By ELLIOTT DENMAN
NEW YORK – Call the New Balance Armory Track and Field Center “The House That Norb Built.”
The miracle on 168th Street is a tribute to the incredible, enlightened, odds-beating determination of Dr. Norbert Sander.
Once upon a time, his primary credit line read “only native New Yorker ever to win the New York Marathon.”
Now, that’s oh-so-20th century.
It’s the Armory that is his real achievement. And every last Millrose Games-goer last Saturday saw the evidence first-hand.
Matt Centrowitz was one of many celebrated figures of track and
field’s recent past invited “home,” to the classic Millrose Games, to
Millrose’s new base at the Armory, to the rebirth of the meet in its
new setting, 135 Manhattan blocks north of its old one.
Centrowitz, former U.S. record-holder at 5,000 meters and member of
two American Olympic teams, was at the Armory this Saturday night along
with notables Eamonn Coghlan, Marcus O’Sullivan, Tom Courtney, Byron
Dyce, John Thomas, Tom Farrell, and more, royalty all in the track and
Their presence drove home the obvious – that track and field was, now
and forever, still world-class family entertainment. The sellout
crowd of over 5,000 was surely packed with numerous multi-generational
delegations. In its nearly a century at Madison Square Garden, Millrose
had always been the best of all locations for families, old teammates,
classmates and dear buddies to gather round the old oval, to hash out
past races, tell tales, relate war stories.
And so it was again at the Armory.
That oval is now a world-class 200 meters, no longer the Garden’s
slowish 145-meter circuit, a situation giving every last competitor a
fighting chance to run a world-class time, or at least set a PR, or at
least look good doing whatever. It took a whole lot of guts for Armory
management to move the meet out of the Garden, where attendance had
slipped drastically, and costs driven up-up-up in recent years. But Dr,
Norbert Sander, the man behind the Armory’s astounding renaissance, had
the vision and seized the moment.
The move – by the good doctor and the fine folks of the Armory
Track and Field Foundation – proved to be a huge winner. The 105th
Millrose Games was first-rate all the way. Sure, track and field may
still be alive at the Garden – hopefully there will be a second running
of the USATF-backed U.S. Open Meet in 2013, – but it’s just as clear
that Millrose will write its own series of success stories at the Armory
for years to come.
And maybe even USATF – which elected, on very late notice, to
challenge Millrose with its own meet at Fayetteville, Arkansas, held
earlier Saturday, will get to appreciate all that. Hopefully, in the
best interests of the sport, they’ll put aside the debate, and the
acrimony, do what they should do in the best interest of all, and stage
these meets on separate Saturdays in 2013 and beyond.
“Yes, I think we’ve got the right formula,” said Dr. Sander.
“Millrose was a great meet this year, but we want to make it a lot
better next year, and for years after that. World-class track and field
needs a world-class track. And we’ve certainly got one right here at
The Millrose tradition lived on. Armory-goers got to see such gems
as Bernard Lagat’s American-record 13:07.15 5,000-meter victory over
training partner Lawi Lalang; world champion Jenny Simpson’s 4:07.27
1500-meter win over Shannon Rowbury, and LaShawn Merritt’s go-for-it
500-meter victory in 1:01.39.
Oh, and Sanya Richards-Ross made a major point to her husband, the
Super Bowl champion Giants’ cornerback Aaron Ross, that he’s not the
only big-time athlete in the marriage. She blazed 400 meters in 50.89,
fastest time in the world this year.
For sure, Eamonn Coghlan had a whole lot to cheer for – son John was
running the anchor 1600 meters for Dublin City University in the
collegiate invitational distance medley – now named for Byron Dyce,
whose own starring deeds had been notched for NYU and the Jamaica
What a story line “Byron’s Race” carried – DCU was facing Villanova,
his dad’s alma mater, now coached by O’Sullivan, his dad’s great Irish
international team colleague, and Villanova marvel in his own right.
The duel lived up to all its billing – Villanova anchor Samuel
McEntee and DCU anchor John Coghlan went at it mano-a-mano,
stride-for-stride. At the end, it was Villanova a very happy winner in
9:38.02, to DCU’s 9:39.68. McEntee had run his four laps in 3:59.8,
John Coghlan in four-flat.
But the younger Coghlan wasn’t immediately available to
interviewers. “Oh, he’s under the stands somewhere, puking his guts
out,” said DCU teammate Joe Warne.
Just before 10 p.m., another Millrose tradtion was served.
The Wanamaker Mile was always the big-big-big one at the Millrose
Garden meets and it sure was a hit once again at the Armory.
“How’re you feeling?” Matt Centrowitz was asked, minutes before the
Wanamaker Mile field was called to the starting line. “Can’t tell you
right now,” said Matt. “Ask me that later.”
A Manhattan guy, born and bred, a graduate of the city’s Power
Memorial High School, a Manhattan College runner for a while, before
finishing up at Oregon, Matt had always loved being a footracer in this
Lauren Centrowitz had placed eighth in the women’s 1500-meter “metric
mile” earlier on the program and now it was her brother Matthew’s turn
to carry the family coat-of-arms around the track.
He’d turned pro runner last fall, after taking a surprise bronze medal
in the 1500 meters at the World Championships in Daegu, Korea, last
September. Now it was his own momentous turn in the spotlight, in the
big race in his dad’s hometown.
Soon enough, the 22-year-old proved himself the real deal, the genuine article.
With a lap and a half left, he surged in front of a world-class field –
eight runners would eventually break four minutes – and went on to win
in an Armory-record 3:53.92.
The runner-up, the appropriately-named Miles Batty of Brigham Young – would set a national collegiate record of 3:54.94.
Matthew Centrowitz had debuted as a pro in the 3000-meter race at
Boston last week so this was his first mile of the Olympic year.
He told interviewers that a 3:53.92 performance the second week of
February was a very good omen of much better things to come later – more
specifically the Olympic Trials in late June, and hopefully, the London
Olympic Games this summer.
And then Matthew Centrowitz told his dad to relax – the deed had been
done; he’d proven himself a quality footracer, too. In the Armory. In
the Big Apple. In his Dad’s town.
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