Millrose Games: A new track, a new home, by Dick Patrick, for American Track & Field

Lagat-Willis1-Millrose09.JPGBernard Lagat, Nick Willis, 2009 MIllrose Games, photo by

Starting Blocks has been the news section for American Track & Field for the past decade. For most of that time, we have been fortunate enough to have Dick Patrick, along with editor emeritus James Dunaway, working on news that would mean something to our primary readers. The primary readers of AT&F are the 37,553 head high school, college and club track & cross country coaches who educate over 1.4 million athletes forty-six weeks a year, six days a week, for an average of two hours, fifteen minutes a day. There is more to our sport than jumping, throwing and running. (If you do not get AT&F and you are a coach, just send your address, and name and title to [email protected], with " Yes, I would like a subscription to American Track & Field" and you will be receiving AT&F within four weeks. And yes, we have back issues for all 18 years. )

Here is Dick's homage to the Millrose Games, which appeared in the Summer 2011 issue of AT&F:

Kara Goucher, 2009 Millrose Games, photo by

Starting Blocks by Dick Patrick of USA TrackNews

For any track fan with an iota of realism, the move of the Millrose Games from Madison Square Garden uptown to the 168th Street Armory could not have been a surprise.
       Millrose, for nearly a century the most famous indoor meet in the world, had been struggling: disappointing crowds, disappointing buzz. The meet could no longer regularly pack the Garden to the rafters as it did from the 1920s to the 1990s. And the Garden's 160-yard track--once the standard for indoor tracks--could not compete with the dozens of faster 200-meter tracks that became the new standard.
Hooker_StevenRun-Millrose09.JPGSteve Hooker, 2009 Millrose Games, photo by

       The meet, like Madison Square Garden itself, was simply part of the declining indoor scene in the United States, which had a virtual monopoly on indoor track since the first ever indoor meet was held in New York in the 1880s.
       A century later, in 1987, the IAAF awarded its first indoor world championships to Indianapolis, as a nod to the supremacy of the U.S. in developing indoor track. But in reality the U.S. circuit already was in a downtrend, with shrinking sponsorships and losses of meets, even as indoor track flourished in Europe.
       Though the decline of Millrose was inevitable given the trends of the domestic indoor circuit, that doesn't make the news any less devastating. Eamonn Coghlan, the Irish miler adopted by New York fans for the thrills he provided at Millrose, compared it to the Rose Bowl going Division III.

       The Millrose situation is a body blow to the sport's aficionados. It just won't be the same even though the nicely banked 200-meter synthetic track at the Armory is a superior surface to the cramped 160-yard board track in the Garden, home to Millrose since 1914. The 5,000-seat Armory is just not a spectator facility on par with the 18,000-capacity Garden. The new version won't be the social event that Millrose was in its heyday, attracting many general sports fans who often attended no other meet in a year. But those days are gone, just like the smoky haze from cigarettes and cigars that formed a cloud above the Garden track during the era before nonsmoking ordinances.

       No athletes and not many fans would like to return to the days of smoke-filled arenas. Norb Sander and his Armory staff have worked a wonder in restoring it as a hub for high school and college indoor track. Who knows? Maybe they can work some sort of revival for Millrose and make it relevant again. One thing's sure: Thanks to the faster Armory track, plenty of Millrose meet records will be broken next February.

Hoffa_ReeseWide-Millrose09.JPGReese Hoffa, 2009 Millrose Games, photo by

       Those who mourn the change of Millrose's status recall the glory days of the meet with the Garden packed to capacity and the crowd in a frenzy during lead changes of the Wanamaker Mile or another exciting event with Olympic champions and world record holders. But those days are a memory, not a current reality. Let's hope Sander and new meet director Ray Flynn can create a new, exciting reality for the meet.

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