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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.
For those willing to look through the clouds hanging over the sport, there were bright blue skies in Birmingham, U.K. on Sunday and a welcome chance to focus on running, jumping, and throwing. In the third Diamond League event in eight days, several British stars rose to the occasion and other top athletes made statements with 11 weeks left until World Champs in Beijing.
For dramatic finishes, the event of the day was the women’s 200 meters, where Allison Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh brought back memories of their tie for third place in the 100m at the 2012 Olympic Trials. Tarmoh once again got out to the quicker start, and they again crossed the line in unison, with rising U.K. superstar Dina Asher-Smith just a sliver behind. This time, Tarmoh was the winner in the photo finish. She and Felix ran 22:29, with Asher-Smith a hundredth behind in 22:30.
For the 19-year old Asher-Smith, it was a personal best of more than three-tenths of a second and came after she became the fastest U.K. woman ever with by running the 100 meters in 11.02 seconds at Hangelo, Netherlands, last month.
Other Brits sparkled as well, notably Adam Gemili, who first set a new best of 10-flat in round 1 of the 100 meters and came back less than two hours later to run 9.97 for second place to American Marvin Bracy (9.93). He is now the first U.K. athlete to break 10 seconds in the 100 meters and 20 seconds in the 200.
Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis-Hill, and long jumper Greg Rutherford will forever be linked by a Saturday night three years ago when each won Olympic gold in front of a roaring home-country crowd. While the first two withdrew from this meet, Rutherford held up his end of the bargain with a victorious 8.35-meter second jump. “I am chuffed to bits,” Rutherford said afterward. He also received the afternoon’s loudest ovation from the fans.
In distance events, the men’s 5,000 went out fast with a 2:33 first kilometer (12:45 pace) from the pacemakers. From about midway on it was a two-man affair as Thomas Longosiwa, the bronze medalist at this distance in London 2012, tucked in behind the younger and taller Isiah Koech. With about 480 meters to go, Longosiwa surged to the front, gained separation by the bell, and won handily with a 57-second-final lap – not the swiftest close by recent standards, but evidence that the wind and fast early pace had taken a toll. Australia’s Collis Birmingham made a bid for third in the final few laps but faded late to a finish seventh in 13:36. The stadium announcer pointed out that Collis was the only athlete with Birmingham written twice on his race bib.
In the men’s 800, Nigel Amos was his usual arm-flailing dynamo in the final meters, and took the win in 1:46.77 ahead of a late charge from Adam Kszczot of Poland. If we were grading outfits, Kszczot would have finished dead last with his green t-shirt beneath a purple singlet with black bottoms. Britain’s Guy Learmouth was tripped just past the midway point of this race and splayed out on the track as the back of the pack had to negotiate over and around him. American Eric Sowniski, who has high hopes to make the U.S. team for Beijing, said it rattled the field but the bigger factor in the slow times was the stiff wind on the backstretch.
Since turning 40 in December, Bernard Lagat has been gobbling up master’s world records like Pac-Man (who himself turns 40 in a few years) and added another in the men’s 1,500 with a 2:41:87 for 8th place. Lagat has looked sharper in longer races this year, including a road 10K in Manchester, U.K. But this race made his best 1,500s such as his classic duels with Hicham El Guerrouj seem like eons ago. James Magut won in 3:37.61 and probably would have had a difficult time beating Farah, but it’s hard to know for sure.
Kenya’s Eunice Sum won the women’s 800 with a 1.59.85, one week after winning a nail-biter with Ajee Wilson at the Pre Classic. Behind Sum was yet another strong performance by a Brit as Laura Muir set a personal best of 2.00.42.
But it wasn’t all wine and roses for the British contingent. One athlete who left Birmingham disappointed was Jessica Judd, who in the U.S. is sometimes called “England’s Mary Cain.” A year older than Cain, Judd similarly took a brief pause from her training a year ago at age 19. Judd is now back and focused on the 1,500 but was looking to run quicker than her 4:12 for 10th place on Sunday.
In our latest episode we discussed marathon debuts and how much elites typically improve from their first attempt at the distance. Here’s a summary of the data.
We looked at the 10 fastest active U.S. women marathoners and compared their debuts to their personal bests (excluding Renee Baillee who has not yet attempted a second 26.2 miler). The remaining group improved by an average of 8 minutes and 55 seconds. At one extreme, Desiree Linden (née Davila) improved by 22 minutes from her 2:44 opener in Boston 2007. Shalane Flanagan sliced 6 minutes off her 2:28 debut in New York in 2010, and hopes to cut further this fall in Berlin. Kara Goucher had the best American debut of all time with a 2:25 at Boston in 2008, and managed to take another minute off three years later in Boston.
Only one woman in the group has not improved on her debut – Amy Hastings opened with a 2:27:03 in Los Angeles in 2011. Her second best was oh-so-close: only 14 seconds slower at the 2012 Olympic trials.
Among other big names, Paula Radcliffe had an incredible 2:18 debut in London 2001 and still ran 3 minutes faster with her 2:15:24, which stands as the world record by a wide margin. Buzunesh Deba the Ethiopian-born runner who trains in New York, opened with a 2:44 at Quad Cities in 2008, and has chopped 24 minutes off that with her 2:19 at Boston this year.
The evidence of improvement is true of men as well: Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi and Dathan Ritzenhein have PRs and average of 4:48 faster than their debuts.
This weekend we’ll be investigating the running boom. Check back for the podcast and show notes.