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Walt Murphy's News
Last Updated: June 2, 2003

Memories from Penn
Kevin Sullivan

"Sully" anchored Michigan to a win in the men's distance medley in 1998. Now an assistant coach at Illinois, he will have to follow his new team to the Drake Relays next weekend.

"I think the history that Michigan has at Penn was what made the meet special for us. I believe we have the third most Championship of America trophies in the history of the Penn Relays (He's right-Villanova 88, Penn 54-1/2, Michigan 38). And we were reminded of this every year when we scoured through the program looking for past results and pictures of Michigan athletes. But looking at the results also made us realize how long it had been since we had won a Penn relays title. Prior to 1998, the last Championship of America that Michigan captured was the 1980 Shuttle Hurdle Relay and the last DMR that we won was way back in 1960.

In addition to the history, the atmosphere always inspired me to have great performances. From the crowds hollering as you are catching teams out front of you; to the anxiety and anticipation of getting out on the track as you are crammed in the pen right before your race; to trying to find a place to stride out behind the stadium; to sneaking back to the track well after dark for the "last" relay of the carnival; it all adds up to make the Penn Relays the most electrifying meet in collegiate track and field.

Winning the DMR in 1998 was a dream come true for me. For 3 years I had run on DMR's and 4x1500's and every year we finished 2nd, 3rd, or 4th. It was extremely frustrating to come so close to that trophy and those watches. The most frustrating loss was probably 1997. I was making my comeback off of achilles surgery in the fall of 1996 and was finally starting to round into shape around Penn Relays (I had started the season with a 3:54 1500m leg at the Texas Relays). I got the baton about 20-30m behind (Seneca) Lassiter and took off after him. But instead of Seneca pushing the pace, he slowed down on the third lap and let me back in the race. I was still not as fit as I normally would be at that time of year and the effort of trying to catch Seneca had taken it's toll on me. Seneca took off with about 250m to go and just dusted me. I was happy with the effort but disappointed at having towatch Arkansas do yet another victory lap, this time at our expense.

So 1998 was the last chance for me. I was a 5th year senior, fit and ready to run despite battling some plantar fascitis. I only bring up the plantarfascitis because I remember real vividly that it seemed unusually tighter that day as I did my last stride out before the race went off. "

(After lead-off man Don McLaughlin fell)--"I never actually saw Don fall, but I saw him drag his lanky frame up off the track after the recall. I turned to Jay Cantin who was running our 800m leg and told him to get ready to take over the 1200m duty if Don was too shaken up to restart. Don had 1:49 speed so I wasn't too concerned about switching the two of them there on the line. But Don went straight back to the line so I prayed that he would forget about the fall and just get caught up in the racing. And that is exactly what he did.

Don ran a great leg (2:56.9) and handed off to Brian Thiesen (aka "champ") who had transferred the year before from Central Michigan University. Brian was a 110 and 400m hurdler who happened to run a mean 400m leg. I can't remember what Brian split that day(it was 46.9), but it was the most aggressive I remember him ever running for us on a relay.

Brian handed off to our All-American, Jay Cantin. Jay had high school credential of 3:42 and 1:49 coming into Michigan and this day his talent shone through like never before. Jay held his position through the 800m leg(1:48.9) and handed off to me in 4th place, 30m down on Seneca Lassiter....again.

I had won the NCAA indoor mile earlier in the year so everyone knew that I was fit and back running more like my old self. So I was somewhat surprised that Seneca chose the same strategy as the prior year. I was slowly gaining ground in the first 800m of the race and then Seneca slowed the pace again in the 3rd lap and I caught him coming into the bell lap. I remember hearing the Michigan crowd sitting by the 1500m start chanting "SULLY, SULLY" as I came by them. And I had one of those feelings that you don't get very often.

The one where I ABSOLUTELY KNEW I WAS GOING TO WIN. I stayed as patient as possible and then with about 150m to go I swung wide and kicked as hard as I could. Seneca went with me for a few metres and then I broke clear down the homestretch(split-3:55.5). I remember about 50m from the line thrusting the baton in the air. Some people after the race looked at it as being a cocky gesture on my part. But anyone who knows me knows I am not a cocky person. For me, it was an unconcious reaction to those previous years' frustrations of close finishes.

I have a great respect for Seneca and all of the great Arkansas relay teams, so to beat them at the Penn Relays really helped to complete my collegiate career at the University of Michigan.

That race will always mean more to me than any NCAA Championship or All-American plaque that I won simply because of the great history of the Penn Relays, and the great friends that I had to share that success with."