In the waning days of April, GDS’s 2023 Varsity Track team distinguished themselves once again with record-setting relay race performances at the hallowed Penn Relays in Philadelphia. The men’s 4x100-meter relay team, which set a school record earlier this season, broke their own record en route to a stellar second-place finish in their heat. Not to be outdone, the men’s 4x400-meter relay team pulled out all the stops to win the prestigious “Prep School” race, qualify for the New Balance Nationals, and carry home the coveted Penn Relays plaque.
Read the race report…
The 128-year-old Penn Relays, hosted at the University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field, draws more than 15,000 participants annually and has seen spectator attendance exceed 50,000 people. Against that backdrop, four GDS juniors—Nathaniel Romine, Kovan Smith, Will Babcock, and Nathaniel Mintzer—stepped into the stadium to top their personal records, topple a school record, and, well, take names. To avoid confusion in this article, we refer to Nathaniel Romine and Nathaniel Mintzer by their last names.
10:40 AM — Warming up
“Nathaniel [Mintzer], Kovan, and I had been there [at Penn Relays] before and felt the natural nerves,” Romine said. “It was Will’s first time, and he kept asking about how nervous we were. We were all pretty excited.”
11:05 AM — Lining up
“They led us out onto the track and…,” Romine paused seeing the crowds in his mind’s eye. “It’s such an incredible experience to see all those people waiting for you to race.”
One by one, the runners broke off with fist bumps to be led to their transition zones around the track.
11:10 AM — Race!
As the starter said, “On your marks,” Romine hopped high to shake out the nerves and get loose. Then, he settled into his set position. A moment later, he took off with the starter pistol, charging low and hard in his drive phase. By 20 meters in, he was racing fully upright after a strong start. Midway around the curve, he spotted Kovan ahead in the transition zone. The exchange execution was smooth, if a little early in the zone, and Kovan rocketed off down the straightaway toward Will.
In the past, the handoff from Kovan to Will has had some fumbles. “It was great to see them have a successful handoff,” Romine said.
After the clean handoff, Will arced around the second curve, pulling up close to the third-place position by the time he handed off to Mintzer.
In the anchor position, Mintzer delivered a blistering closing 100-meter dash, passing two athletes to finish second.
“I looked up at the [stadium] monitor and immediately knew we’d broken the school record again,” Romine said. Only weeks before, they had broken their own record of 44.16 set at the Woodward Relays.
Their record-breaking performance was good enough for a ninth-place overall finish out of 159 teams from across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions.
The packed track of the 4x400-meter race—18 teams running in a pack—meant it would be critical to get out fast from the start in order to have clear exchange zones for handoffs. Nathaniel Mintzer, Kovan Smith, Nate Bazemore ’23, and Zach Kovner ’24 lined up for GDS. Mintzer took the lead-off leg and led for nearly all of his 400-meter run (52.12). By the time he passed to Kovan, he was in second place but had stretched out the field to a long, single-file stream. Kovan passed the leader in just 100 meters and held onto that lead until the last 60 meters of his leg (51.61). Nate, the only distance runner in this long sprint event, held onto second place for the entirety of his leg—nearly exactly the same distance between first and third at the end of the race as the start (52.44). Nate made a smooth baton pass to Zach, who went out hard and caught up to the leader by the end of the curve. He ran shoulder-to-shoulder with the runner from The Gilman School for about 250 meters, covering slightly more distance on the outside of the curve. Then, in the final 60 meters, he put the hammer down and pulled ahead (51.71) to win the race (3:27:87) with a time just one second shy of the school record.
Their top result has earned them the chance to return to Franklin Field in mid-June for the New Balance Nationals. For now, they’ve got a giant plaque, a robust training schedule, and each other.
“Personally, breaking the GDS 4x100 school record and bringing home the first-ever plaque won by GDS at Penn Relays are just small victories for me,” Mintzer said. “My big win is that I was able to compete at a high level with my fellow relay members, some of whom are my closest friends. Witnessing my friends progress and falling in love with the sport is all I can ask for. They inspire me to be my best self on and off the track.”
When can I watch GDS running?
May 13 will be a big day for GDS track and field. Head over to Holton Arms School between 8:45 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. to cheer for the women’s team at the Independent School League (ISL) Championships. Then, at 4:30 p.m., bring your Hopper spirit six miles down River Road to Bullis School for the Mid-Atlantic Conference (MAC) Championships.
The DC State Championships take place on May 24 and 25 at Dunbar High School.