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They're relay great
Ron Reid
May 08, 1978
Led by Mark Belger, Villanova won five out of five races at the Penn Relays
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May 08, 1978

They're Relay Great

Led by Mark Belger, Villanova won five out of five races at the Penn Relays

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There is no such law on the books in Philly, of course, but it certainly looked as if there were last week at the Penn Relays, the nation's oldest, busiest, liveliest and, as it turned out, most singularly dominated track and field meet.

In the 84th running of the Franklin Field carnival—and what else do you call a gathering graced by hustlers hawking T shirts, jewelry and cotton candy, a dog on the track and enough athletes (9,000) to staff the Olympics?—Villanova stole the show to a degree beyond almost everyone's expectations and that included Wildcat Coach Jumbo Elliott.

Early in the week, perhaps fretting over unimpressive workouts and the virus that had taken up residence in one of Mark Belger's sinus cavities, Elliott said it would be "impossible" for his team to match its alltime record of winning five major relay championships at Penn, a feat the Wildcats had accomplished in 1968, '69 and '70.

At best, Jumbo should have said "implausible," for when Saturday's final relay had been run, Villanova had racked up five victories in the five team events it had entered. Tim Dale's superb 45.2-second anchor leg, which enabled the Wildcats to add the 1,600-meter title to their two-day haul, may also have proved that Villanova was destined to win even on the rare occasion when a rival team might run as fast. Tennessee equaled the Wildcats' time of 3:04.5 for the race, but Dale, who had slipped past the Vols' Antone Blair on the last turn of the final lap, was judged to have hit the tape first by an eyelash.

The inevitability of Villanova's juggernaut hardly was apparent Friday when the Wildcats won their 13th straight distance medley in 9:37.8, thanks mainly to Don Paige's heady running on the anchor leg. Paige, a handsome 21-year-old junior who lost the last two outdoor seasons to stress fractures in his left leg, held off East Tennessee's 3:55 Irish import, Ray Flynn, who ran his 1,600-meter anchor in a blistering 3:56.9.

"When I heard Flynn coming up," said Paige, "I figured he had to have run his first three laps very well, and because of that there was no way he could outkick me. I didn't kick that much; I ran with power. I was content to run to win." Which he did with a time of 4:02.3.

However, Belger, the ace half-miler who ran the 1,200-meter third leg, and who has yet to be beaten in four Penn Relays, almost ran himself into exhaustion. He opened with a 52-second lap and ran at a 1:52 pace over the first 800 meters. It was much too fast, and Belger finished on leaden legs in 2:57.3.

Even so, he was better off than Tennessee's Sammy James. An Ace bandage on James' right leg came unfastened at the first turn of the second lap. Soon it trailed behind James like a kite tail and almost tripped him before he had to drop out.

"The Penn Relays, that's a tense time in your track life," Belger reflected after the race. "It's a week when you've got to lay low and prepare to make no mistakes. And I feel lousy. I've got this cold, we're just starting finals and I can't get to sleep. It's just hectic."

The next day, rebounding from his misjudged pace and the bug, Belger twice anchored the Wildcats to victory and thus extended his individual Penn Relays success to 10 triumphs in 10 races, exceeding Marty Liquori's Villanova record by one.

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