Bill Cosby had to listen to the roar.
The actor and comedian tried to explain what the Penn Relays meant to him after decades of visits when his point was made by the sound of nearly 20,000 fans cheering on the runners at Franklin Field as another race came down to the wire.
“Listen. Listen to the crowd,” Cosby said on Friday. “What you heard are the voices. If you add another 50 years, those people will remember the time they were here.”
The four Princeton men who became the first Ivy League team to win a distance medley relay since 1961 will sure remember the 2012 Penn Relays. The Oregon women who won for the first time at the sport’s oldest relay event will have that experience forever etched in their memories.
In the women’s 400 relay, Texas A&M won in 43.87 seconds. Tennessee won the women’s sprint medley relay in 3 minutes, 43.79 seconds and Penn State took the men’s sprint medley relay title in 3:18.47.
All the winners came away with a moment to savor on the second day of the 118th running of the famed track and field meet.
“I was at every one,” the 74-year-old Cosby quipped.
He saw a bit of history on his latest visit.
Oregon won the 6,000-meter relay in 17:29 for its first Penn Relays women’s championship. Lanie Thompson, Alex Kosinski, Anne Kesselring and Rebecca Friday dominated early and easily held off runner-up Georgetown.
Oregon held about an 80-meter and 15-second lead by the time Friday took the handoff for the anchor leg.
“I saw that we had a pretty big lead, but I didn’t want to take any chances,” Friday said. “I started off strong, and the goal for me today was to finish the last 200 (meters) strong. I still did that, even though we had a pretty good setup from the girls.”
Ducks coach Vin Lananna called the victory a worthy reward for the long trip east.
Kosinski was so excited she asked if she could take the press conference placard with her name on it.
Just another keepsake to go with the watch awarded to every winner.
Even Cosby owns a pair of Penn Relays watches — accessories treated like gold medals by any competitor who’s stepped foot on Franklin Field.
Cosby was on hand to fire the starter’s gun for the elementary school shuttle relay events. Bundled up in a grey Penn sweatshirt and sweatpants on a chilly, windy day, Cosby smiled and warmly shook hands with every small child — even as they were likely unaware the man wishing them luck was one of the all-time great comedians.
“I ran here in the middle of this field and I remember how excited I was and how important I felt,” Cosby said. “I still remember it and I’m 75 years old. I identify with these kids. It is an honor and a privilege to me.”
Cosby, followed around by a documentary film crew, was set to return Saturday to start the high school relay races.
Known for his stand-up act, social activism and the hit TV series “The Cosby Show,” Cosby is a Philadelphia native who played football at Temple.
His deep city roots are one reason why he returns almost every year.
“It’s clean. There’s no violence,” he said. “Well, there is violence, the starter’s gun. And the boys and girls elbow each other and knock each other off. I’ve seen some pretty rough moments. But there’s no violence.”
Always stressing education, Cosby would have been pleased to see Princeton win the men’s DMR in 9:42.5. Indiana was second and Binghamton third.
“This is truly one for the history books,” Princeton coach Steve Dolan said.
Joe Stilin, Tom Hopkins, Michael Williams and anchor Donn Cabral led the Tigers to their second Penn Relays championship in two years after taking the mile relay last year. No Ivy League school had won the DMR since Yale in 1961.
“I figured if I could stay comfortable and keep a last gear or two for the last 200 meters, then I’d have as good a chance as anyone,” Cabral said. “This is awesome. I didn’t get to do it in high school, so I’m getting my money’s worth in college. “
While the high school and college events are the heart of what the Penn Relays are all about, Saturday’s “USA vs. the World” relays gets the event on NBC and should fill Franklin Field.
Some of the biggest names in U.S. sprinting, including Justin Gatlin, Walter Dix, LaShawn Merritt, Angelo Taylor, Carmelita Jeter and Allyson Felix, will compete in the six-race showcase, the biggest one before the London Games.
Gatlin compared the relays to the NBA’s All-Star weekend.
The stars can’t wait to stretch their legs in front of an appreciative crowd.
“It gives the fans what they want to see and gives them a taste of the Olympic games,” Dix said. — (AP)