The Schmertzes would have loved the 2015 Millrose Games, by Elliott Denman

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Lagat-CoghlanA-Millrose15.JPg
The Masters of the Mile, Lagat & Coughlan, photo by PhotoRun.net

The Millrose Games for 2015 was another success. The Wanamaker MIles were exciting, but, in the men's race, there was extra drama as Nick Willis and Matthew Centrowitz, two of the most extraordinary milers of their generations battled to the finish. In fourth place, Bernard Lagat ran 3:54.91, a new world Masters record, which broke the 1994 record of one Eamonn Coghlan, who had run 3:58.15 as a masters almost 21 years ago! 

Lagat ran a 3000m masters WR, now a mile masters WR. I will watch him run the two mile next weekend, with Mo Farah in Birmingham DL! 

In the meantime, our long time writer, Elliott Denman waxes poetically on the wonders of the 2015 NYRR Millrose Games! 
THE SCHMERTZES WOULD HAVE LOVED THE 2015 MILLROSE GAMES...

 
   By ELLIOTT DENMAN

  Surely, Howard Schmertz was "looking down" with a great big smile on his face.

  Just as surely, his dad, Fred Schmertz, "up there" with him, was reveling in all the good stuff, too.

  Yes, yes, the 108th edition of the Millrose Games - now the NYRR Millrose Games, the fourth to be held at the Armory Track and Field Center after nearly a century at different Madison Square Gardens, was a smash hit, Saturday (afternoon and) night live from 168th Street and Fort Washington Avenue.

    The Schmertzes, dad Fred and succeeded by son Howard, had been the maestros of Millrose marvels, for decade after decade after decade.   But there were a few cynics out there who said the speciality of the Millrose experience would be gone once the Schmertzes were gone, too.

   They said the Armory could never match up to the Garden, and alleged The Big Move (uptown 137 blocks) was a certain sign the famed Millrose meet was headed into a slow slide into "nothing special" status.

   Well, all those cynics, all those nay-sayers, have been proven wrong, definitively
wrong.

   By the likes of  Ray Flynn and Dr. Norbert Sander, who pull all the
magic strings that make this show happen, and such athletes as Matthew Centrowitz, Nick Willis, Pat Casey, Bernard Lagat, Brycen Spratling, Shannon Rowbury, Ajee' Wilson, Erik Sowinski and Robby Andrews who gave a packed house at the Armory (close to 5,000) and a global TV audience (NBCSN) a sweetheart of a Valentine's Day meet, one of the best
Millrose meets ever.

   "I was delighted," said meet director Flynn, the former Irish mile star.

  "We had some great races, we wanted to have match-ups and I think we got match-ups.

  "We had some great performances by great competitors, who really engaged the crowd.

   "The fans were truly excited. And it's always nice to end on a tremendous note. The Wanamaker Mile did not disappoint."

    "Wonderful, wonderful meet," said Armory Track Foundation president and CEO
Dr. Sander. "I don't know how we can top it next year, but we're certainly going to try."

   The classic men's Wanamaker Mile did not give Millrose fans the world record
mile they'd have relished but it did deliver a rousing 3:51.35 triumph - his second at
Millrose - by  the  New York-rooted Matthew Centrowitz over the New Zealand-rooted Nick Willis (3:54.36), with Casey (3:54.36) next at the bat to lead eight others under four minutes.

   And the fourth-place finisher may have earned more applause than the winner.

   That's because his name is Bernard Lagat (who celebrated his 40th birthday in
December) and his 3:54.91 absolutely demolished all records in Masters miling.

   Eamonn Coghlan's Masters best-ever of 3:58.15 at age 41 in 1994 was virtually kaput before the race even started.

  And seven-time Wanamaker champion Coghlan was to there to get the field underway and then cheer Lagat as he crossed the line.

   Lagat (who won his first Wanamaker Mile in 2001, and added his others in 2003, 2005-6-7-8-9-10) hadn't run the Wanamaker Mile in four years, while he focused on other, and longer distances.

   But he was back at it Saturday night - with one thing on his mind- besting Coghlan's 21-year-old 3:58:15.

   "Eamonn called not once, but twice beforehand," said the Arizona-based Lagat.

  "He said 3:54 each time.

  "And when I did it, he told me again - 'didn't I tell you, you were going to run 3:54?'

  "I guess it's like a bicycle.  You never forget how to do it.   You just hop on and do it again.

   "So, to me, 3:54, that's not too bad."

    Centrowitz logged laps of 29.52, 27.58, 29.09, 29.75, 29.72, 29.74, 29.15 and a devastating closer of 26.84 to regain the Millrose title he'd won in 2012 at 3:53.94.

  However, beating the world record (Hiham El Guerrouj's 1997 3:48.15 for Morocco), the American record (Lagat's 3:49.89 at Fayetteville, Ark. in 2005) or the Millrose and Armory record (Lopez Lomong's 3:51.21 in 2013) just wasn't in the cards.

  "I never looked behind me (after "rabbit" Mark Wieczorek dropped out after
a 1:55.72 800 and 2:25.66 1000)," said Centrowitz.  "I wanted a faster time, but it was a big deal for me to win a second title."

   Back of Lagat in fourth, steeplechaser Evan Jager crossed in 3:55.25; Englishman Chris O'Hare in 3:55.35, for the precise 100th sub-4 at the Armory; 2012 Olympic silver medalist Leonel Manzano, for seventh in 3:56.05; five-time NCAA champion racer Edward Cheserek of Oregon in 3:56.43; Lagat training partner Lawi Lalang in 3:57.15, and Columbia grad Johnny Gregorek, now Oregon, 10th in 3:57.47.

   Just two finishers ran plus-4s: Columbia grad Kyle Merber (4:05.96) and 2014 Wanamaker winner Will Leer (4:10.21.)

   No records other than Lagat's?  The 2015 Wanamaker Mile still was one heck of a race.

   Beyond Coghlan, there were lots of other older-timers on hand at the Armory to refresh memories of all those Millrose editions at the Garden.  Perfect examples: the great Villanovan, Donald Paige, five times a Millrose winner at 1000 yards, now a premier world designer of track facilities,  and Tom Farrell, the Olympic 800-meter medalist and finest runner in St. John's University history, now back as a volunteer coach at his alma mater.

  They wore mile-wide smiles along with all the everyone else in the stands. 

  Sure, the Armory is not the Garden (where this Big Apple weekend's
media mills put major focus on NBA All-Star Game festivities), no argument there;
it's 13,000 seats smaller but in a whole lot of ways better.  Simply, it's the track.

   The Armory's 200-meter oval is truly world class; the Garden's old 160-yard, 11-laps-to-the-mile track was world class, too - in a bygone era.

   So there's no stopping such speedsters as Spratling, the University of Pittsburgh
graduate who raced to the fastest 500 meters in indoor track history, exactly one minute and 6/100ths of a second.  (But it may not get ratified because of some
rule-book technicalities.)

   The women's Wanamaker Mile record (Romanian Doina Melinte's 4:21.45 at the Garden in 1988) seemed on very-very shaky ground coming in - after all Duke alumna Rowbury had run 4:22.66 in a flat-track meet in  Winston-Salem, N.C. last week.  Trouble was that there wasno one to push Rowbury at the Armory and she settled for a 4:24.32 win over Trenier Moser (4:27.39), as Bronxville-ite Mary Cain, the crowd-pleaser now at the University of Portland, struggled over the second  half of the race and wound up eighth (4:31.21.)

   Sowinski and Andrews gave the fans a dynamite 1000 meters; the Iowan (2:21.18) just holding off the Nerw Jerseyan (2:21.23) whose laps were as slow as 29.18 (his fourth) and as fast  as 26.34 (his fifth and last.)

   Neptune, NJ's Ajee' Wilson, just 20 but showing added maturity and racing savvy every time out, let Charlene Lipsey (1:00.03 at 400) and training partner Kimarra McDonald (1:01.11) do the pace-setting, and Lipsey (1:30.77) still led at 600, before Wilson came on with her customary rush to win it in 2:01.57 over Lipsey's 2:02.05.

   Fast pace or not-so-fast, Wilson knows how to deal with all situations and it's no wonder she had the best outdoor 800 time in the world last year, and gained the second spot in the world rankings.

  After his sensational double at the Armory Collegiate Meet two weeks ago (a 3:54.74 mile win followed by an 8:15.38 two-mile, just half an hour apart), many reckoned that Canada's Cam Levins was ready for something truly sensational in  the Millrose meet's Paavo Nurmi 5000 meters. 

But it never really happened as Lopez Lomong (13:28.60) took the 25-lapper in a modestly-paced, bang-bang finish over Ryan Hill (13:27.80), Suguru Osako (13:28.00), Donn  Cabral (13:28.64) and Andrew Bumbalough (also 13:28.64), all just 64/100ths apart.

   Levins settled for a relative pedestrian sixth in 13:33.35.

   There's nothing like a hometowner to get the fans stirring and that's exactly
the role Phyllis Francis filled.

  "The next great thing" in women's 400-meter running, Queensite Francis, NCAA champion and record-breaker last year for Oregon, turned the tables on Olympic gold medalist Sanya Richards Ross to take the two-lapper, 53.14 to 53.71.

   Olympic decathlon champion Ashton Eaton had an "interesting" Millrose
experience, placing third in the men's 60 hurdles (his 7.51 was just 1/100th back of winner Aleec Harris) and then grabbing another third (at 25-3 1/4) back of long jump winner Damar Forbes'  26-4 1/4.  Oh, and Eaton also pulled a disappearing act, leaping over the fence at the end of the mid-track straightaway, then leaping right back to message the fans that he'd suffered no damage.

   A most-happy-fella, too, is Jesse Williams, the 2011 world champion high jumper, who'd endured an injury-caused slump, but is now proving he's back at the top of his game with a big win at 7-7.  Mike Mason went 7-7, too, but did it on his third attempt, to Williams's first.

 Oh, and speaking of pedestrian performances, there's bright young American
racewalker Jonathan Hallman, the Shore AC delegate from Liberty, S.C.  who not only beat out Olympians Trevor Barron and Andreas Gustafsson, but got to the line in a quick-quick 5:53.58.

   Not only did he break through the six-minute barrier for the first time, but
broke his club's record for the event - and that was Todd Scully's 5:55.8 which was
a world record when he set it in 1979.

   Hallman, 21, had made the long drive up from South Carolina with his dad, Thomas Hallman, the day before, and they drove right back after the meet - hopefully beating the incoming snowstorm and getting the senior Hallman home on time for work Monday morning.

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