NJ Legends Take Center Stage At The Penn Relays

PHILADELPHIA --  More than 38,000 frenetic fans at Franklin Field and thousands more viewing on television were reminded once again at Saturday's 126th Penn Relays just how much jaw-dropping track and field firepower has come out of New Jersey.

Talk about track and field royalty!

Double Olympic gold medalists Sydney McLaughlin and Athing Mu, along with World Champion Ajee' Wilson and Olivia Baker, who all hail from the Garden State, took center stage at the worlds oldest and largest meet, and delighted the energetic crowd with a sizzling show!!!  

On top of all that, another NJ legend, Erin Donohue, was inducted into the Penn Relays Wall of Fame
With the crowd buzzing with anticipation, McLaughlin, the world record holder in the 400 hurdles (51.46), sent the sun-drenched fans into a frenzy when she won the women's Olympic Development 100 hurdles in her season debut with a meet record 12.75. That's just off her PR of 12.65. 

It was the first race of the season for McLaughlin, who grew up in Dunellen and graduated from Union Catholic in 2017, since she smashed the world record in the 400 hurdles and led off the gold medal winning 4x400 at the Olympics in Tokyo last August.   
About an hour and half later, Mu (Trenton High -Class of 2020), Wilson (Neptune High- Class of 2011), and Baker (Columbia High-Class of 2014) took the track to run in the star-studded Olympic Development 600.

Mu, who won the 800 in an American record and anchored the winning 4x400 at the Olympics in Tokyo, was greeted with a huge ovation when her name was announced prior to the start. Mu gave the crowd what they came for by using a powerful surge over the final 150 meters to pull away for the electrifying win in 1:22.74, the fourth fastest time in world history and No. 2 in U.S. history, just behind Wilson's American record of 1:22.39.  

The 25 year-old Baker, who represented the U.S. in the 800 at the recent World Indoor Championships and was named Outstanding Performer of the Meet in 2013 and '14, finished fifth in 1:25.28. Wilson, who won the 800 at the World Indoor Championships this past season, and is the American indoor record holder in the 800 and the American outdoor record holder in the 600, placed sixth in 1:25.87. 

The 22-year-old McLaughlin, who last competed at the Penn Relays when she was named the Most Outstanding Performer after running a blistering high school meet record 50.37 split to bring Union Catholic across the line third in the 4x400 Championship of America race in 2017, said she's proud to be part of such an amazing group of talented stars from New Jersey.

"It means a lot for sure to see some many of from New Jersey doing this well," said McLaughlin, who is getting married next week. "We're sometimes overlooked as a powerful state when it comes to the sport. To have so many of us doing amazing things at the highest level, I feel a sense of pride being from New Jersey. It's really awesome to see "We all know each other well, and I've competed against and with them. The bottom line is we all support one another, and want to do well for our state. I very proud to be from New Jersey and will always represent my state the best way I can.''

How did McLaughlin feel about her performance. 

"I just wanted to start my season off strong and gauge where I was at,'' said McLaughlin. "This isn't my primary race, but I wanted to put up a good time so when the season progresses, I'll be in a good position to run the 400 hurdles when the time comes.  

McLaughlin, who runs for New Balance, said nothing beats the excitement of running at Penn.  

"There is a such super high energy level here at the Penn Relays that you just can't find anywhere else,'' she said. "It was great to be back here. I love it here. It was the perfect place to start my season.    

The 19-year-old Mu was making her Penn Relays debut. She didn't run for Trenton High because she only ran for an AAU team, the Trenton Track Club. Then as a freshman at Texas A&M,, the pandemic canceled the Penn Relays in 2021, the only season she ran for the Aggies before turning pro.

Mu, who runs for Nike, said there is mutual respect between herself and Wilson.

"I've known her since I was in high school," she said. "She has always been a really nice person and every time we step on the track, we're friends first before competitors. We definitely look out for one another off the track. It's never hard feelings."

The 27 year-old Wilson, who runs for adidas, said there is a strong bond between the New Jersey athletes. 

"I'm very proud to be from New Jersey and be part of all the talent that has come out of our state,'' said Wilson, who now lives in Philly. "It really is amazing to see what we've all accomplished, and we all want to see one another have a lot of success.'' 

Baker, who starred at Stanford and now runs for the Atlanta Track Club, said she's not surprised by what this super talented group has accomplished on the global stage.   

"I ran against Ajee' and Sydney in high school, and it was pretty obvious back then that they would go on to do great things,'' said Baker, who anchored Columbia to two straight C of A 4x800 wins, including in 2014 when she split 2:02.55, which still stands as the high school girls meet record. "We all have a lot of pride in where we are from, and is very rewarding and exciting to see all the success everyone is having. It makes me very proud to be part of this era that has produced so much talent from New Jersey.''     

This was just the second time that Mu, Wilson and Baker were all on the track at the same time. It also happened in the 800 at the 2019 Outdoor National Championships.

"Three runners from the same state running on this level in the same race at a meet like the Penn Relays is pretty amazing,'' said Baker.  

Get Ur NJ Track and Field on!!!!