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Upstaging even the iconic Wanamaker Mile, the Paavo Nurmi 2-mile was the main event for distance running fans at Saturday’s NYRR Millrose Games. Matt Centrowitz, who last year set the Wanamaker Mile record of 3:50.63 en route to his Olympic Gold at 1500m, was moving up in distance, while his strongest competitors, including the Canadian Mo Ahmed and Scotsman Andy Butchart, 4th and 6th at Rio in the 5,000m, respectively, were moving down. Centrowitz said that the absence of rival Nick Willis was a reason for his choice. Having conquered one hill, he was picking a fight on another, and with unrivaled finishing speed he seemed primed to come out on top.
His competitors knew this, of course, and it wouldn’t play to their advantage to do any lollygagging. The pace-setters were Ford Palmer and Lawi Lalang. Mo Ahmed led the charge behind Lalang as the field quickly strung out single file, with Butchart in fourth. After Palmer stepped off the track, Lalang was scheduled to lead until 2400m. In a delicious move, Butchart passed Ahmed and Lalang two laps before Lalang was scheduled to forfeit the lead, forcing the rest of the field to start racing in earnest with 1200m, rather than 800m, to go.
Centro was set adrift as the chase pack was unmoored from the leaders. Butchart however, wasn’t the only one to bring a dagger to this fight. With about 750m to go Ben True worked his way around Centrowitz, among others, and bridged the gap to join the lead group of Butchart, Ryan Hill, and Ahmed. Hill and True (who both fell short in their own attempts to make the U.S. Olympic team for Rio in the 5000) stormed Butchart at the bell, and at this point Hill, who closed in 26 seconds to win the 3,000m at last year’s Millrose, seemed likely to win. But the race had one last surprise. After Hill held the lead down the backstretch, True offered yet another move, accelerating around the final turn and passing Hill midway down the last straightaway to break the tape in 8:11.33 to Hill’s 8:11.56 and Butchart’s 8:12.63 (Centrowitz would finish 7th in 8:21). True ran the last lap in 27.68, Hill in 28.04.
The longest race for the women, 3000m, was a memorable duel between Stephanie Garcia and Canada’s Kate Van Buskirk. Garcia, who specializes in the steeplechase, was the only runner to follow the rabbit Ashley Higginson, and with six laps to go she held a three second lead on Van Buskirk. The gap then shrank until Van Buskirk was on Garcia’s shoulder with three laps left.
“With about 600 to go, I thought, she’s going to beat me. You never want to think that, but I thought if I could just hold on to her and she could drag me though, that would be really great” Van Buskirk said. “I could tell that her arms were getting a little tight. I knew that at some point in that last lap I would have to make a move, but I had to wait that long because she made me wait that long. She was really working for it.”
Garcia, for her part, said she “was torn between easing up so I had a little bit to give that last bit, or just push it. I chose more to push, which is why I didn’t have that strong last 50 meters.” Van Buskirk took the lead on the last turn and finished in 8:52.08 to Garcia’s 8:53.48. If one second doesn’t seem like much of a difference, well, the race felt closer than that.
David Torrence seemed to be running his own race in the men’s 1,000m as he sprinted away in the mid three laps of the five lap competition. Brooks teammates Cas Loxsom, who on Jan. 28 set the 600m indoor world record; and Brannon Kidder, who finished a close second to Duane Solomon in the 800m at Millrose last year; put the kibosh on this little fantasy. Kidder dominated the final 200m for the win, with Loxsom second, and Torrence third.
There has been no more dominant performer at Millrose since it moved from Madison Square Garden to the Armory than Ajee Wilson. She won the 800m for a fourth consecutive year, setting an American indoor record with a 1:58.27.
“When I’m older and look back this is going to be a staple in my career that I’m proud of” she said. “I’ve been running at Millrose for a long time. Of course to be under two my first time indoors is incredible.” Spoken like a true veteran, at age 22. Seventeen year-old Samantha Watson finished sixth in 2:01.78, setting the American indoor high school record.
More records were set in the women’s Wanamaker Mile. Shannon Rowbury was the two-time defending champ, running 4:24s in 2015 and 2016. Given her strength over longer distances, she would be expected to tuck in behind the pacer Lauren Wallace. Surprisingly, Rowbury ceded the position to long-limbed Kate Grace, a finalist in the 800m at Rio.
Grace said that “I was pleasantly surprised at first, and then I was like oh no, I don’t want to be rabbit #2 when she drops off.” Wallace and Grace both train with the NorCal distance project and were teammates at Oiselle.
With three laps to go, Sifan Hassan, Rowbury’s teammate on the Nike Oregon Project, breezed by Grace just as Wallace stepped off the track. Rowbury followed Hassan around Grace. Hassan’s elbows flailed wider and wider as she whirled her way to the win. Her time of 4:19.89 was a meet record and a national record for The Netherlands. Grace regrouped and ultimately edged Rowbury for second in 4:22.93. Grace debuted at Millrose with a 4:28 Wanamaker Mile in 2013.
The undercard to the men’s Wanamaker Mile was the Invitational Mile, and the day’s 2nd fastest time came from this heat. Cristian Soratos said post-race “My plan was to get right on the pacer and the second he stepped off to just start cranking.” He did just that, and plans to race the mile at the USA indoor championships at Albuquerque.
Without Centrowitz or his combatant Nick Willis in the men’s Wanamaker Mile, the race seemed destined to fall to either Olympian Robby Andrews, who won the high school event back in 2009; the Nike Oregon Project’s Eric Jenkins, a 4th place finisher at the US Olympic Trials in the 5,000m; or Olympic bronze medalist in the 800m Clayton Murphy.
Jenkins, who resembles the carefree, sand splattered character Andrew Lindsay from the opening of “Chariots of Fire,” controlled a relatively uniform race until Kyle Merber made a play for the lead at the bell. Merber won the high school race a year before Andrews had, but in his last attempt in the Wanamaker Mile, in 2015, he finished 11th of 12.
And so it came down to this: Could the slender longshot and Twitter personality @TheRealMerb hold off the rising star from America’s elite distance running squadron? Well, give Merber credit for making the race more dramatic, anyways. Jenkins sprinted back into the lead on the backstretch en route to a 26.9 last lap and a victory in 3:53.23.
It wasn’t the first time Jenkins had pulled off such a fast finish. He also split a 26 second final lap in the 3,000m at Millrose last year, and he used a lethal kick to sneak past Centro in the 2016 5th Avenue Mile. In future editions of this race, Centro’s stiffest competition may indeed come from his own teammate, who, on this day, had less trouble moving down in distance than Centro had moving up. — Brenn Jones
What did Eric Jenkins and Sifan Hassan do after winning the miles? Post-race workouts, of course (click the link for our extended coverage). See also our complete photo gallery with pictures from Andy Kiss.
With a lap to go in the men’s 5,000m at the Adidas Grand Prix on Saturday, Ben True‘s eyes widened as if he were in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon with coordinates aligned to punch it to hyperdrive. True was shoulder to shoulder with the leader in a tight pack of six runners. He had triumphed in faster 5,000m races, but not on this stage and against this caliber of competition (he finished fourth at the meet in 2013, running 13:16 as Hagos Gebrhiwet prevailed in 13:10).
Given the race’s methodical pace, it was clear that True would have a kick, but so too would Olympic 1500m silver medalist Nick Willis, who, with 200m to go, slingshot from sixth to first in a matter of 10 seconds. There weren’t many seconds to go after that. “When I came up to the lead I thought Thomas Longosiwa was going to kick again, but once I passed him I thought I had it. I figured all the other guys I had already passed. But that’s a long straightaway into a bit of wind.” Willis said after the race.
“I had doubts, yeah.” said True. “On that straightaway I moved out to lane 3 and I just really pushed hard. I realized I wasn’t losing more, I was starting to gain, and when you have that little bit of positive feedback, that you are closing a little bit, mentally you get such a big gain that you can really go for it.” True won in 13:29, beating Willis by three tenths of a second. “I can’t let a 1500 meter runner win a 5k,” he laughed.
For a 1500 meter runner, Willis has dabbled quite a bit in the 5,000m. He has raised his training volume with an eye to the future at both distances. “I still think the 1500 is the event I have the best chance of medals. Perhaps I’ll consider giving the 5k a go as a more concerted effort after this Olympic cycle. At the moment it’s just used as a mechanism to keep me accountable to the high mileage training. My shortest runs have been 90 minutes the last three months. Weekly mileage is 95, I run six days a week. It has taught me how to strengthen my legs to cope with running rounds as well. At the last few championships my legs have been pretty sore after the semifinals. Doing 150s or 100 meter strides after long runs is a good way to toughen up the muscles.”
The media scrum around Ajee Wilson after her victory in the women’s 800 was thicker than it had been in past meets. The 21-year-old, who appeared on the cover of the event program, finally seems to be getting her due. Wilson likes to keep it simple. Her goal for this race was to win, and she did, in 1:58.83, dispatching the field by over half a second.
At Friday’s press conference, David Rudisha stated his goal was to run a world leading time. Check. His 1:43.58 clipped the prior 2015 best, Ayanleh Soulieman’s 1:43.78, and bested his own winning time from last year by over a second. The men’s 800 meter race was the most fashionable of the lot, with Duane Solomon matching his orange Saucony singlet with an orange bandana and orange-tinted glasses, while French 800 meter ace Pierre-Ambroise Bosse ran in a white Henley collared tee-shirt equally suitable for tennis.
What was an off year for Rudisha last year was a year off for Usain Bolt, and the difference showed. Bolt stated at the presser on Friday that his goal was to run sub 20 and that one of his remaining career goals is to go sub 19. Bolt’s narrow victory in 20.29 into a -2.9 m/s headwind wasn’t quite what he was hoping for. The Jamaican legend was upstaged by the 19.58 that 20-year-old Canadian Andre De Grasse ran Friday at the NCAA championships (wind was +2.4 m/s for De Grasse). Bolt is 28, Justin Gatlin 33.
In her blog entry on June 30, 2013, Olympic steeplechaser Bridget Franek wrote that “I’ve decided to hang up the spikes temporarily and take an extended break from the sport.” Two years later Franek is once again thinking about the Olympics, this time with a different mindset. “I want to make the team in 2016. Right now I’m running with the motivation of using this talent that I’ve been given and this opportunity that I’ve been given to travel and to compete and to get into some of these big meets as a way to do something bigger. I want to get more involved in communities and reach out a little more and use running as a platform for social change. It’s not just about me any more.” Franek finished sixth in the 3000m steeplechase on Saturday, running 9:36, slicing 11 seconds off her time from the Birmingham Diamond League meet a week ago.
Another runner making a splash on the comeback trail was 2008 Olympian Erin Donohue, the surprise winner in the women’s 1000. Nike Oregon Project’s Treniere Moser doubled back from the 800 and gave a spirited chase for second. “We decided a couple of days ago that the double would be best for my future,” said Moser. “When the idea was put to the table I’m like, that sounds so painful, but I’m glad I did it.” When asked to comment on the recent controversy surrounding coach Alberto Salazar, Moser said “[t]he coaches have done a great job of putting it all on them. At the end of the day we know our job is to go out there and perform. They’ve been really good about making sure we stay focused and not letting the distractions take over.”
All photos by Andy Kiss. See our full photo gallery of the Adidas Grand Prix.
The distance events at the USATF Track & Field Championships kick off Thursday in Sacramento, and there are clear favorites in most of the races. In an “off” year with no Olympics or World Championships, it’s all about winning, as second or third won’t win you a ticket to a larger stage.
If Galen Rupp runs the 10,000, he should cruise (his qualifying mark is full minute faster than the next fastest, Ryan Vail‘s 27:44). Jenny Simpson and Molly Huddle should handle the 1,500 and 5,000. Evan Jager and Emma Coburn are heavy favorites in the steeples, and Duane Solomon should take the men’s 800. The women’s 10,000 also boasts a heavy favorite in Shalane Flanagan, but this is where things get interesting.
Also in the women’s 10,000, which starts at 8:20 PM PCT on Thursday night (11:20 EDT) is Sacramento’s own Kim Conley, who ran 31:48 at Payton Jordan and who more recently set a PR in the 3,000 at the adidas Grand Prix in New York. She and Jordan Hasay, who ran 31:39 at Payton Jordan, will hope to be within striking distance of Shalane and utilize their track speed towards the end. It may not be as easy for Shalane to break these two as it was for her to break the field in a hot race at U.S. Outdoors in Des Moines last year.
Will Galen Rupp run the men’s 5,000, and if so, will he be challenged? The 5000 is the day after the 10,000. If Rupp doesn’t scratch after the 10,000 (and if he’s not busy attending to newborn twins), he’ll be facing relatively fresh competition. Bernard Lagat ran an un-Lagat-like 13:31 at Pre, but historically Lagat has had Rupp’s number, including at last year’s 5,000 at USAs when Rupp was seen as the favorite. Hassan Mead should also be in the mix. Missing from the race is Ben True, who is hoping to run a fast 5000 at the Diamond League race in Paris on July 5.
The men’s 1,500 and the women’s 800 are both wide open. Without Matt Centrowitz, the men’s 1,500 will likely go to Leo Manzano or Will Leer, with David Torrence in the mix. Brenda Martinez and Channelle Price go head to head in the women’s 800. It will be interesting to see what Maggie Vessey will be wearing, and after her strong performance and fashion statement at the Prefontaine Classic, whether she’ll compete for the win.
The elite running scene shifts from Mondo to asphalt this weekend with two marquee events. Many of America’s best will be either at the Gate River Run in Jacksonville, Fla. on Saturday, or the NYC Half on Sunday, headlined by internationals Mo Farah and Geoffrey Mutai.
The Gate River Run doubles as the U.S. 15K Championships. Ben True is the defending champ and told us in a recent podcast that he’s fit, but a bit tentative after skipping indoors with a balky hamstring. Expect to see Chris Derrick, coming off X-C victories both at Edinburgh and in the U.S. Cross Country Championships at Boulder, mixing it up with True. Bobby Curtis, who was runner-up to True last year, should also be in the hunt.
Shalane Flanagan, prepping for Boston, is the class of the River Run women’s field, which also features Janet Bawcom, Amy Hastings, and Amy Van Alstine, coming off an upset win over Jenny Simpson at XC Champs at Boulder. Look for Shalane to roll early, in patented fashion, and also hold off the lead men in the “equalizer” competition, which gives the elite women a six-plus minute head start.
At the NYC Half Farah and Mutai, the clear frontrunners, will give us a sneak preview of next month’s London Marathon. Mo won the NYC Half in 2011 and has a PR of 1:00:10 in the distance. Mutai has a 58:58 personal best in the half (on a faster course) and ran 2:03:02 at the wind-enhanced Boston marathon. Mo is the world’s best 10k runner, and Mutai is the world’s best marathoner. We give the edge in this race to Mo, since we think the half marathon is closer to a 10K than a marathon. For Mo to win, he needs to stay close to Mutai and then unleash his superior kick; whereas Mutai would need to work harder to gap Mo and then hold Mo off. We suspect Mutai would gladly trade a loss in NYC for a win in London.
Besides those two, Meb Keflezighi is back in form having just won the U.S. Half Marathon Champs in Houston with a 1:01 in January. Matt Tegenkamp will be making his half marathon debut.
The women’s side is tougher to call. The two best PRs in the field are Hilda Kibet (1:07:59 last year at the Roma-Ostia Half) and Caroline Kilel (1:08:16 at the World Half Marathon Champs in Birmingham, U.K. in 2009). There are at nine women just behind them with 1:09 or 1:10 PRs, including Desiree Linden (formerly Davila). Molly Huddle, the American record holder in the 5,000 meters, is making her half marathon debut, as is Sally Kipyego who won silver in the 10,000m at the 2012 Olympics. Huddle showed great form at the end of 2013 and recently ran a 15:13 5,000m indoors.
Among runners we’ve interviewed in our podcast, True, Nick Arciniaga, Jeannette Faber, and Tyler McCandless are racing in Jacksonville, while Reid Coolsaet, Jeffrey Eggleston, Jason Hartman, and Lisa Stublic are in the Big Apple.
Ben True is set to make his 2014 racing debut on March 15 at the Gate River Run, and in Episode 21 he discusses the upcoming season, the possibility of running a marathon, and how to run a fast 5,000m. We pepper him on a few USATF controversies and one of last year’s more memorable races. Elsewhere in the episode, Brenn reads a telling passage from Alberto Salazar’s book 14 Minutes and compares AlSal to Steve Jobs, Gregg moans about the weather, and we take aim at our British rivals as the Manchester Marathon approaches.
When the women’s 400m runners knelt into their blocks at the adidas Grand Prix Diamond League meet on Saturday, there was a vacancy in lane 4 where Sanya Richards-Ross, a late scratch, was supposed to be. It seemed cruelly unfair that the fans who were shivering in the wind and rain were denied this attraction, at a meet already handicapped by a number of absences. In the 5,000m, Americans Galen Rupp and Bernard Lagat and Olympic bronze medalist Thomas Longosiwa from Kenya, along with a flotilla of other Nike athletes, were keeping their powder dry for next week’s Prefontaine Classic. Even a specially placed pole-vault runway beside the final straightaway was unused due to the wind and rain. But if the inclement weather and thin fields precluded Olympian high drama, the meet did offer glimpses of the fastest men and women on earth, including a 19-year old who could already be the world’s best long distance track runner: Ethiopia’s Hagos Gebrhiwet.
At last year’s Diamond League meet in NYC, David Rudisha ran the fastest 800m ever in the U.S. with a 1:41.74. The time was less astonishing than the gap of nearly three seconds he had on the field. Rudisha again won handily on Saturday, even if by half the margin, but it was Gebrhiwet who made the statement of the meet.
Gebrhiwet clobbered the field in the 5,000m, winning with a world-leading time of 13:10 as top contender Dejen Gebremeskel (6th, 13:31) faded badly. The 5,000m is often decided by a sprint kick, but Gebrhiwet broke the field early and the drama was actually in the race for third, as American Ben True, who had steadily moved up through the field as Gebremeskel dropped back, dueled with Ethiopia’s Ibrahim Jeilan. Though True (13:16) could not reel Jelian in, he bolstered his credentials with the strong race in tough conditions, and he’s clearly the top American threat to the U.S. Nike-sponsored runners in the 5000m and 10,000m (True is sponsored by Saucony). True will likely run the 10,000 at US Nationals.
The women’s 1500 featured a huge field of 19 runners, including pace setters, jostling for position.
Predictably, as Kate Grace (8th, 4:08.92) noted about her first Diamond League race, there was a lot of pushing and shoving. It was no surprise that Brenda Martinez (3rd, 4:06.25) was the top American runner, finishing strong after hanging back at the start. Morgan Uceny (7th, 4:08.49) sliced 9 seconds off her Drake performance. She said after the race that unlike at Drake, she “felt like herself” and that she stayed off the rail to stay out of trouble. After falls in the Olympics and World Champs over the past two years, Uceny is fated to always be cognizant of this issue. The winner of the race was Sweden’s Abeba Aregawi, who like Gebrhiwet, has a commanding early season lead in the “Diamond Race” standings with two wins in two competitions (the Diamond Race is the cumulative result of 7 competitions over the course of the season).
Elsewhere in the meet, Amantle Montsho ran an impressive 400, 49.91 in far worse conditions than her 49.88 from Doha. Youth was on display with a pair of stellar dream mile races, and the return of Blanka Vlasic to the high jump brought the shutterbugs to their feet. The high jumpers were a sight: impossibly tall and thin, they approached the bar in their warmups like a basketball team completing a layup drill in slow motion. Vlasic was particularly vocal, like a team captain, though she seemed often to be barking at herself.
The one race for which the sun shined uninterrupted was the master’s men’s 75+ 100m dash, won by William Bittner in 14.69. Bittner scored one for the elders, outpacing the Fastest Kids for the boys (Xavier Donaldson, 15.42) and girls (Adaria Reaves, 15.32).
Shore A.C. teammates Alexander Johnson and Michael McDonnell head to the press tent