Millrose at 101

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My first Millrose Games were in 1986, after our move to the East Coast for my job at Runners' World. I was able to see Sergei Bubka vault, Eamonn Coglan run the Wanamaker Mile, and inhale in all of the excitement and as much of the history that one could see in one night. The next day, it was a ten mile race in Central Park!

My next MIllrose Games was the ninety-ninth, when people were still a bit worried about

That year, I was able to walk around the track and see and experience the fabled Millrose Games up close.

The sound of the track, as runners pound around the turns, lap after lap. The fans were there for many reasons: to see family members, to cheer on teammates, to keep many generations of sports fans company company, to see some of the world's greatest athletes.

The Madison Square Gardens' track is more like a cross country course than a track. What I mean by this is that it is all about where one finishes and not the time. That fast times get run on this track is surprising to me! It is the level of competition, it is the tradition that all play part of the mystique that keeps this meet alive and a draw.

I watched the entire meet number 99. I loved the relays, the sprints, the throws, and the elite event, it is really many meets in one place. The meet went on for six hours, and there were many people who just breathed in the entire evening.

First, there were the local events, with the 4 by 400s and 4 by 800s being some of my favorites. What was fascinating to me was that these traditions had gone on for many years, the athletes knew it and they wanted to be part of it.

When the track was taken apart for the sprints, the shot put took the fans attention, and Reese Hoffa and Christian Cantwell gave the fans something to cheer about. The sprints went on for what seemed to be hours and then, it took nearly an hour to get the track back together.

The meet finished, of course, with the Wanamaker Mile, and Bernard Lagat, who was on his way to winning number four, did it the hard way. He took Kenenisa Bekele out so hard that Bekele had all he could muster to hold off getting caught for second place!

After the meet, I remember discussing with many that this was a meet full of traditions, but it was actually several meets: college, open, club, youth, elite and six hours of track and field would kill the Millrose Games.

In 2007, I had to cancel at the last minute. But the tradition of the meet continued through the hundreth year. adidas and marketing partner Global Athletics put on a Hall of Fame dinner the night before and from the many notes I received from attendees, the dinner was one of the true highlights of a great weekend.

Well, Millrose has made its 101rst edition!

And with some grand performances. Most importantly, Bernard Lagat's win in the Wanamaker mile, over Australia's Craig Mottram, New Zealands' Nick Willis and Duck
redshirt Galen Rupp was obviously one of the highlights of the night. Lagat has now tied Glenn Cunningham, 1936 Olympic silver medalist at 1,500 meters, with six wins. Lagat is only one behind tying Eamonn Coglan, the chairman of the boards in the seventies and eighties. Lagat made his move with less than three laps to go and never looked back.

The Men's shot, which was highlighted as the track was being torn down to showcase the sprints, was a crowd pleaser. Adam Nelson, who had finished third last week at the Reebok Boston Indoor, took control and popped a huge 72 foot, five inch throw, to break the Meet record of Christian Cantwell. Cantwell was second here, but three feet back. Reese Hoffa took third.

The mens' shot is one of the events to focus on, and one of the events that seems to draw a fascination from the fans, both young and old.

The womens' mile had a tight and exciting finish with Kara Goucher just catching Sara Hall at the finish, both timed in just over 4:36 for the mile. Showing her finishing prowess, Goucher opened 2008 with a strong win in this physical mile run.

The women's pole vault was a nice surprise for Jillian Schwartz, who not only scored a nice personal best of 4.63m on her second attempt, but, because she took two attempts to Jenn Stuczysnki's three attempts, won her first Millrose Games! Stacy Dragila did not clear a height, but noted in an interview that she was comforted by some of her vault attempts at MIllrose.

The meet, which went from 5.45 pm to 10.20 pm, had something for each and everyone of the 12,465 fans who came Friday night. And that, may be part of the challenge of the Millrose Games in its second century.

In speaking to fans, and veteran watchers of the sport, they see Millrose a huge letdown after the meet in the previous week in Boston. And they should. RBIG is one meet, a well run, well orchestrated meet run by one company. At Millrose, there are four meets, no true overriding management and little or no shared goals. Global Athletics & Management were brought in three years ago, along with adidas, to save a great tradition.

It seems to this observer, however, that the only comprimising is being done by the sponsors and marketing group. If the meet wants to continue the traditions, and watch its numbers continue to drop, then continue as it is. If they want to make this part of a short elite indoor season, then cut the sprints down in distance or can them, showcase the shot and three other field events and run two hours of distances unique to the Millrose Games-1000 yards, three miles. Put the kids sprints on as their own meet at
the Armory, where the stars show up and kids get to meet some superstar the next Saturday, but make the Millrose a cavalcade of competition, not an endurance event in itself.

The Millrose Games has seen 1.25 mile races, it has seen handicap races, and it has lived to see its second century. For the meet to grow, for the sport to thrive, and for
the Millrose to evolve, Millrose has to change.

In the 1920's, meet management was allowed, in various events around the East, to allow handicap races, because the fans wanted competition and no one was as good as Nurmi-well, most of the time. A much smarter track observer than I suggested a race where Craig Mottram took on a series of high school teams over two miles-the high schoolers were to run relays, 4 x 800. The team that beat Craig, if there was one, would receive a special donation to their school! There are all kinds of ways to do it, but a race like that, or just two hours of straight finals, with several record attempts, over 1.5 miles, 3 miles, 1000 yards, something unusual, would drive fans nuts!

If there is an elite season, great, the have an elite season. If the Millrose Games is an indoor carnival of sport, like an outdoor relay meet, then just say so, and stop trying to make it everything to everybody! It only hurts the sport.

The Millrose Games and traditions deserve to grow and prosper. For that to happen, the meet will have to evolve.

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