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Episode 52: Predators and Prey at the NYRR Millrose Games

Guest host James Chu helps Brenn break down the Millrose Games in 79 minutes or less. In post-race interviews, we hear from Kate Grace on signing with Nike, Stephanie Garcia and Kate Van Buskirk on their thrilling 3000m duel, and Ben True on his winning kick. Ajee Wilson and Cristian Soratos reflect on extraordinary runs.


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Ben True dusts Centro in 2-Mile; NOP takes Wanamaker Miles at NYRR Millrose Games

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Eric Jenkins, Robby Andrews, Kyle Merber, and Clayton Murphy follow pacer Daniel Winn in the Wanamaker Mile.

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.

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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.

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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.

The Nike Oregon Project’s Post-Millrose Workout

James Chu offers an exclusive coach’s-eye view of the Oregon Project’s post-race workout.

After the crowds had departed the 110th Millrose Games, as cleanup crews and reporters worked to compete their tasks, Cloud259 stayed trackside to detail the Nike Oregon Project athletes’ post-race workouts. NOP assistant coach Pete Julian appeared to be overseeing them.

First up was Shannon Rowbury. About 90 minutes after her 3rd place 4:23 in the NYRR Wanamaker Women’s Mile, it was back to work. Wearing Nike Zoom Streaks, Rowbury jogged a few shakeout laps before diving into a 4000m (~2.5 miles) tempo run. Rowbury completed the tempo in 13 minutes and 20 seconds (5:20 per 1600), snapping off 40 second laps without appearing unduly strained.

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Rowbury recovered for about seven minutes, drinking water, taking instruction from Julian, chatting with her husband (Mexican multiple national record holder Pablo Solares), and jogging. She finished the workout striding out 4×100 in 14-15 seconds per rep, with 300m jog recoveries.

Approximate 400m splits for the 4000m tempo: 83, 2:44 (81), 4:04 (80), 1600 – 5:24 (80), 6:43 (79), 8:02 (79), 9:22 (80), 3200 – 10:42 (80), 12:01 (79), 4000 – 13:20 (79).

Approximate 100m splits: 14, 14, 14 high, 15.

Like Shannon, Eric Jenkins showed up about 90 minutes after his performance, an emphatic 3:53 win in the Wanamaker Mile. Jenkins began his post-race workout in a black shirt with the word “EQUALITY” emblazoned in bold white lettering, the same shirt he had worn when accepting the trophy for the race. Jenkins blasted a 3x1600m cutdown, a workout that NOP teammate Galen Rupp executed with inhuman post-race efforts in the past. Jenkins ran 4:28 for his first rep, jogged 400m, and launches into a 4:21 in the next. He took just over five minutes of recovery this time, using the extra time to remove his shirt, among other things. With long, powerful strides, he ran the last rep in 4:14—a solitary end to a successful day.

Approximate 200 meter splits for 1600m repeats:

34, 1:08 (34), 1:42 (34), 2:16 (34), 2:49 (33), 3:22 (33), 3:55 (33), 4:28 (33)

33, 1:05 (32), 1:37 (32), 2:10 (33), 2:42 (32), 3:15 (33), 3:48 (33), 4:21 (33)

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32, 1:04 (32), 1:37 (33), 2:09 (32), 2:41 (32), 3:12 (31), 3:43 (31), 4:14 (31)

Just when I thought we could go home, the winner of the Women’s Wanamaker Mile, Sifan Hassan, stepped onto the track well over two hours after the finish of her race. I found it interesting that she was doing her workout separately from Rowbury. Would it be the same workout? After receiving instruction from Julian, she caught me by surprise and started her tempo running clockwise (opposite the usual direction). I missed the first lap and started my watch 200m into what would turn out to be a 4800m (~3 miles) tempo run—800m longer than Rowbury’s. Hassan ran about 15:36 (5:12 per 1600) with metronomic efficiency (I approximate her first lap split at 40s). The newly anointed Dutch indoor mile national record holder—she destroyed the old record in her 4:19 Wanamaker victory—took a few sips of water and jogged a few recovery laps before switching back to making only left turns on the track (the normal counterclockwise direction). She took off with a conservative first 100m before turning it up a notch for another 300m. She completed 400m in 67 seconds. After about 3 minutes and 45 seconds of jogging, Hassan dropped a 47 second 300m. After a modest recovery, she looked sprightly in her final rep, 200m in 29.7 seconds. Her workout was more difficult than Rowbury’s, not bad for someone who was having stomach issues, according to what I overheard NOP head coach Alberto Salazar saying after her race.

Approximate 200 meter splits for Hassan’s 4800m tempo:

40 (guessing), 1:19 (39), 1:58 (39), 2:37 (39), 3:16 (39), 3:54 (38), 4:33 (39), 1600 – 5:13 (40), 5:52 (39), 6:32 (40), 7:11 (39), 7:49 (38), 8:28 (39), 9:07 (39), 9:47 (40), 3200 – 10:27 (40), 11:06 (39), 11:46 (40), 12:24 (38), 13:03 (39), 13:42 (39), 14:20 (38), 14:59 (39), 4800 – 15:36 (37)

Followed by:

400 – 67s, 300 – 47s, 200 – 29.7s

There are a few reasons for running post-race workouts. Typically, leading up to a race, an athlete will have reduced volume and intensity in training in order to conserve energy for the race. The post-race workout enables the athlete to get some of the volume and quality back for the week. The race distance for Jenkins, Hassan, and Rowbury was just one mile.

Another benefit is that an athlete is in a unique physiological state after a race, and running a workout during this post-race window is a stressor that stimulates adaptation not easily simulated in any other situation. Ordinarily, one would work on an energy system that was lightly used during the race. For example, if one raced a mile, a tempo run of 10-20 minutes or long intervals would likely be in order. If one raced a 5k, shorter intervals such as 200s or 300s might be the right call.

One thing that stood out to me about NOP’s post-race workouts was that there was plenty of recovery between segments or intervals in the workouts. Rowbury had generous recovery between the tempo and the 100s, and 300m jogs was plenty between the 100s. Jenkins had sufficient rest before running his final 1600m interval. And Hassan had plenty of rest between her tempo and the 400m, 300m, 200m reps. The objective appeared to be high-quality paces with the requisite rest to accomplish the task. — James Chu

See also our full meet roundup.

If Millrose were a college meet…

By James Chu

Note: James Chu, who runs for North Brooklyn Runners, was our interview guest on Episode 4.

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.

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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.

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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.

Shannon Rowbury (Duke ’07) still holds the school record in the 3,000 (9:02.73 in 2007). Photo by Andy Kiss.

My Tigers finished with 5 points coming from the current Tigers Kauppila and O’Toole in the 800.

Olympians burn at NYRR Millrose Games

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.

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Allyson Felix wins the 60m dash in 7.15s. Angela Tenorio is 4th in 7.23. Photo by Andy Kiss.

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.

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Ryan Hill takes the 3,000m in 7:38.82. Photo by Andy Kiss.

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 it was Saina who prevailed with a late move to beat Molly Huddle by thirteen hundredths of a second. 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 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.

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Betsy Saina stalks Molly Huddle en route to victory in the 5000m in 14:57.58. Photo by Andy Kiss.

“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.

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Duane Solomon runs the 2nd fastest 800m in Millrose history. Photo by Andy Kiss.

“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.

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Ajee Wilson takes Brenda Martinez at the line, 2:00.09 to 2:00.14. Photo by Andy Kiss.

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.

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Shannon Rowbury gathers herself for the final push. Photo by Andy Kiss.

In the men’s mile, it was pretty simple. With two laps to go, Nick Willis was exactly where he needed to be.

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2016 Wanamaker Mile. Photo by Andy Kiss.

And with one lap to go, Matt Centrowitz was exactly where he needed to be.

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2016 Wanamaker Mile. Photo by Andy Kiss.

The last move wins.

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2016 Wanamaker Mile. Photo by Andy Kiss.

Meet roundup by Brenn Jones. All photos by Andy Kiss.

See our full photo gallery of the 2016 Millrose Games.

 

 

 

Millrose Games 2015: Roses for Rowbury, Centrowitz, Lomong

The Wanamaker Mile is the signature event of the Millrose Games, but the six-hour track party at New York City’s Armory on Valentine’s Day was loaded with enticing appetizers. Among them was the 25-lap, 5000 meter race. Cam Levins was the favorite after his stellar performance at the Armory two weeks prior. The pacer for this race was to run 8:00 for the first 3k (13:20 pace), and from there Levins was expected to speed up over the last 2k to beat his own Canadian indoor record of 13:19 while securing the outdoor championships international qualifying standard of 13:23.

Though the 5000 is a race in which all the action seems to come late, the positioning set up the drama early in this one, as Lopez Lomong of the Bowerman Track Club quickly settled in behind Levins. Lomong possess great speed – he set the Wanamaker Mile record with a 3:51.21 in 2013 – and at some point he’d try to use it. After the pacer dropped out, Ryan Hill of the BTC led the train, and close behind Levins and Lomong were BTC teammates Andrew Bumbalough and Matt Tegenkamp. Around and around they went, Levins in his Nike Oregon Project black surrounded by the blood-red of BTC. Levins is nobody’s idea of a villain, but this was taking the appearance of a choreographed strike.

Levins did not increase the pace at 3k as expected, and the race, if tactical already, had become moreso. Lomong passed Levins with four laps to go, Sam Chelanga burst to the front with three to go, then Lomong reeled him in and outpaced Hill to win by two tenths of a second in 13:27. Levins faded to sixth in 13:33. Some days you have it, some days you don’t.

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Is there a runner who relies more on adrenaline than Robby Andrews? With 150 meters to go in the men’s 1,000, Andrews leapt across Olympian Duane Solomon to an opening on the outside and gunned for the finish. His 26.34 split on the last lap was the fastest in the race. Erik Sowinski was the only one able to respond and held on for a narrow win in 2:21.18. As in the 5000, it wasn’t the finishing time the athletes were looking for, but was thrilling nonetheless.

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Races with ambitious targets often end in carnage. In the women’s Wanamaker Mile, Shannon Rowbury took aim at Mary Decker’s American indoor record of 4:20.5, and her Nike Oregon Project teammates Jordan Hasay, 18-year-old Mary Cain (last year’s champion in 4:27), and Treniere Moser went with her. Trailing the NOP quartet with a pitchfork on her singlet was Arizona State runner Shelby Houlihan, who, while coming in with an indoor PR of 4:38, had said she could run a 4:25. Of the chasers Hasay held on the longest, but Rowbury pulled away, shifting the attention solely on the clock.

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With a lap to go, Rowbury needed to split 29 seconds to get the record. Thirty meters from the tape she locked up, Julia Lucas–like, to the gasps of the crowd. Rowbury staggered across the line, and though it clearly wasn’t a comfortable win, it was nonetheless a win by a comfortable margin. No faulting the effort, there. Rowbury’s time was 4:24, Moser was 2nd in 4:27, Hasay fourth in 4:28, and Cain eighth in 4:31. Houlihan finished 7th in 4:30, achieving a sizable new PR, if not her goal.

The main event featured a collision of world class runners. Matt Centrowitz of the Nike Oregon Project and New Zealand’s Nick Willis, the 2008 Olympic silver medalist in the 1500, were expected to challenge the meet record of 3:51.21. Defending champ Will Leer, who ran 3:52 last year, was running, as was 2012 Olympic silver medalist Leo Manzano.

And then there was the old man of the track, 40-year-old Bernard Lagat. Knocking off the masters record of 3:58 seemed a given for Lagat. Since the Millrose Games moved to the Armory in 2011, Bernard Lagat has run the 5000, 2-mile, and 2K, each time setting an American indoor record. At this stage of his career the mile is not his forte, but could the 8-time Wanamaker Mile champ really be counted out for the win?

Known both for his longevity and impeccable form, Lagat glides on the track like Gretzky on a breakaway. With his patented kick, he finished first among the chase pack, running 3:54 for fourth overall, faster than all but two of his winning Wanamaker Miles from 2001 to 2010 at Madison Square Garden.

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At the bell, the last lap of so many run by kids, high school students, college students, pros, and masters over the previous six hours, it came down to what everybody had been waiting for: the brash, wisecracking 25-year-old Centrowitz in the lead, and the hard charging new dad, Nick Willis, 31, close behind.

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Willis pulled even on the backstretch. Willis had the momentum, but Centrowitz had the inside lane. By hanging back earlier in the race Willis used his competitors as stepping stones to the front, but he also had to run a few extra yards to get around them. Centrowitz drifted into lane 2 and Willis into lane 3. It was Centro’s quickness versus Willis’ speed. The front runner won by a tenth of a second in 3:51:35, barely off Lomong’s meet record from 2013.

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See our full photo gallery of the Millrose games.

 

Millrose Games 2014: King Leer, Queen Mary, Emperor Lagat

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Up until the final turn at the men’s Wanamaker Mile of yesterday’s Millrose Games, the professional distance running events offered thrills galore but nothing unanticipated: the coronation of Mary Cain, the victories by Kim Conley, Bernard Lagat, and Ajee Wilson, even Frenchman Pierre Bosse’s victory in the 1,000m over the record-seeking Americans made sense in light of Bosse’s credentials. Notwithstanding that the ages of victors ranged from 17 to 39, none of the results left one asking: How did that happen?

And then came the move of the meet.

At that final bend, Nick Willis prepared to strike. Lawi Lalang’s arms and legs shot out as he tried to hold off the Olympic silver medalist’s path, and the race seemed to hinge on whether Willis could pass on the inside, a particularly tall order on an indoor track with its tight turn and short straightaway. As the two tussled, fans in the American cathedral of indoor track and field rocked at the recognition that freshly bearded Will Leer was bolting past on the outside for the win.

So precocious is Mary Cain that one might question why, in this her second shot at the Wanamaker Mile, it took her this long to break the tape. Couldn’t she have done it last year, when she was 16? Of course that’s ridiculous, but what are we supposed to do with expectations for the future now that she’s accomplished all she has already? Her race was never as close as it appeared, as she ran from the front and none of the women was likely to match her kick.

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Bernard Lagat, 39, was just as sharp at this year’s Millrose Games in breaking the American indoor 2,000m record as he was at last year’s meet in setting the American 2-mile record (since broken by Galen Rupp) and at the meet the year prior in setting the American indoor 5,000m record (since broken by Rupp). Next year, might Rupp try to erase the 2,000m record as well?

Lagat held off a dramatic late challenge from Rupp’s teammate Cam Levins, who had actually outlasted Rupp in one of Nike Oregon Project’s recent post-race workouts. After the meet Levins was left wondering whether he had broken the Canadian record, or whether a Canadian record for an indoor 2,000m run even exists. That Lagat continues to train at a level to make these performances possible is a gift to the sport.

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All photos by Andy Kiss. See our full gallery of photos from the 2014 Millrose Games.

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