2011 Fifth Avenue Mile: RBR Feature, by Elliott Denman, note by Larry Eder

Men's elite start, 2011 Fifth Avenue Mile, photo by PhotoRun.net

MensPack-FifthAve11.JPGMen's pack, 2011 Fifth Avenue Mile, by PhotoRun.net

The Fifth Avenue Mile is the grand daddy of road miles. After five attempts, Bernard Lagat, WC silver medalist at 5,000 meters, nine time Wanamaker Mile winner, NY Armory two mile winner (setting AR), has won the Fifth Avenue Mile. Jenny Simpson, the WC gold medalist at the 1,500 meters, capped off her season with her fifth win here, showing that, once again, Jenny's win in Daegu was about having the right skills and managing the absolute crisis that is a 1,500 meter World Championship final.

Here is how our correspondent, Elliott Denman saw the races: 


NEW YORK - Thirty years.

 That's a lifetime, by track and field's what-have-you-done-for-me lately standards.

 The longest-enduring mark on the women's standard-event world-record list is Jarmila Kratochvilova's drug-clouded 1:53.28  800 meters in 1983; leading the way in the men's antiquity division is Jurgen Schult's 74.08 / 243-0 discus throw in 1986.

  But Sydney Maree's clocking of 3:47.52 has stood the test of time - and more so - as the men's Fifth Avenue Mile record ever since 1981.

Lagat_Bernard-FifthAve11.JPGBernard Lagat, 2011 Fifth Avenue Mile, photo by PhotoRun.net

Once again, the ace recruiters of the New York Road Runners assembled a star-studded field for their annual dash "down the Avenue, Fifth Avenue."

  But the best of these best couldn't come close to nudging Maree's 3:47.52 off the top position on their charts.

  USA's Bernard Lagat (3:50.5) fought off Morocco's defending champion Amine Laalou (3:51.7) and American "comer" David Torrence (3:52.4) to win his first Fifth Avenue crown (he'd run second in 2010, fourth in 2009 and second in 2008), but Maree's record was never in danger.

Torrence_David-FifthAve11.JPGDavid Torrance, 2011 Fifth Avenue Mile, photo by PhotoRun.net

    Twelve more men broke four minutes - led by Americans Jeff See (3:52.9), Craig Miller (3:54.4) and Jon Rankin (3:54.7) - and the 15-total sub-4  performances may have set an all-time record for sub-4 quality depth.

  Just three of the 18 starters failed to beat 4, one of them USA 800 champion Nick Symmonds.

   Fifth in the Daegu World Championship 800 final but 17th in this one in 4:04.9,  Symmonds expressed no love for the mile distance.  "This was my own New York Marathon," he said.  ,

  There's plenty of endurance on the women's side of the Fifth Avenue Mile record list, too.

WomensPack-FifthAve11.JPGWomen's pack, 2011 Fifth Avenue Mile, photo by PhotoRun.net

  The all-time Fifth Avenue mark of 4:16.68 was set by PattiSue Plumer in 1990. Just as the 2011 Fifth Avenue men couldn't come close, so too was it with the women.

Simpson-EnglandFV-FifthAve11.JPGJenny Simpson, Hannah England, 2011 Fifth Avenue Mile, photo by PhotoRun.net

   The top ladies ran a much closer race than the top men - Jenny Simpson at 4:22.3 and Sally Kipyego and Hannah England both at 4:22.6 - but Plumer's mark was never threatened, either.

Uceny_Morgan-FifthAve11.JPGMorgan Uceny, Jenny Simpson, 2011 Fifth Avenue Mile, photo by PhotoRun.net

  Al three are past NCAA champions - Simpson at Colorado, Kipyego at Texas Tech, England at Florida State.

Makestad_Ingvill-FifthAve11.JPGIngvill Makestad-Bovim, 2011 Fifth Avenue Mile, photo by PhotoRun.net 

    Next over the line were Norway's Ingvill Makestad-Bovim (4:24.6), the Netherlands' Susan Kuijken (4:25.5), and USA's Morgan Uceny (4:26.2) and Shannon Rowbury (4:27.0.)

Rowbury_Shannon1-FifthAve11.JPGShannon Rowbury, 2011 Fifth Avenue Mile, photo by PhotoRun.net 

 Rowbury had won this event in 2010 (4:24.12) and 2009 (4:23.3) but was nowhere close to that pace this time. She took the bronze medal in the 1500 at the 2009 Worlds in Berlin but bowed out in the 1500 semifinals at Daegu. Clearly, she'll have to "regroup" to regain her past years' fitness levels and make it to the London Olympic Games next year.

Sally Kipyego, 2011 Fifth Avenue Mile, photo by PhotoRun.net

     Uceny, who endured a tough-luck fall in the 1500 final at Daegu, had come back with a world-leading 4:00.06 eight days earlier at Brussels - but couldn't match that in New York, as her finale to a long season.

    Simpson's 4:22.3 now ranks her ninth all-time on Fifth Avenue; Lagat's 3:50.5 gives him share of the 10th place on Fifth.

Laalou-Lagat_TorrenceFL-FifthAve11.JPGLaalou, Lagat, Torrence, 2011 Fifth Avenue Mile, photo by PhotoRun.net

  So why-why-why all this longevity?

  Might the course possibly have been mismeasured back in 1981?  Was there a hurricane at Maree's back in 1981? Or behind Plumer in 1990? Has Fifth Avenue suffered any shrinkage? Are there any other strange circumstances to explain it.

   To all this, the New York Road Runners organizers tell you a vehement "no,no, no and no."

   So, the only thing to do is look back and appreciate the quality of the Maree mark and the Plumer mark.

   The best of 2011 surely gave it their best shots on Fifth Avenue, delivering quality races from start at 80th Street to finish at 60th.

   Both winners required all-out sprint finishes to claim their champions' rewards of $5000.00.  There was drama for all - and the price of admission was exactly right.

  Fifth Avenue-goers got to witness the very best - the folks who'll be expected to drive the big-ticket prices at the London Olympic Games - for the wonderful price of exactly zero.

  Lagat will be expected to duke it out with Britain's Mo Farah all  over again in the London 5000-meter final, just as they did in Daegu.

   Of course, of course, there will be a lot more running to do before then.

   Among other things, Lagat will have to run a 1,2 or 3 at the USA Trials next June at Hayward Field.  And a heap of others - the likes of Kenenisa Bekele - will be intent to make up for 2011's mishaps once they all assemble at London in 2012.

Simpson_Jenny-FifthAve11.JPGJenny Simpson, 2011 Fifth Avenue Mile, photo by PhotoRun.net

   Simpson - as Jenny Barringer - set the American women's 3000-meter steeplechase record at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin.  But her successes on the flat at the kinder 1500 meters - no hurdles, certainly no water jumps - will almost surely determine that the 'chase is for the others to try next year.

  From distant vantage points, Maree and Plumer can only observe their latter-day challengers' performances.

  A Villanova graduate, Maree went on to break American records at 1500 and 5000 meters, and placed fifth in the 5000 final at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games.  He's now back in South Africa.

   Plumer, a Stanford alumna, set an American 3000-meter record and ran in three Olympic finals, placing 13th at 3000 meters at Seoul in '88, and 10th in the 1500 and fifth in the 3000 at Barcelona in '92.

  Once the London Games of 2012 are wrapped up, look for the New York Road Runners to lure  fields of newly crowned medalists and other notables to Fifth Avenue. And look for Maree's 3:47.52 and Plumer's 4:16.68 to again stare them in the face, as challenges of all challenges.

Torrance-Wittenberg-LagatFlag-FifthAve11.JPGDavid Torrance, Mary Wittenberg, Bernard Lagat, 2011 Fifth Avenue Mile, photo by PhotoRun.net

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