The Penn Relays is America’s oldest and largest track and field competition. Since 1895, the University of Pennsylvania has hosted the annual track and field event at Franklin Field in West Philadelphia — the country’s oldest college stadium. The Relays are always held the last Saturday in April and the two days preceding.
Each spring, the Penn Relays draws more than 15,000 participants and 110,000 spectators from across the United States. The competitors range in age from pre-teen to upwards of 100 years old. In order to compete in the Penn Relays, athletes must meet certain qualification standards specific to each track or field event, but even achievement of those set standards does not guarantee acceptance. Athletes are also limited to compete in only one event.
Relay running – where members of competing teams run a specific distance before passing a baton to another team member – was relatively new when the University of Pennsylvania decided to add a relay race to its annual spring meet in 1893. The sport has exploded since then, with many crediting the increase in popularity to the Penn Relays.
The six USA versus the World races – three each for men and women – draw the biggest crowds. There’s an ongoing rivalry between the U.S. and Jamaica, with supporters of both sides filling the stadium each year. The rivalry – and mutual respect – between the two countries stems from a consistent showing of both extraordinarily talented athletes and support from passionate and patriotic fans on both sides.
Other track highlights include the 400 meters hurdles run, an obstacle-laden steeplechase and relay races for the Special Olympics. Field events include the pole vault, high jump, shot put, and the javelin throw.
The excitement surrounding the event isn’t limited to Franklin Field. Outside the stadium is a festival offering food, drink, and sport memorabilia. The energy permeates the University of Pennsylvania’s campus and beyond, electrifying the city.
Each year, tens of thousands of people attend the Penn Relays daily, filling out Franklin Field, which seats about 52,600 spectators. Tickets for the 2023 Penn Relays are on sale now.
Looking for more things to do while in Philadelphia? Check out other annual sporting events in Philadelphia.