Home » Nick Willis
Category Archives: Nick Willis
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.
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 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.
“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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
See our full photo gallery of the Millrose games.
As Father Time gives way to Baby New Year, it’s natural to take a look back and forward. One of the general trends we noticed is that at the end of the year, it was a different cast of characters grabbing headlines than at the start.
After an early Diamond League meet, Nick Willis tweeted:
So hard to be on your game through a whole season at the world level. Could be totally different guys going well in Moscow.
— Nick Willis (@nickwillis) June 1, 2013
This actually summed up the year for Willis himself, who struggled with an injury early in the season but dominated late season action in New York City, with convincing victories over quality competition at the 5th Avenue Mile and the Race to the Finish Line 5k.
So here are a few lists to add to the pile of year-end lists, focused primarily though not exclusively on action in the U.S.
Savviest prize money grab 2013
3. Jenny Simpson
2. Stephen Sambu
1. Kim Smith
Kim Smith nabbed the $100,000 for the best cumulative results in the BAA Distance Medley’s 5k, 10k, and half marathon. Given the fat payout, she faced surprisingly thin competition. Smith added $12,500 the hard way, with a 6th at the NYC Marathon. Stephen Sambu won the same BAA Distance Medley prize for men. Jenny Simpson won $25,000 for a single race: the 1500m at the Hy-Vee “Women’s Mile” at Drake Relays. She supplemented that with $30,000 with her silver at the Worlds 1500. Kate Grace gets honorable mention for a 5-day stretch in which she won $5,000 at the US Road Mile Champs in Des Moines and $10,000 for finishing 3rd at Drake.
Best start to the year 2013
3. Lopez Lomong
2. Galen Rupp
1. Hagos Gebrhiwet
Lopez Lomong won the Wanamaker Mile, upsetting defending champ Matt Centrowitz, then set the American indoor 5,000 record. Galen Rupp set the American indoor record in the 3,000. Hagos Gebrhiwet beat Rupp indoors and appeared unbeatable in the early Diamond League meets. The three were unable to build on their early season successes.
Best end to the year 2013
3. Laura Thweatt
2. Nick Willis
1. Molly Huddle
Molly Huddle beat Shalane Flanagan twice late in the year to take the NYRR Dash to the Finish 5k and the US National Road Racing Champ 12k races.
Breakthrough races 2013
3. Jason Hartmann 4th at Boston Marathon
2. Cheserek beats Kithuka at NCAAs
1. Sowinski beats Symmonds and Solomon at Millrose
Jason Hartmann had finished 4th at Boston in 2011, but the heat in that race made it seem an outlier. His DNF at NYC in the fall showed how fickle the sport can be.
Likely marathon PRs 2014
3. Tyler McCandless
2. Matt Tegenkamp
1. Shalane Flanagan
Tyler McCandless has set his sights on a sub-2:12 this year. That might seem audacious for a guy with a 2:16:46 PR, but the Steve Jones-coached athlete led for much of the U.S. marathon champs last year at Twin Cities and plans to look for faster courses than the hilly and humid Kauai, Hawaii, where he has won three straight years.
Matt Tegenkamp brought his impressive track and road credentials to the marathon this year and was disappointed with his 2:12:28 debut in Chicago.
Shalane Flanagan‘s track PRs of 14:44 in the 5,000 and 30:22 in the 10,000, as well a her half marathon best of 1:08:31, all point to something a minute or two quicker than her 2:25 marathon best at the 2012 Olympic Trials. She is the best woman marathoner in the U.S., and at one of these races it’s all going to come together for her.
Most dominant wins 2013
3. Nick Willis at 5th Avenue Mile
2. Jenny Simpson at Drake Women’s Mile
1. Shalane Flanagan at US Outdoor Champs 10,000
Best strategic win 2013
3. Efraimson outkicks Baxter at NXN
2. Arciniaga wins US Marathon Champs
1. Bekele beats Farah at Great North Run
In how many races late in the year did a seemingly dropped runner come back to win? Nick Arciniaga fell of the pace several times while nursing a sore achilles, but he stormed back in a dramatic finish to take his first national title. Kinenisa Bekele‘s win stands out because of the larger context. Mo Farah, coming off the 5,000/10,000 double at World’s, looked unbeatable, while Bekele, after losing his dominance on the track, had been written off by many. His whole career now has a promising second act.
Best performance by shoe
1. Adidas Adios Boost
Perhaps it’s just that many of the best marathon runners in the world are signed with Adidas, but that shoe was all over the podium in late season marathons.
Best early season matchups 2014
3. Jenny Simpson versus Shalane Flanagan at US Cross? Neither is confirmed, but Simpson has hinted at it and Shalane won it last year, even though she ran Boston.
2. Mary Cain versus Ajee Wilson versus Iceland’s Mary Cain (Anita Hinrikdottir) at the Millrose Games.
1. Mo Farah versus the field at the London Marathon, which could include Kenenisa Bekele and will likely include the world’s best.