The Millrose Press Conference is one of my favorite pressers of the year. Unfortunately, I needed a couple of days home before I headed back on the road for the Millrose Games. I handed over the presser coverage to our good friend, Jeff Benjamin.
Here is Jeff’s comments (and photograph) on the Millrose Press Conference, so nicely done by Ian Brooks! See you at the Armory on Saturday.
Millrose games Press Conference by Jeff Benjamin
The lineup along both sides of the podium pretty much said it all this morning, as some of America and the World’s greatest Track and Field stars assembled at the Park Central Hotel. These athletes, along with many others, will be competing this upcoming Saturday at the 109th edition of the Millrose Games, which will be held at the 168th street Armory once again.
With Announcer Extraordinaire Ian Brooks leading the way, athletes Shannon Rowbury, Matt Centrowitz, Allyson Felix, Natasha Hastings, Nick Willis, Molly Huddle, Andre De Grasse, Brianne and Ashton Eaton were summarily introduced to a packed house of media, for an event described by Herb Sander as a truly unique one in the Sport. “We have a very good production”, said the former NYC Marathon winner who now runs the Armory. “We have over 1,000 athletes, and as these athletes who are here know, if you win here at Millrose it will stay with you for the rest of your life.” Adding to the event, is a sellout crowd, Allyson Felix returning to compete indoors at the Armory for the first time in 15 years,plus a showdown between the top men’s milers in the hallowed Wanamaker Mile, an event described by Sanders as one which will be “Ferociously competitive.”
After The NYRR leadership duo of Mike Capirasso and Peter Ciaccia came up to speak about the importance of the Millrose Games to all facets of running and the kids, Ian Brooks commenced the in depth presentation by beginning with Mr. Eaton. The Decathlon world record holder hopes to defend his Olympic title in Rio. Ashton Eaton will be competing in both the along Jump and the 60 meter hurdles on Saturday. “Competing against specialists of their events makes me rise too and try and go to another level,” said Eaton. As for his famous somersault-over the wall victory from last year at the Armory, Eaton did say that although he’ll be more careful this year, “I’ll just have to surprise myself and see what happens. I guess I was lucky to be physically able to handle that.”
As for Ms. Eaton, the Canadian Silver medalist from last year’s World Championships, she is “only” doing the 60 hurdles. “I’m just trying to get sharp for the World Indoor Championships,” she said. “All the focus is on Rio as I’m moving towards outdoors.” A question was then asked of about two world-class athletes living together in one house. But keep in mind- the Eatons are a team effort. “Brianne helps by guiding me with nutrition and other things we do,” said Ashton. “The benefits definitely outweigh the negatives,”said Brianne. “There can be some tension sometimes especially after a poor training performance, but we are both pretty good at maintaining our focus.”
Totally maintaining his focus during the conference was Canadian Sprinter Andre De Grasse, who is running in his first endeavor as a pro. The former NCAA champion from USC, who won a 100 meter Bronze medal in Beijing last summer, said of his race here in the 60 meters on Saturday, “I’ll try and give it my all.” Training now in Arizona, De Grasse went on to explain that, “I think I’m better this year at starting.” Brashness does not come out of De Grasse though. “I’m low-key.”
Brooks then went on to a local favorite, Natasha Hastings, who Brooks said, “grew up at the Armory.” The Former NYC High Schooler surprised fans last week with an American record in the 300 up in Boston. “I ran last week with no expectations,” said Hadtings. “I’m just training through things but the big picture is Rio. I’ve been focusing on execution and not outcome. But, I’m excited to be back racing in my hometown.”
For Women’s defending Mile Champion Shannon Rowbury, this Saturday’s edition comes at a particular time in her training. “I’ve been doing heavy training for the Indoor Nationals and Worlds,” said the Nike Oregon Project star. “I’m just starting tapering so I hope to race well.” When asked if she can possibly snatch the American Record of 4:20.5 set back in 1982 by Mary Decker Slaney, Rowburry, who valiantly gave it her all last year in an attempt, said that the pacesetter has been instructed to go through the 1/2 at around 2:08. “I’d like to see how close I can get,” said Rowbury. “But I also hope to win.”
For Allyson Felix, her return to the Armory has been 15 years in the making. It was way back in 2002 that she won the 60 meters Junior race here. ” Its good to be back and to run indoors,” said Felix, who hopes to win Gold in both the 200 and 400 this summer in Rio. “I’m in a heavy training phase and I’m focusing on a good start for Saturday. But it’s a long season.” As for her challenges facing her this year, the 30 year old has not lost any drive or enthusiasm. “I’m still very motivated. I love the Sport and still have a passion for it and still love to set goals.”
As for her Olympic quest, Felix was asked about both the double and the Zika virus scare, which must have come across to those present as one of those “Elephants in the Room . “I’m going to go to the Olympic Trials and the goal is to make the team,” she said. “My mind is focused on making the team and the Trials and in focused on what I’m in control of.”
After Felix, it was both Matt Centrowitz and Nick Willis’ turns. In what was called “an Ali-Frazier matchup”, the top milers were then asked about training and each other. When asked if he watched Willis’ dominant performance last week in Boston (3:53.27), Centrowitz quipped quite jokingly, “Can you show me?, to the laughter of all present. “Nick’s a familiar face,” said Centrowitz, who’s also a NOP teammate of Rowbury. “Some of my earliest memories in High School was seeing Nick compete at the Boston indoor meets. I think the rivalry has brought out the best in us.” Willis shot praise right back at Centrowitz. “I think we’re both secretly 5K runners with speed,” he said.
But don’t underestimate either athletes’ resolve come Saturday at the Wanamaker. “I would absolutely like to win,” said the New Zealander Willis, who won a Silver in the 2008 Lindon Olympics 1500 meters but has yet to win a Wanamaker. “I don’t know how much longer I can run the mile. I did beat Matt at the Fifth Avenue mile last year, so we’ve gone back and forth.” As for Centrowitz, “I won’t let him go by me on the inside. In the last lap you have to hold on to that pole position to win.”
A question was then brought up about that other “elephant in the room”. Nick Willis was asked about the story published indicating the possibility of IAAF President Sebastian Coe banning the Kenyans from the Olympic Games, a precedent already done by the IAAF in regards to the Russian athletes. A staunchly outspoken athlete on the issue, Wilis did say that while its a challenging subject facing the Sport, his concern was for “bystanders who might be banned and hurt.”
Willis then offered his opinion on how to supervise athletes. “Perhaps the top 10 or -5 athletes from these countries can be required to train for say 10 months a year in a compliant country where they could be tested,” said Willis. “It’s not fair that some athletes compete in an area where they’re able to stay away from testing.”
For Molly Huddle, the Women’s 5K on Saturday is an opportunity to build up like the other athletes for their Olympic quest. “I’m doing a lot of base and strength work,” said Huddle, who is coached by Ray Treacy. “I’m just going to try and get into a zone and click the laps off.” As for her future potential, Huddle is running in the NYRR NYC 1/2 marathon in March. “That will keep me strong hopefully for August.” As far as a NYC Marathon debut in November, Huddle, although speaking glowingly about the Marathon Trials performances last week in Los Angeles – “I was very happy for Shalane (Flangan) and Amy (Cragg) and every time Meb comes to the finish I cry!”– was non-committal. “I am intrigued,” she said.
That quality of intrigue will be permeating from the 168th street Armory this Saturday for sure.
Enough of the talk and hype-Let the Games begin!!