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This Day in Track & Field-February 11

by Walt Murphy’s News and Results Service  (wmurphy25@aol.com), used with permission

2012–The Millrose Games moves to the Armory.

Here is what I wrote in Eastern Track at the time about the controversial decision to move the Millrose Games, considered the crown jewel of the U.S. indoor season for decades, from the showcase of Madison Square Garden uptown to the Armory.

The Queen is Dead, Long Live the Queen

by Walt Murphy — 

To paraphrase the old Royal Family line, “Millrose is dead, long live Millrose.”

When the late Dr. Norb Sander, the President of the Armory Foundation, first suggested a few years ago that the Millrose Games should move uptown from Madison Square Garden to the Armory in Washington Heights, I was one of many who tried to convince him it was a bad idea.

Since the Foundation owned the rights to the Millrose name, they were certainly entitled to do whatever they wanted with the meet, but I felt it would be another blow to the image of the sport.

As someone who has been to more than 50 Millrose Games and who enjoyed the glory days when 18,000+ fans packed the Garden, I felt that the meet would lose prestige if it moved to the Armory, even if attendance at MSG had been lean in recent years. (And no one loves the Armory more than I do.)

But as Ray Flynn, the veteran of six Wanamaker Miles at Millrose and now the meet director, pointed out, “Those days are gone. It’s time to move on.”

I was still skeptical as recently as early January, but I began to come around as the fields for the meet started coming together. And the buzz at early-season meets at the Armory continued to grow as the meet drew nearer. I finally jumped on the bandwagon, convinced that this was indeed the right move.

But would the reality match the expectations? The answer is a resounding yes!

While there was a handful of old-timers who remained unconvinced, the vast majority of the people who were in attendance, including Millrose legends Eamonn Coghlan and long-time meet director Howard Schmertz, had nothing but rave reviews for the meet. The enthusiastic crowd of close to 5,000 packed the Armory, some of them making their way uptown on the A Train, and created a deafening roar during many of the races. And the atmosphere at the post-meet celebration at Coogan’s was electric, with smiles all around. Even the Empire State Building was lit up in blue and white in honor of the meet.

Here are some of the highlights from a meet that has found a new home.

The Men’s 5,000 meters was promoted as an attempt by Bernard Lagat to regain the American Record, and he delivered in a big way. Returning to the track where he set an American Record for two miles a year ago, Lagat, the winner of a record eight Wanamaker Miles at previous Millrose Games, was on record pace as he followed rabbits Ben Bruce and Bolota Asmerom through the first 2,000m. He then got help with the tempo the rest of the way from his training partners in Tucson, University of Arizona teammates Lawi Lalang, the 2011 NCAA X-Country Champion, and Stephen Sambu. Iona College’s Leonard Korir, the fourth Kenyan-born runner at the front, was right behind the first three until he trailed off shortly after they passed 3,000m in 7:55.

Lagat moved past Lalang with 5 1/2 laps to go, with Sambu still close in third. The three leaders then lapped the fifth native of Kenya, New Jersey prep Edward Cheserek, with a little more than 800m to go. Sambu started to fade, but Lalang stayed right on Lagat’s heels, leading some to think he might actually win the race.

But, with the crowd of 5,000 on its feet and roaring its approval, the 37-year-old Lagat started pulling away at the bell, stretching his lead until he crossed the finish line in 13:07.15, breaking Galen Rupp’s year-old AR of 13:11.44 by more than four seconds.

Lalang finished well in 13:08.28 to smash Rupp’s collegiate record of 13:18.12. His time was also faster than the Outdoor CR of 13:08.4, which was set by the great Henry Rono in 1978. A rash of personal bests followed —Sambu in 13:13.74, Korir in 13:19.54 (an Eastern Collegiate Record), Stanford’s Chris Derrick in 13:19.58, Great Britain’s Andy Baddeley in 13:22.44, Mexico ’ssss Juan Luis Barrios in 13:23.61, and Cheserek ran 13:57.04 to break Lukas Verzbicas’s year-old high school record of 14:06.78, which was set on this same track.

(While Lagat regained one record from Rupp, he lost another on the same night to his friendly rival, who ran 8:09.72 for two miles in Fayetteville, Ark.)

The women’s NYRR “Wanamaker Metric Mile” (1500) was run earlier in the night, and it showcased two of America’s best.

Jenny Simpson, who pulled off a shocker by winning the gold medal at last summer’s World Outdoor Championships, was coming off a sub-par effort in the 3,000 the previous week in Boston, and Shannon Rowbury, the bronze medalist in the 1,500 at the 2009 Worlds, was coming off a 2011 season that saw her battling Achilles problems.

 Marina Muncan was the pace-setter, but the pack, led by Simpson, didn’t go with her, choosing to stay about five meters back. After Muncan dropped out, Simpson held the lead until Rowbury edged ahead of her at the bell, but not enough to cut inside. Simpson held Rowbury off around the penultimate turn, and maintained a slight advantage all the way to the finish line, winning in the personal best time of 4:07.27, the fastest time in the world this year. Rowbury also got a PR with her time of 4:07.66 as the two Olympic hopefuls moved to the 4-5 positions on the all-time U.S. indoor list. Finishing seventh was Stony Brook’s Lucy Van Dalen, who ran 4:11.78, just short of her goal of breaking the collegiate record of 4:10.20.

It was quite a two-week span for Sanya Richards-Ross and her parents, Archie and Sharon. The previous week, they were in Indianapolis to watch Aaron Ross, Sanya’s husband, and his N.Y. Giants teammates win the Super Bowl. And now they were back at The Armory, where Sanya won the 200 and 400 (setting National Records in both) 10 years earlier at the National Scholastics.

Richards-Ross, who had struggled since winning the gold medal in the 400 at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, showed a return to top form as she fought off local hero Natasha Hastings to win the 400 here in 50.89, the fastest time in the world this year, and just short of her indoor best of 50.82.

Cornell grad Morgan Uceny won the women’s 800 over a strong field, but the big news was the stretch drive of high school senior Ajee’ Wilson, who finished fourth with a personal best of 2:04.13. Her time broke Joetta Clark’s 32-year-old New Jersey State Record of 2:06.0. Only Mary Decker (2:01.8) has run faster among U.S. preps. For Uceny, it was her first win at the Armory since 2007, when she took the Heps’ 800 title.

The men’s 60-meter hurdles saw a blanket finish, with David Oliver (7.51) beating Terrence Trammell (7.52) and Aries Merritt (7.53).

Jesse Williams, the 2011 World Champion, was the star of the field events as he won the John Thomas High Jump (named after the six-time winner of the event) with a clearance of 7-7 1/4, which tied The Armory record set by Nathan Leeper at the 2002 U.S. National Championships. Penn sophomore Maalik Reynolds finished third with an indoor personal best of 7-3 3/4. Jenn Suhr, a week after setting an American Indoor Record of 16-0 in Boston, won the women’s pole vault (15-1/4), and Russia’s Olga Kucherenko, the silver medalist at last year’s World Championships, won the women’s long jump (22-1 3/4).

The Byron Dyce College Men’s Distance Medley, named after the former NYU star (he was in attendance) had a strong Millrose connection. After the first three legs, it was a two-team race between Ireland’s Dublin City University, which was being anchored by John Coghlan, whose dad Eamonn had won seven Wanamaker Miles at Millrose, and Villanova, whose coach Marcus O’Sullivan was himself a six-time Wanamaker Mile winner. (Both Coghlan and O’Sullivan were Villanova grads).

The younger Coghlan, who had run in the Millrose H.S. mile a few years ago, extended his team’s lead with a quick first quarter-mile, but Villanova anchor Sam McEntee, a sophomore from Australia, soon started to catch up. He eventually passed Coghlan and led Villanova to victory over the Irish visitors (9:38.02-9:39.68).

The final event of the night, fittingly, was the Wanamaker Mile. With IAAF Senior Vice President Bob Hersh, the PA voice of Millrose for many years, coming out of retirement to make the dramatic announcement, “Ladies and gentlemen, The Wanamaker Mile,” a field of pros and outstanding collegians went to the starting line.

Matthew Centrowitz, whose dad Matt starred at the Armory during his high school career at Power Memorial four decades ago, pulled away on the last lap to win in 3:53.93. Finishing strong over the last half-mile, Brigham Young’s Miles Batty ran 3:54.54 to break the collegiate record and erase any confusion as to what the previous record was. North Carolina’s Tony Waldrop ran a hand-timed 3:55.0 in 1974, while Oklahoma State’s German Fernandez ran an auto-timed 3:55.02 in 2009.

Ironically, Centrowitz, who was the surprise bronze medalist in the 1,500-meters at last year’s World Outdoor Championships, still attends the University of Oregon, but he gave up his final year of collegiate eligibility to become a professional.

Batty’s BYU teammates and coach (Ed Eyestone) watched his record run on two laptops in a hotel room in Seattle, where the Cougar distance runners were competing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8OVmbrkcnQU

It was a fitting climax to a memorable night.  (The festive mood was carried around the corner to Coogan’s, where the post-meet celebration continued into the wee hours of the morning).    

As I was walking out of The Armory, I ran into Dan Doherty, the Pearl River High coach, who had said all along that the meet would be a success. I said with a smile, “You were right and I was wrong”.

And Norb Sander said all night long, “Fantastic, just fantastic”. He added later, “And you know what? We can do a lot better next year, and we will do a lot better next year”. And I won’t be second-guessing him next time around!

Resultshttps://millrosegames.runnerspace.com/eprofile.php?do=info&year=2012&event_id=574

FloTrack Videoshttp://www.flotrack.org/coverage/247790-105th-Millrose-Games-2012/videos

Men’s 500https://www.mysportsresults.com/gprofile.php?mgroup_id=88&do=videos&video_id=58860

        NBC Pre-Meet Interview w/Norb Sander and Ray Flynn: https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=IHUmGsLuERg

        A New Era (For Times Subscribers)https://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/09/sports/millrose-games-move-into-new-era.html

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