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TRACK & FIELD: Olympians Vashti Cunningham and Oliver Hoare Signal the Start of the 128th Edition of the Penn Relays

By Zach Gephart Photos: Zack Beavers, 04/23/24, 2:00PM EDT


Photos/Videos: Zack Beavers & Zach Gephart

By: Zach Gephart

PHILADELPHIA - Two-time Olympian Vashti Cunningham joined Olympian Oliver Hoare in the 128th Penn Relays opening press conference on Thursday at the University of Pennsylvania’s Dunning Coaches’ Center.

“My favorite part about coming to Penn Relays is just being in Philadelphia,” Cunningham said. “...That’s such a place of history to me, [with] my dad playing on the Eagles for as long as he did…it feels like I am living and watching him again, but [now] I’m the athlete.”

Cunningham, 26, has grown up with deep ties to the City of Brotherly Love. Being the daughter of Eagles’ legend Randall Cunningham, she has swiftly lived up to the legacy of her last name. The high jumper previously participated in the 2016 and 2020 Summer Olympic Games, placing 13th and sixth, respectively. Now, she returns to the town where it all began.

“I’ve only got[ten] to come [to the Penn Relays] one time,” said Cunningham. “But I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to come and compete in the arena again…when I get there [I feel the] high energy and [I’m] ready to compete.”

Hoare, on the other hand, comes from across the pond. The Australian native previously participated in the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, where he placed 11th. He last took part in the Penn Relays in 2019, where he ran the 4xMile and distance medley relays.

“Last year was kind of just watching, [but] experiencing it as a spectator was incredible,” Hoare said. “’s a very exciting opportunity and the crowds are always crazy.”

Vashti Cunningham reflects on her first time competing in the Penn Relays - PSD Video by Zach Gephart

Oliver Hoare talks about the atmosphere at the Penn Relays - PSD Video by Zach Gephart

Hoare also shared his perspective on the return of the Penn Relays’ partnership with World Athletics, the governance of global track and field. The organization previously brought world-renowned talent to Franklin Field in the USA vs. the World event, but was eventually suspended in 2019. This year, however, athletes from around the globe will return to one of the biggest stages in sports.

“Leading into an Olympic year [with] points and rankings [and] also having World Athletics back in a meet like this particularly helps Americans,” said Hoare. “...It’s good for the sport and helps grow the sport.”

Opening statements were also provided by leading figures of the event. Executive Director of the Penn Relays, Scott Ward, extended his gratitude to the Tri-State Toyota Dealers Association, the presenting sponsor of the festivities. He also shared his excitement for what the future of the Penn Relays has in store.

“This year our summer showcase is actually turning into a true summer series,” Ward said. “Our vision is to try to make [UPenn] and Philadelphia an East Coast destination for track and field.”

Steve Dolan, the Frank Dolson Director of the Penn Relays, was the primary speaker outside of the Olympians. Dolan shared that Franklin Field is currently expecting over 100,000 visitors across the span of three days in addition to countless teams from around the world.

“[Franklin Field] comes to life when you see [the] youth, high school, college, professional, [and] masters all taking a turn out there on that grand stage,” said Dolan. “There’s no track and field meet in the United States that gets a crowd like this one.”

Dolan also spoke about UPenn’s Olympic development program, which he believes has picked up steam since its creation. This season, the program added men’s and women’s high jump, which will be headlined by the expertise of Cunningham.

“[The program] has really come along these last three or four years,” Dolan said. “We’ve got some great competitors.”

The final representative to speak was Tri-State Toyota Dealers Association Secretary Bob McCormick. On behalf of the company, he spent his moments expressing the importance of the partnership between the two giants.

Scott Ward provides opening remarks to kick-off the 128th running of the Penn Relays - PSD Video by Zach Gephart

Steve Dolan shares his favorite part about the Penn Relays - PSD Video by Zach Gephart

Bob McCormick is proud to represent Toyota, which is sponsoring the Penn Relays, Olympics and Paralympic games - PSD Video by Zach Gephart

“The ability for Toyota to partner with [UPenn] is really a significant thing for both of us, it just makes sense,” said McCormick. “...We couldn’t be happier to be part of this because we think it’s such an iconic event.”

The 128th running of the Penn Relays will be held from Apr. 25-27. On Saturday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia will be broadcasting live from Franklin Field. Alternatively, viewers can watch competitions at