2012 Millrose at the NB Armory T&F Center: "The House that Norb Built", by Elliott Denman

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millrose 105.jpg2012 Millrose Games, Just before the high jump, photo by Larry Eder

Make no mistake. Last weekend, with three ARs, one in Millrose and two at USATF Classic, was a tremendous weekend for our sport in the US. I visited the Millrose Games, for only my second visit to the Armory, and was I impressed? Of course! A well orchestrated meet, great competitions, an appreciative crowd. Here is how Elliott Denman saw the meet!

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 field realm.

   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 Armory."

   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 Olympic team.

  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 city.

  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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