A year after his heart-stopping fall in the 3000 meter race at the Millrose Games, Kemoy Campbell, now retired from track, was back to fire the starting gun. Among this year’s competitors was Justyn Knight, one of Campbell’s former training partners.
“After he collapsed last year, when he woke up, I said, when I go to Millrose next year, I’m going to win that race for Kemoy.”
Promise delivered. Knight sped away with a 27 second last lap to win in a PR of 7:46.
“When I crossed the line I was looking for [Kemoy], and then I got the flowers and I gave them to him and I said ‘That was for you. That was for you being an amazing teammate and an even better friend,’ so it was really special for me to cross the line.”
Four years ago Knight, a Canadian, missed the qualifying standard for the Olympics by one second. He’s got the standard now. In the race, Nico Young (Newbury Park HS, Calif.) gamely caboosed for a high school record of 7:57.
The race and its conclusion offered a sense of relief. There were several spills around the track’s first turn over the course of the day, but nothing requiring paramedics. And the running, as usual, was superb.
The most dramatic finishes in the distance events were in the women’s 3000 and mile.
Allie Ostrander was biding her time, running last in a field of 12 early in the 3000, the iridescent platforms of her spikes glistening on the back kick, hinting at star power . With 2k down and 1k to go, she was in seventh.
“I was just telling myself to stay connected, ride the train, and see what you’ve got in the end” said Ostrander, 23, a native of Alaska.
“We got to like three laps to go, and I was like, I feel really good,” she said.
On the last lap “I thought [my chances] were about 50/50.” She closed in 31 seconds, a second faster than any of her competitors, passing Canada’s Julie Ann Staehli right before the tape, in 8:48.
The winner of the women’s mile—really, the winner of the meet—was Elle Purrier, who rolled up defending champ Koko Klosterhalfen in the final straightaway to break the tape in 4:16, demolishing the American indoor record.
Klosterhalfen led with a 63 second opening quarter, setting up a race of attrition. The four who held on the best—Purrier (4:16), Klosterhalfen (4:17), Jemma Reekie (4:17), and Gabriela Debues Stafford (4:19) set indoor national records for the US, Germany, Scotland, and Canada, respectively. American Nikki Hiltz seemed to be running the most sensibly, at the back of the lead pack, before cracking and finishing 5th in 4:24.
The top seven runners in the race set PRs. The top eight ran faster than the winning time at the Wanamaker Mile two years ago (in that 2018 race, Purrier, then a senior at New Hampshire, was 6th in 4:31; Hiltz, a senior at Arkansas, was 9th in 4:33). Purrier’s next challenge: USA Nationals this weekend against Shelby Houlihan in both the 1500 and 3000. In 2015, Houlihan herself ran Millrose as a college senior (Arizona State, 7th, 4:30).
At the men’s Wanamaker Mile last year Youmif Kejelcha ran 3:48, just short of a new indoor mark. Nobody had that kind of fitness or talent this year, but in a way this race was easier to watch. An attempt at a record, riveting as it is, requires the spectator watch both runner and clock. This was pure analogue.
The race favorite was Filip Ingebrigtsen, of the famous brothers Ingebrigtsen, flown in from Norway. Upon his introduction, Filip, with chiseled, slicked-up hair, slowly jogged through the pyrotechnics. He was too cool for school, too sexy for this race. Here, in this post-Salazar era, was the Bondian villain we all needed.
In contrast, hustling through the sparks was 36 year-old Nick Willis, trying to win this race for what seemed like the 36th time. In 2009, Willis ran it as a 25 year old at Madison Square Garden (he was outkicked by Bernard Lagat).
As expected, the Norwegian ran from the front, taking the lead halfway through, but did not make a decisive move. This level of competition requires a bit of daring, and Chris O’Hare, who won in 2018 by gapping the field mid-race, took advantage of the predictability of it all.
“That is exactly how I’d been going over it in my head the last couple of weeks. I knew Filip would be at the front. He’s super strong, he’s super confident. I knew he’d be the one taking it and I knew he’d be the one I’d have to beat from the bell, so that was that. I felt like I’d ran the race before, I felt like I was ready for it, so, it definitely helped.”
O’Hare reclaimed the throne in 3:55. Willis ran 3:56, moving up to 4th from well back with a strong closing lap. Ingebrigsten faded to 7th.
When asked whether he could have beaten Kejelcha last year (O’Hare ran in the British championships that same weekend), the Scot was to-the-point: “No. Definitely not.”
American indoor records were set in the men’s and women’s 800s. Ajee’ Wilson graced the cover of the meet’s program, and backed that up with a familiar tape-breaking in 1:58.29. Wilson generally squeezes the oxygen from her competitors through front-running. This time she let a bit of air into the race. The slight Jamaican Natoye Goule led with 150 to go, her head tilted back, face strained, eyes shot toward the rafters, in urgent prayer. Wilson pulled beside Goule, staring directly ahead, put it into gear, and blew by.
Like Wilson, Donovan Brazier hung back in his 800, giving the race a bit of drama and the competitors, perhaps, hope. But when he made his move on the straightaway approaching the bell, he passed them like they were in kindergarten. This was world class talent on display, leaving the audience to imagine how incredible it must feel to fly like that.