Philadelphia – In April of 2012 the University of Penn Museum opened an exhibition that focused on the legendary long-distance “Tarahumara” or Raramuri runners of the Sierra Madre in Northwestern Mexico.
Two years later Penn’s Athletic department opened its doors to four of Mexico’s best long distance runners, along with several Puerto Rican athletes to participate in the University’s legendary Penn Relays.
Running in the Distance Medley race in this 119th annual Penn Relays, the young Mexican team of Jose de Jesus Fraire, Bryan Antonio Martinez, Edgar Alan Garcia and Christopher Antonio Sandoval and coached by Martin Paulin. was facing a formidable array of some of the world’s elite runners.
The United States team, for instance, reportedly included one Olympic Silver medalist; a widely respected Australian team also brought several Olympic hopefuls; and the team from Ireland boasted having as its anchor, John Coughlan, the son of Ireland’s three-time Olympian Eamonn Coughlan.
After a relatively pedestrian start, the United States and Australia picked-up the tempo, creating a little separation from the Irish team and Mexico’s Edgar Alan Garcia.
The distance medley consists of four consecutive runs: one of 400 meters, another of 800 meters, 1200 meters and a final of 1600 meters.
As the U.S.turned the corner at the first quarter mark of the race, Penn’s Chief Announcer Ron Lopresti reported the time of the lead United States runner of 2.59.3, with Australia on his heels at 2.59.5.
With Jose Fraire running the second leg of the medley for Mexico, Announcer Lopresti again read the order of runners, as the United States and Australia were pulling away from Ireland and Mexico. For a brief moment Australia took the lead, but the United States would quickly regain it and would not relinquish the front position for the remainder of race.
Lopresti dramatically repeated, “It’s the U.S., Australia,” then pausing, “Ireland and Mexico.” And that was the order of race’s finish. The United States team of Torrence, Summers, Johnson and Menzano won with a time of 9:28.27, a little more than 12 seconds off the world record held by Kenya.
In the final 1,600 meters both Mexico’s Christopher Sandoval and Ireland’s John Coughlan were already well behind, and the daunting prospect of catching the U.S. may have been disheartening for both, as Mexico’s team finished with a time of 10:00.41.
Despite the disappointing finish, coach Martin Paulin said he was pleased with his team young runners, as the team posed for photos after the race.
The carnival-like atmosphere of the weekend event was arguably as appealing as the relays and individual events that brought a significant number of Latino high school and college students from across the country and abroad to Penn’s Franklin Field.
In preparing for his 4X400 relay, Saturday, Avi Montanez of Woodbridge H.S. in Virginia, told El Hispano that he had run up the “Rocky steps” at the Art Museum with his teammates. Inspirational as a Rocky-like warmup is, Avi Montanez and his Woodbridge team finished sixth out of thirteen teams in their race.
And Reading High School’s team of Felix Hernandez, Mamadu Bari, Dante Owens and Jaie Johnson similarly faced tough competition, finishing in seventh place in their Saturday 4×400 relay.