Colleen Quigley was living the dream of many young runners as she approached the Wanamaker Mile finish line. “I couldn’t feel anyone behind me, so I was just going for it,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’m going to break the tape!'”
She didn’t notice Bowerman Track Club teammate Kate Grace closing on her right. Kate Grace was runner-up last year in 4:22. This race, unlike that one, had started slowly, and Grace, with her sub-2:00 800m speed, was striking. Grace sprinted around the last lap in 29.60 seconds–the only sub-30 lap of the race, and besting Quigley’s 30.02. Unfortunately for Grace, this 0.42 second difference left her just 0.03 seconds short in the end. “I thought I could nip her,” said Grace, who spent early laps in lane 2 and the middle of the race boxed in. “I think 1-2 is a good result for us. Of course it sucks not winning, but that’s a good reason to come back.”
Scotsman Chris O’Hare gapped the field with a blistering mid-race move in the men’s marquee event. Could he hold on? With its high caliber fields, this race tends to be decided late, not early.
The obvious choice to give chase was two time Olympic medalist Nick Willis. “This was one of the best ever starts for me in terms of slotting into my position. No one fought me or kicked me out wide. After 200, 400, even 600 [meters] I was like ‘this is the perfect spot’,” said Willis. “But the mile is a strength race, and I just didn’t have the strength today.”
Willis, who is eyeing a 1500/5000 double at the Commonwealth Games in April, had run a number of 100+ mile weeks in the fall, and doesn’t lack strength. Though he would not himself offer excuses, a recent bout of the flu did him no favors.
As it was, Ben Blankenship and O’Hare’s Scottish compatriot Josh Kerr led the rally. The volume rose in the Armory as they gave chase and the leader tied up on the last straightaway. But while Kerr sliced two seconds from the gap on the last loop, it was the hare who held on to win this one. A gold and silver for Scotland.
“I wanted to make it really hard, and it was,” said O’Hare. As if to underscore his point, the victor was seen retching in a trash bin after all the questions from the media had been answered.
Another move that worked was Shadrack Kipchirchir’s when he drove to the front with a tenth of the race remaining in the men’s 3000. “My plan was to stay on the outside of whoever was leading until one-and-a-half laps to go. When I took off, nobody went on my shoulder, and I was like, I got it. I was ready to resist, but nobody showed up” Kipchirchir said. Kipchirchir flew around the last lap in 26.69. Justyn Knight and Ryan Hill closed hard for second and third.
It was a great day for Kipchirchir’s US Army teammates, with Leonard Korir beating Galen Rupp and Evan Jager, among others, to win the USATF Cross-Country Championships; and Paul Chelimo (3,000m) and Eliud Rutto (800m) winning Camel City Elite races. Kipchirchir explained the group’s success: “Being the US Army soldiers, they teach us to be mentally tough. We went through the training. These guys don’t give up. They work so hard. They don’t accept defeat.”
Two-thirds of the way into the 15-lap race on the women’s side, world champion steepler Emma Coburn, in first, and last year’s winner Kate Van Buskirk, in seventh, formed bookends to the less towering but no less game competition between them. There were many shifts up front, crescendoing into nearly a three-way dead-heat at the tape. In a surprise, Aisha Praught-Leer (8:41.10), who had passed Coburn with about half a mile to go, held off better-known steepler by six hundredths of a second and Dominique Scott-Erfurd by eight hundredths. University of Missouri’s Karissa Schweizer was a strong fourth in 8:41.60, breaking Jenny Simpson’s collegiate record. Praught-Leer set an Armory and meet record, and the top nine runners all finished inside Van Buskirk’s winning time last year, including Van Buskirk herself, who sliced three seconds down to 8:49.
It was a record-setting day for half milers. In the blistering men’s 800, Emmanuel Korir shadowed Donavan Brazier before overtaking him on the last lap to win in 1:44.21, crushing the Armory and meet records by about two and three seconds, respectively. The top five runners beat the meet record, and Korir, Brazier, and Drew Windle all ran faster than anybody ever had for the four-lap race at the Armory.
The women’s 4×800 was set up as a world-record setting attempt by Crishuna Williams, Raevyn Rogers, Charlene Lipsey, and Ajee Wilson to take down Russia’s 8:06.24. A 2:05 opening leg left no room for error, but Wilson ran a 1:58.37 anchor leg to reset that mark to 8:05.89.
Since when have kids gotten so fast? At the Armory Youth Holiday Classic in December, there was a mile race among boys aged 8 and younger. The top ten all finished in under seven minutes, a more-than-decent time for a high school gym class race, and these were third graders, if that.
In the boys’ high school mile at Millrose, all 14 boys finished below 4:30. And taking a shot at Roger Bannister’s hallowed four minutes in the Invitational Mile was 18-year-old Brentwood (Tenn.) high school senior Brodey Hasty.
Hasty missed by the narrowest of margins, running 4:00.05, but after picking himself off the track in disappointment, he quickly recovered. “I’m happy about it because I know that if I work a little bit better on certain aspects of my race, I’ll be able to get it,” said Hasty (another runner with a fitting name), who is bound for Oregon in the fall. Winning the invitational mile was Eric Avila, with the fifth fastest time of the day (including the Wanamaker runners) of 3:57.45.
The high school girls’ mile featured Rockland High School (NY) sophomore Katelyn Tuohy, who on Jan. 20 shattered the high school record for the 5,000m, running 15:37.
With a quick cadence and arms swinging like scythes through the air, Tuohy gapped the field, appearing in a class of her own. And just when everything seemed in place, the race unwound. Tuohy was swallowed by the chase pack, and senior Gabrielle Wilkinson of Friends Central (Pa.) emerged victorious. — Brenn Jones
All photos by Andy Kiss. See our full photo gallery.