In Episode 48, we recount the high drama at the U.S. Olympic Trials, where America’s best distance runners left nothing on the track, and we discuss the participation of Intersex athletes at the Games. Gregg welcomes a new runner to the fold.
Jenny Simpson and Brenda Martinez, here pictured at the 2015 5th Avenue Mile, won spots on the Olympic team in a dramatic 1500m race.
In Episode 47, we cover the recently completed Boston Marathon and upcoming London Marathon. Our guest, 2014 U.S. Marathon Champ Esther Atkins (nee Erb), discusses how to accomplish even pacing over 26.2. In a wide-ranging interview, she also covers the business side of the sport, the “Erbbot,” and her plans for the future (hint: Tokyo Olympic Games, 2020). We revisit the issue of the harassment of women’s runners, and provide shout-outs to listeners whose impressive performances all ended with a “9”.
In Episode 46, we let our guests do (most of) the talking. Ian Burrell describes to Gregg his approach to the April 18 Boston Marathon, his recent sponsorship changes, running with Tourette’s syndrome, and the daily routine of an elite distance runner who’s also a family man and a partner in a law firm. In our second interview Polly Jones speaks out about the troubling and pervasive issue of the harassment of women runners.
In Episode 45 James Chu joins Brenn in the broadcast booth and geeks out on the Millrose Games. In post-race interviews, Garrett Heath addresses gamesmanship in the Wanamaker Mile pacing, Ryan Hill reveals how last year’s narrow loss propelled this year’s thrilling win, and Abbey D’Agostino shares her reading list. Duane Solomon and Molly Huddle also make cameos.
By James Chu
NCAA track & field features the most thrilling and competitive races in the sport that we love. Collegians race not for a paycheck, but because they care about the glory and love of sport and competition. For that, and the tremendous depth and parity in the college ranks, I am a huge fan of NCAA Cross Country and Track & Field.
As a Princeton University track alum myself, I have a rooting interest in the sport. Princeton is not exactly known as a powerhouse in the major sports of football, baseball, or basketball (save for the occasional March tourney berth), but Princeton has fine programs in Cross Country and Track & Field, turning out a few professional runners in recent years. When I saw the start lists for the 109th Millrose Games, I got excited as I saw quite a few Princeton alums and two current students on the lists. I decided that I wanted to see how many representatives from each college were in the meet, and while I was at it, I scored the meet NCAA Championship style by college alma mater of the participants.
As expected, University of Oregon dominated the athlete count with 15. Princeton had the second most representatives with 7 including Olympian Donn Cabral (3000m), Liz Costello (5000m), Greta Feldman (5000m), Justin Frick (high jump), Joe Stilin (mile), and current students Noah Kauppila (800m) and Garrett O’Toole (800m). If you throw in incoming future frosh Conor Lundy (HS mile), the Tigers would have 8 representatives. For this, I use the orange and black as my title and column header colors.
I will use the green and gold of Oregon for the team scores, as their superior numbers and dominating performances take the wins for both men and women. The men’s competition actually came down to the last event of the meet, the Wanamaker Mile. Oregon trailed USC (with wins from Andre DeGrasse in the 60 meters and Duane Solomon in the 800) by 7.5 points. Oregon had three guys in the mile (Matt Centrowitz, Blake Haney, and Daniel Winn), needing to collect at least 8 points collectively to win. Haney got one point (8th place), so Centrowitz needed at least 7 points (2nd place) for the team win, and he got 10. Six points (3rd) or fewer would not have been enough.
The MVP of the men’s competition can go to none other than the greatest athlete in the world Ashton Eaton of Oregon. Eaton scored 8 pts in the 60m hurdles and 4 pts in the long jump for 12 of Oregon’s 32 points.
The women’s MVP goes to Shannon Rowbury for winning the Women’s Wanamaker Mile tallying 10 of Duke’s 15 points for a 3rd place finish in the women’s team standings.
My Tigers finished with 5 points coming from the current Tigers Kauppila and O’Toole in the 800.
You can take the NYRR Millrose Games out of Madison Square Garden, but you can’t take the star power out of the games. Rod Stewart was there as usual, conspicuous in a bright red blazer, as if his hair didn’t give him away already. More to the point for track fans, 4-time Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix was in the house, and she won the 60m dash. Matt Centrowitz again stuck it to 2008 Olympic 1500m silver medalist Nick Willis in the Wanamaker Mile, setting a meet record of 3:50.63. Centro’s Nike Oregon Project teammate Shannon Rowbury repeated in the women’s mile in 4:24.39, nearly identical to her winning time from last year. The Olympic vets are getting fit with Rio on the horizon.
If the 200m and 400m specialist Felix can also blaze at 60m, might her exceptional range tilt the other way as well? What could she run in a 600m, or even an 800m, perhaps? She’s highly unlikely to race those distances in the near term if ever, but wouldn’t it be interesting.
Centrowitz, 26, was 4th at the 1500m in the 2012 Olympics. Record aside, the most surprising thing about this race was his revealing in post-race interviews that he had been fighting off congestion and had even considered scratching. Get out there lad, give it a go, one imagines Alberto Salazar saying. Pop! Meet record, and fourth fastest indoor time ever. Is it too early to predict that Centrowitz, who has won two straight and three total Wanamaker miles, will challenge Bernard Lagat’s records of six and eight? And really, must the NOP trot out these improbable performances amid a drugs investigation? If he stays out of trouble, Centrowitz is winding up for a hell of a career. Poor Willis, who has lost to them both, ran the second fastest mile in the 109-year history of the event on Saturday, and still didn’t win.
The depth and breadth of distance events has improved markedly at the Millrose Games since its relocation in 2012 from MSG to the Armory in Washington Heights. At MSG the lighting was darker, the track tighter, and the times slower. In Lagat’s era the mile was marked by thin fields and an annual sacrifice of Craig Mottram. By contrast, a whopping sixteen sub-4 minute miles were run yesterday, including Drew Hunter’s 3:57.81 high school indoor record. The women’s 5000m was the first in the meet’s history.
The Armory track is fast and the banks steep. Racing there takes getting used to, and a few who came up just short last year—Ryan Hill and Betsy Saina, prevailed this time around.
Hill finished two tenths of a second behind Bowerman Track Club teammate Lopez Lomong in the 5000m in 2015. This time he took the 3,000m by an even tighter margin, at 7:38.32 to Hassan Mead’s 7:38.38.
The young guns in this one showed pluck, as 22-year-old Edward Cheserek and his ex-Oregon teammate/rival, the NOP’s Eric Jenkins, 24, led in the early going. Hill, Evan Jager, and Lopez Lomong formed part of a BTC murderer’s row behind them, and somewhere near the back was the NOP’s Cam Levins. It was an orderly procession until Mead (Oregon Track Club) jumped Cheserek with a surprising move with 500m to go and held the lead until Hill got him at the tape. Hill, Mead, and Jenkins (7:39.43) all lit 26 second splits for the last 200 to win, place, and show.
“The second after the race ended last year, I thought yeah, I should have won that had I just raced more confidently. I tried to carry that forward,” Hill said. “I felt very good the whole way today. I did not think it would be that hard to get around Hassan.”
King Ches finished 6th at 7:40.51.
Last year Kenya’s Betsy Saina was outkicked by Sally Kipyego in the 3000m at Millrose. This time she prevailed, beating Molly Huddle by thirteen hundredths of a second as she more nimbly maneuvered past the race’s lapped runners. After stalking Huddle the entire race, Saina swung to the lead as she, Huddle, and Emily Infeld passed Jordan Hasay and Liz Costello shortly before the bell. Huddle’s path to the finish on the last lap was unintentionally obstructed by two of her Saucony teammates, Chelsea Reilly and Laura Thweatt, as Saina darted past them. It was like some video game with Saina dropping obstacles behind her so that Huddle couldn’t catch up.
Emily Infeld, who pipped Huddle at World’s in the 10,000m last year for bronze in a race Huddle would rather forget, finished third in 15 flat. Saina was the eighth place finisher in that same race. She joined the Bowerman Track Club last fall.
“I wonder if I would [have won had I] pushed a little further out,” said Huddle. “I was kind of just waiting, because I wasn’t confident I could drop someone. If I could have fixed anything, maybe [it would be] getting a better line to the finish.”
In the 800m, Saucony’s Duane Solomon, who was 4th in the historic 800m finals at the 2012 Olympic games, set an indoor PR in 1:47.52, edging Penn State’s Brannon Kidder.
“Being my first 800 [of the season], I wasn’t sure how comfortable I’d be doing my usual race tactics. I held back a little bit. I didn’t want to end up like last year, going out too hard and not being able to finish,” Solomon said.
In the women’s race, Adidas’ Ajee Wilson had another perfectly calibrated performance to win her third consecutive 800m at Millrose. Four years ago, she debuted as a 17-year-old high school student and finished fourth in a race won by Morgan Uceny.
Another predictable result was Rowbury’s victory in the women’s mile, though it wasn’t without intrigue. Rowbury wobbled over the final straightaway last year, winning with a comfortable margin but clearly spent from an attempt at Mary Slaney’s American indoor record. After the pacer dropped halfway through, the gap to the chase pack narrowed. This time, though, there was no wobble, and Rowbury proved once again the class of the field.
In the men’s mile, it was pretty simple. With two laps to go, Nick Willis was exactly where he needed to be.
And with one lap to go, Matt Centrowitz was exactly where he needed to be.
The last move wins.
Meet roundup by Brenn Jones. All photos by Andy Kiss.
See our full photo gallery of the 2016 Millrose Games.
In Episode 44 we share pre-race thoughts from past guests who are running in the Olympic Trials in L.A. on Saturday (and a few who aren’t). When asked who may surprise to the upside, Nick Arciniaga and Tyler McCandless had the same answer. Gregg and Brenn offer their predictions. True to form, Gregg plays it right down the middle while Brenn plays the longshots. On your mark, get set…