seconds. In the 4×200 meter race, the US and Jamaica finished one-two again, meanwhile Jamaica’s UTech college women stormed to the 10th best time ever in the 4×200.

Jamaica’s female senior teams snagged two titles in the 4×100 meters and the 4×400. In the shorter distance, Sherone Simpson, Kerron Stewart, Natasha Morrison and Schillonie Calvert and Natasha Morrison bested their American counterparts with a time of 43.70 seconds. The Americans clocked a time of 43.79 seconds.

In the 4×200 race, US women pipped Jamaica’s by two thousandths of a second. Then in the 4×400 meter race, Jamaica’s women made history by out-dueling the Americans for the first time, finishing with a time of 3 minutes 26.58 seconds. Jamaica’s win brought America’s 13-year stranglehold on the event to an end, much to the delight of the partisan Jamaican crowd. Three-time Olympic medalist Deeded Trotter anchored the American team which finished with a time of 3:28.42.

In all, the US swept six of the eight USA vs. the World races.

At the high school and college level, Jamaican high schools and institutions of higher learning snared a total of 19 titles, including 11 relay victories and eight individual championships. Calabar’s Michael O’Hara was named High School Boys’ Athlete of the Meet after running a scintillating second leg of the 4×100 team that set a new Penn Relays record of 39.63. He also anchored the winning 4×400 team to a time of 3:09.97 with a split of 46.68. The High School Girls’ Athlete of the Meet for Relay Events went to Saqukine Cameron of Edwin Allen. Cameron ran on two Championship of America-winning teams, anchoring the 4×400 with a split of 53.88, 2.23 seconds better than any other anchor on the track. On Thursday, she ran the third leg on the COS winning 4×100 team.

Marvin Williams of St. Elizabeth Tech took home the High School Boys’ Athlete of the Meet award for Individual Events. He won the 400 Hurdles with the time of 51.11, the 4th fastest time ever run at the Relays.

It was the first time since 2013 that Jamaican performers in the high jump, long jump and triple jump won all three events when Kingston College’s Clive Pullen won the triple jump event, Wolmer’s Boys’ Christoff Bryan won the high jump and Sadiki Eddie of Kingston College took first place.

University of Technology (UTech), under coach Stephen Francis, and Edwin Allen High grabbed four first-place victories each, Calabar High had three, and St Elizabeth Technical High School (STETHS), Holmwood Technical and Jamaica Invitational teams each scored double victories. UTech defended its College Men’s 4×100-metre and 4x200m relay crowns in the times of 39.27 seconds and 1:20.97 minutes, respectively.

Calabar’s 20-year-old Javon Francis, an athlete with great pedigree and a bright future, was philosophical after his team placed third in the 4×400.

“It was a good day for me. I ran the second leg. I haven’t done that in a while,” said Francis, who almost ran down the USA’s LaShawn Merritt at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow when he pulled his team from fifth to second and who destroyed Usain Bolt’s 400m record in Boys’ Champs in Kingston Jamaica last year. “I’m happy about everything. I finished injury-free and we placed third. Better things will come soon. Hopefully. I am going to go back to the drawing board with my coach, push back, improve, hope that the rest of the season goes well.”

For Janieve Russell, another well-decorated athlete during her high school years, her biggest challenge was the weather.

“The crowd is amazing and so supportive. Everyone has been great but the climate is hard to deal with,” said Russell, a student at UTech pursuing a degree in Hospitality Management and the 2012 World Junior Champion in the 400m hurdles. “I’ve been coming here for the past seven years and I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Kingston College old boy Gerald Hector said, he was there to enjoy the purity of a sport he loves.

“I love seeing high school youngsters perform and showcase their talents,” said Hector with a broad smile. “I competed in track and field and at Howard University, I was also an athlete. I came to Penn Relays too. It’s just in my blood to see athletes perform. And I get a chance to spend time with friends and catch up.”

Neita-Headley said she continues to be proud of all the athletes from the tiny island nation of Jamaica.

“I am generally very pleased with their performance and I continue to give them support,” said Neita-Headley, who was at the Penn Relays for the third year. “What you see here isn’t magic, it’s hard work. The athletes are more resolute as they view other successful athletes and those who are successful financially. The talent and the human resources are there for the training, development and framework of a strong sport.”












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