BERNARD LAGAT AT MILLROSE 2015
By ELLIOTT DENMAN
NEW YORK – Pari-mutuel wagering on racers with anything less than four legs is an absolute no-no in New York State. Likely in much of the rest of the U.S. of A. as well.
But that’s not keeping some members of the media corps heading to the 108th edition of the Millrose Games Saturday at the Armory Track and Field Center from making a few discreet wagers.
Their special opportunity: predict Bernard Lagat’s clocking in the classic NYRR Wanamaker Mile at the tradition-laden Millrose spectacular, always a high point in the indoor track season and a sure thing to warm up fans this icy-icy Big Apple winter.
My own “investment” is on the 40-year-old Arizonan completing his eight-laps-and-a-bit-more on the fast Armory 200-meter track in three minutes, 53.03 seconds. I figure I’ve got as good a chance of collecting on that estimate as any of my colleagues.
After all, Lagat comes to the Armory in prime form, having run 3000 meters in a dazzling 7:48:33 last Saturday in Boston in a spectacular race that saw the first four men cross the line within 61/100ths of each other. Ethiopia’s Dejen Gebremeskel nosed out Lagat for the win with a 7:48.19.
So now it’s on to Millrose and it’s a meet filled with more top talent than Millrose fans likely have seen in the past 20 years. Take that statement direct from Millrose meet director Ray Flynn and Armory Track Foundation president Dr. Norbert Sander.
Back in the years when the Millrose Games was held at Madison Square Garden, the Wanamaker Mile went off at precisely 10 p.m. Now that the meet’s at the Armory and given its 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. TV window (NBCSN), the Wanamaker Mile goes off at precisely 7:53 p.m.
Given the quality of the entry field, it’s a virtual certainty that at least 10 of the 13 listed starters will cross the finish line before 7:57.
Flynn & Co. have lured a truly sensational mile field to the Armory.
Who’s really favored to win it?
One top choice is Matthew Centrowitz, the Oregonian with NYC roots whose 2:49ish 1200 meters set up a world distance medley relay record at the Armory Jan. 31, and followed it with a 2:17.00 1000 meters at Boston, second fastest time ever by an American.
Another powerful pick is Nick Willis, the New Zealander out of the University of Michigan who won the Boston mile in a brilliant 3:51.61.
But how can you discount Pat Casey (who anchored that world record distance medley relay team), Will Leer (the 2014 Wanamaker champion in 3:52.47), Evan Jager (America’s fastest-ever steeplechaser), Leo Manzano (the 2012 Olympic 1500-meter silver medalist), Kenyan Lawi Lalang (Lagat’s training partner and a 3:52.88 runner-up last year at Millrose), or Great Briton Chris O’Hare (who clocked a USA collegiate record of 3:52.98 here in 2013 running for Tulsa.)
And then there’s X Factor in the person of Edward Cheserek, the University of Oregon junior out of St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark who has already accumulated five NCAA gold medals less than midway through his collegiate career.
Neverthless, all discussion of this one inevitably leads right back to Lagat.
(1) Can this marvel (who has won a record eight past Wanamaker miles and marked his 40th birthday on Dec. 12) win it all once again?
(2) Can he challenge Lopez Lomong’s Wanamaker Mile record (and all-time Armory best) of 3:51.21 in 2013?.
(3) Can he threaten the all-time Met area record (seven-time Wanamaker Mile champion Eamonn Coghlan’s 3:49.78 at the Meadowlands Arena in 1983) ?
(4) In the process, will he absolutely demolish Coghlan’s Masters (40-plus) mile record of 3:58.15 set at Harvard in 1994?
Items 1, 2 and 3 are definite maybes. Item 4 is an absolute cinch.
Two decades-plus back, when Coghlan was turning back the calendars to prove it was still possible for a human aged 40 (or more) to break 4 for the mile, the Masters mile was a hot, seat-selling inclusion in numerous major indoor meets.
But soon as this “chairman of the boards” from Ireland and Villanova actually achieved that sub-4, the Masters Mile event was basically retired (as Coghlan himself soon was.)
Thanks to Lagat, however, there are heaps of renewed interest in the
whole question of geriatric athleticism.
Can a “kid” of 40 actually outrun rivals in their 20s? Willis, at 31, is the
only other “codger” in the field.
Lagat will talk your ear off on this subject if you’ll let him.
“I’m really excited to be running against you (younger) guys,” Lagat said at a press conference Friday. “At 40, there’s no pressure on me. I’m just going to go out and have some fun.”
He’s as lean and mean and finely-tuned as ever; 38, 39, 40, they’re just numbers.
Good eating, good training, good genes, he recognizes them all as key factors.
A good sense of humor, too.
Looking at Centrowitz, just three months past his 25th birthday, Lagat said
“I’m sure Matt is going to have a lot of respect for the old man.”
No man in the sport has more respect for Lagat than the great Eamonn Coghlan, one of the last few track celebrities capable of selling seats to the meets that once filled major arenas all over North America.
Now a member of Ireland’s senate, Coghlan will fly back to New York for the Millrose festivities and meet up with so many of his old track friends and colleagues.
‘The chairman of the boards” has already written his concession speech.
He’s absolutely certain that – regardless of where Lagat finishes in the over-all standings – his Masters mile record of 3:58.15 is a goner.
As he messaged Lagat, “I’m glad it’s going to be you” (to crush the 3:58.15.)
Lagat’s continued excellence past the four-decade mark is remarkable for many reasons.
For one, he’s countering a whole lot of track history. A pack of other super
milers – such names as Mike Boit, Wilson Waigwa and John Walker come to
mind – were brilliant at 37, 38, 39, only to fall apart as world-class runners,
for any number of reasons, once they reached 40.
Just two Masters milers have ever broken four minutes. Coghlan’s still the
one-and-only to do it indoors; Englishman Anthony Whiteman ran
3:58.79 in an outdoor mile at Nashville, Tenn. in 2012.
Staying in this kind of shape as a 40-something just beats all the odds.
Millrose Games director Ray Flynn, himself one of history’s great
milers with a best of 3:51.20 (running second to Irish countryman Coghlan in that epic 3:49.78 Meadowlands race in 1983) reached his personal finish line
at age 33.
“I hit the stage of my running career where I was not improving,” said Flynn.
“The writing was on the wall and I needed to make the decision to do something different. I didn’t want to be just a lane filler.
“It’s natural. Most athletes don’t make it that far even.
‘Eamonn and Bernard, they’re showmen as well as great athletes, and people were drawn to that, which in turn kept them in the sport longer.
“I hate to say this, but when I’ve seen some other icons of the sport come back to track, and they couldn’t quite do it, I was kind of disappointed. I was like most people – I wanted to remember them when they were great.
“But Bernard, he’s different, he’s special.”
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