Echoes of Traditions, Old and New: the 2015 NYRR Millrose Games, by Jeff Benjamin

Lost in my travels the past two weeks was this gem from Jeff Benjamin. Jeff, a long time writer for RunBlogRun, American Track & Field, and yes, American Athletics, writes about the story within the story. His piece on the Millrose makes one feel like you are in front of the media section in the Armory, watching the goings on at the 2015 NYRR Millrose Games. 

Nick Willis, Matt Centrowitz battle to the line, 2015 NYRR Millrose Games, 
photo by
Echoes of Traditions Old and New--the 2015 Millrose Games--by Jeff Benjamin
It's been more than 24 hours since the conclusion of the 2015 Millrose Games. The meet, sponsored by New York Road Runnersand now held in Dr. Norb Sander's 168th street Armory for 3 years, definitely had it's share of excitement. Results have been posted, and some real inspiring stories have already been reported and told. In a random sort of way, here are my respective observations of this memorable and forgettable night, depending upon who you are!
Arriving at the Armory, one was able to see the gathering of fans, athletes, coaches and agents slowly growing as the start time for the elite world class events were about to begin. What a treat to run into all the great people throughout the night, along with witnessing some real good competition! One had to wonder if Ashton Eaton was doubling after he ran the hurdles. Finishing third, the Olympic decathlon champion then hurdled over the protective wall, much to the collective gasp of the crowd. Amazingly he emerged totally unscathed in both harnessing his sprinting and jumping skills.
As the meet progressed other athletes, win or lose performed well as well. While Sally Kipyego demonstrated her dominance in the 3000, NY-NJ athlete Ashley Higginson was quite content, despite finishing 8th. "I finished within a second close to my PR", said the Olympian. "It's good work."

Perhaps more than "good work" can be attributed to her teammate Stephanie Charnigo in the Women's mile which was started by Kathy Franey-Fleming.  While Nike Oregon Project star Shannon Rowbury (with her commemorative Valentine's day purple lipstick!) dominated the race, Charnigo, who like Higginson is coached by Frank "Gags" Gagliano , crashed the Oregon Projects' top finishers by finishing 3rd, right behind Treniere Moser and in front of Jordan Hasay and Morgan Uceny. Mary Cain finished a tired 8th and, although disappointed, still had time for her fans, signing autographs and posing for pics willingly. Real class was also shown by Sandra Richards-Ross, who also graciously waited and met her fans  despite losing a close race to Cardoza high school alum Phyllis Francis in her pro debut. Robby Andrews also came back strong, almost getting the victory over Eric Sowinski despite an incredibly explosive surge by Andrews with 150 meters to go, reminiscent of his previous victories in the past. The Oregon Project continued with their successful night as the team, which was coached here by Assistant Coach  and former 28:05 10K runner and top XC runner Pete Julian, also saw Ajee' Wilson win the 800.While  Lopez Lomong won the 5000 with Bowerman teammate Ryan Hill finishing right with him, was then followed  in 4th by another NY-NJ Gags-coached athlete Dom Cabral, whose 13:28 sets him up for a potentially great summer.
Seeing Kathy Franey-Fleming was only the beginning of the parade of past athletes. Former great local NYC marathoner Mark Bosserdet, who is now a Vice-President of Saucony, was present. Also attending was the great Eamonn Coghlin, the "Chairman of the Boards" who dominated the Wanamaker miles in the 1970s and 1980s. Standing to the side was Matt Centrowitz Sr. But it wasn't only about seeing these greats. Keeping tabs on the goings on of Millrose but unable to attend were 2-time NYC Champ and Coach Tom Fleming, Olympic Bronze 1500 medalist and 1983 NYC Marathon Champ Rod Dixon, and the Competitor Group's Tracy Sundlun, whose outfits more than stood out in the years he served Millrose as an official. These 3 were in constant contact via texting and email, while probably watching the meet on NBC Sports as well. Even as the meet was going along, a great buzz permeated fans at the Armory as word came of masters runner John Trautmann's spectacular mile race up at BU! The Georgetown alum and 1992 Olympian, who battled injuries all these years had pretty much given up running. But, returning to the graces of his old coach Gags, the now 46 year old NY-NJ master set an age group world record time of 4:12.33!
Speaking of miles and masters, the Wanamaker mile MORE than lived up to it's tradition. With a loaded field of some of the world's best, it was barely noticed that Nick Willis, who had won a week before in Boston with a New Zealand national record of 3:51.61 (an also snatching the 1500 record as well) barely got onto the track as he was the very last athlete to leave the pit, well after his fellow competitors were called. But he almost finished first when it counted as he tried to chase down Matt Centrowitz Jr, who boldly and strongly took the lead after the 1000 and held on to hold off the New Zealander, running 3:51.35 to Willis' 3:51.46. Britain's Chris O'Hare, who finished back in 6th with a time of 3:55.35 was shocked to be given an award as he finished, as he was granted the honor and accolade of becoming the 100th Sub-4 minute mile run in the Armory! But the happiest athlete of all was 40 year old Bernard Lagat, who smashed Eamonn Coughlin's Masters mile world record with the time of 3:54.91, good enough for 4th overall over Olympic medalist Leo Manzano!  Lagat, who also was able to get  the Masters 1500 record as well, took the slowest victory lap of all, as he posed for pictures and sign autographs for all of the supportive onlookers. In what is being considered the deepest mile finish ever at Millrose, Oregon teammates Edward Cheserek (3:56.43) and John Gregorek (3:57.47) ran great as well. Like Centrowitz, Gregorek is from a successful running pedigree, with parents John Sr. (3:51 mile)  and Chris (2:02 800 meters) setting the family standard.
While the satisfied crowd left, there was still work for some to do before venturing over to Coogan's restaurant for the post-race gathering. Once again, some Oregon Project post race work was being done. Coach Julian's athletes were mainly led by Centrowitz, who, fresh from his Wanamaker mile win, went on to run quality consistent splits of around 36 second 200s through up to 1000 meters. For those looking for a method to the madness, Coach Julian remarked to me about how swimmers do workouts very similar. But it wasn't just the younger Centro who was applying this science. joining him for a couple of laps was Lagat, while Willis and last place mile finisher Will Leer were working in their own tandem of tough paced intervals. Leer, who won last years' Wanamaker in 3:52.47 told me after shaking his hand I should wash it since he had a fever all week which had just broke. needless to say, his 4:10 performance was definitely fueling his motivation as he and Willis worked together. Later on, Lopez Lomong would do similar workouts as well.
While work was still being done by the dedicated and the determined, around the corner the postrace gathering at Coogan's was in full swing  Already in the room and bar were Coughlin, Meet Director and fellow Irish great Ray Flynn, writer, historian and statistician emeritus Walt Murphy, as well as Centro Senior and hundreds of people. Eventually hanging out in the bar waiting to sit was Leer, who looked pretty good for a broken-fever post quality workout performance, as well as 2-time Boston Champ Geoff Smith. Smith talked about how after the girls high school race he went over to console 2nd place finisher Olivia Sargent, who finished so close to victor Catherine Pagano. "I told her to be proud and move on to the next challenge." What better advice than from the man who, in the 1983 NY Marathon, led the race to the 26-mile mark, only to be passed by Rod Dixon in one of the most dramatic finishes in Marathon history. "You know why I lost?", he said. "I had won the New York Road Runners Perrier 10K in Central Park 3 years in a row, and I always followed the blue paint." I'll leave it up the readers, both old and young to understand and appreciate the significance of that remark!
When the new Wanamaker Mile Champion entered the room to the cheers and applause of all present, the young Centrowitz showed off his Wanamaker award quite happily. Given accolades  by Larry Rawson (One wonders why he wasn't on the telecast with Ato Boldon and the rest of the NBC Sports crew), one can tell that while his Dad was very proud, the younger Centro knew what the moment was about as well. As he and the rest of us constantly gazed around the walls of the restaurant at all of the framed singlets worn by the greats of the past, as well as ALL of the Sports Illustrated covers depicting every Running/Track and Field athlete ever front-paged, we, along with young Centro, had to wondering if he will grace the cover one day. Talk of world records permeated the room in many conversations. At the age of 25, anything seems possible! Laughs and a good time was had by all.
PS--In one interesting ironic way to show how interwoven the sport is, it's fascinating to note how the elder Centrowitz, now coaching At American University, was a NYC star who went on to compete at the University of Oregon, overlapping years with Alberto Salazar. In 1982 Salazar was known as probably the best runner on earth, yet it was on June 5th in Eugene at the Prefontaine Classic that the 27 year old Centrowitz defeated the gutsy front-running moves of Salazar in the 5000, setting the American record of 13:12.91. It should have been the beginning of a potentially great rivalry, yet illness and injury would take it's toll on both of them. By the way, one of Centrowitz Sr.'s coaches who he later went on to work with in the 1990s with the Washington D.C. based Reebok Enclave? Frank "Gags" Gagliano.
Today, the Oregon Project's head coach can be just as proud of Matt Jr. as Matt Sr. is, as he has successfully guided the young Centrowitz to a Silver in the 1500 at the 2013 World Championships and seems to have put him on the path to possible true greatness. The Coach's name?
Alberto Salazar.
It seems our sport always makes people come back to each other! That spirit is probably the strongest here on an annual February evening when the sport's fans  gather for the Millrose Games. Let's hope it continues!
Links to the Centro-Salazar clash

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