Photos/Videos: Zack Beavers & Jeremy Goode
By: Jeremy Goode
PHILADELPHIA – Two-time Olympians Devon Allen and Ajeé Wilson kicked off the 127th Penn Relays with a press conference on Apr. 20, 2023, at the Dunning Coaches’ Center next to Franklin Field at the University of Pennsylvania.
“I’m really excited to be back at Penn Relays,” Ajeé Wilson said. “Every year since high school it’s always been one of the highlights of my season, and I’m excited to be back.”
Allen noted how impactful last year’s Penn Relays were for him, including setting a Penn Relays record in the 110-meter hurdle, and he looks to continue his success in the coming week.
“Last year was one of the most exciting and memorable competitions in my career, so I’m hoping to make that happen again,” Allen said.
For Wilson, nothing about the Penn Relays is new. She ran them in high school, and now she has been running them as a professional. Her favorite memories of the event are from high school, when she won races with her stacked team, and from watching the professionals run including Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards-Ross.
During the 2023 Penn Relays, Wilson will be competing in 600-meters. She is fifth in the world for the 800-meters. Wilson also has earned five world championship medals, eight national indoor titles, and she is a four-time national champion.
Allen, currently sixth in the world at 110-meter hurdles, also held the top spot at the event for 36 weeks. During the 2022 Penn Relays, Allen defeated Jamaican runner Omar McLeod with a time of 13.11. This score was good enough to set a Penn Relays record that was originally set by Ronaldo Nehemiah for this event in 1979 with a time of 13.29. Allen subsequently topped his 13.11 score later last year with a score of 12.84.
With Allen living in Philadelphia over the last year because of his ties to the Philadelphia Eagles, he knew it would be important to return to the Penn Relays to defend his record as well as embrace and experience the atmosphere of the Penn Relays.
“The atmosphere for me last year was probably the best atmosphere I have ever experienced in a track meet,” Allen said.
The elite atmosphere of the Penn Relays that Allen observed last year had a positive and lingering effect, according to Director of Penn Relays, Steve Dolan. Dolan reported that tickets sales were significantly up from last year, and that he expected this year’s meet to be extremely electric and exciting for all athletes and fans. Additionally, Dolan mentioned that the entries throughout all levels were up in quantity and quality.
For Allen, he is juggling two upcoming professional athletic events, as he plans to run in the Penn Relays and also participate in Organized Team Activities with the Philadelphia Eagles, after earning a spot on their practice squad last year. Over the last several weeks, he has been getting into track and field shape, and he expects to have a few Eagles teammates in the stands watching him compete during his event, since many will already be in town for OTAs.
Wilson has raced at the Penn Relays often. When asked about her process of preparation for the event, she acknowledged that it did in fact change for this year’s Penn Relays.
“The major difference this year is that I have been training solo,” Wilson said. “I’m very teammate-based; I like working together with my training partners. I got to get creative with local friends and work with runners who helped me get through my workout.”
One of the things that makes the Penn Relays so iconic and legendary is the diversity of the running events. Dolan noted that the events involve competition among all age groups, including youth competitors such as middle school and high school students, as well as college students, Olympians, and professional track and field athletes.
The double-life professional athletic lifestyle certainly has not been easy for Allen, always balancing professional track and field with training camp and making an NFL roster and sticking on his team’s practice squad. Even though the physical and mental grind can be exhausting, Allen believes that track and field have really influenced his football abilities in a positive way.
“I think track and field is a special sport because usually in high school and college there is a team aspect and you have teammates and training partners,” Allen said. “The performances have to deal with your preparation and your discipline itself… When you transition that to another sport, you learn a lot of things from track and field that you use as an athlete because you can’t necessarily perform well in track and field if you don’t have key attributes like being fast, explosive, and strong.”
This is in the second year since that the event has been back since COVID-19 cancelled the Penn Relays from 2020-21. Dolan is looking forward to a second year in a row, and he is excited to build off of last year’s return, which will always be significant and meaningful to him.
“Last year was our first year back and there was a lot of newness to it,” Dolan said. “One of my favorite moments was walking around the stadium to see the large crowd, the excitement on the athlete’s faces. We were back, and back to full speed.”
The 127th Penn Relays will take place from Apr. 27-29, at Franklin Field. The event can be streamed at flotrack.org. Click here for tickets!