Eric Jenkins, 2017 Wanamaker Mile Champion, photo by PhotoRun.net
ELLIOTT DENMAN’S REFLECTIONS
ON 2017 NYRR MILLROSE GAMES
By ELLIOTT DENMAN
Once upon a time, ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys, let it be remembered, there was a five-week “season” of biggest-time track and field at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
And for those lucky enough to be there, it was a five-week run of magnificent memories.
Each meet in succession – the Millrose Games, the New York Athletic Club Games,the National AAU Championships, the IC4A Championships, and the New York Knights of Columbus Games – annually delivered its share o fheadline-making events.
And those headlines were scanned by the readers of New York’s then-seven major daily newspapers, the morning New York Times, Daily News, Herald-Tribune and Daily Mirror, and the evening World-Telegram, Journal-American and New York Sun. Oh, and the readers of the Newark Evening News, Bronx Home News, Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Long Island Daily Press, too. Virtually all of them had a track and field “beat writer,” as well, covering the sport for their
editors and their audiences, who considered the sport a very-very big thing.
Appropriately, since the sport is track and field, let’s fast forward.
Just one of the original five meets survives as a NYC event.
The NYAC Games were gone following a 1968 boycott; the Knights of Columbus Games moved for a while to the Nassau Coliseum, then were gone, too. The National – now USATF – Indoor Championships has rotated around the continent – Atlanta, Boston, Albuquerque, et al. The IC4A moved to Princeton and now to Boston. The Olympic Invitational emerged at the Garden, as a new world-class event, then moved to the Meadowlands Arena, but that’s been long gone now, as well.
It’s very-very true that there are more indoor meets going on now
than ever before, which is all to the good of the grand old game.
But only the Millrose Games – now the NYRR Millrose Games – of those original “big five” survives on the NYC calendar.
While track and field may be done and gone at Madison Square
Garden – and whatever did happen to the 11-lap-to-the-mile Garden
footracing saucer, by the way ? – it’s absolutely thriving, 135 blocks to the north, at the New Balance Armory Track and Field Center with its
often-called “world’s fastest” 200-meter banked indoor oval.
Filled to its 5000-seat capacity, the Armory rocked and rolled last
Saturday as the 110th Millrose meet delivered major moment after
major moment. Sure there were skeptics who said the Millrose Games was “headed south” with the first announcement that it was moving north, the Garden to the Armory, in 2012.
They have now assuredly been proven wrong-wrong-wrong.
To borrow some familiar language, the Millrose Games at the Armory is great again.
And here, with the 110th Millrose Games safely in the books, is
a personal “Top 10” list:
1. Ajee’ Wilson has been a big-time winner, at every rung of her track and field career, from the kids’ racing scene, to the Colgate Women’s Games, toNeptune High School, to the World Youth and Junior Championships, to three editions of the USA Nationals. But there’s obviously a lot more to come from the the Olympic 800-meter semifinalist. Her American-record 1:58.27 800 Mllrose was a thing of beauty, perfectly paced, perfectly strategized. At 22, the best of Ajee’ is surely soon to come.
2. Eric Jenkins was a good runner at Northeastern. He became a great runner at Oregon. His near-misses at the 2016 Olympic Trials are in the rear-view mirror now. His Fifth Avenue Mile win last September was a major breakthrough. And now’s he full speed ahead to the very top of the heap. His 3:53.23 win in the classic Wanamaker Mile was a thing of controlled beauty. In this Wanamaker event that has been on the Millrose schedule since 1916 – it was run as the distance of a mile and a half until 1925 – it is now the grand finale to theday’s full program. There’s the “Star Spangled Banner,” then the Wanamaker Mile, then Eric Jenkins, then visions of an even better NYRR Millrose Games in 2018.
3. Eamonn Coghlan. Enough said, really. Of course, the Garden’s board track has been supplanted by the Armory’s state-of-the-art oval, but The Flying Irishman will forever be the “Chairman of the Boards.” A senator now in Ireland, his annual return to the Millrose Games is symbolic of all the Millrose greatness, From his first Wanamaker Mile win in 1977, to his seventh in 1987, he exuded the style and class and brilliance that are synonymous with thebest this sport has to offer. And there he was at Millrose 2017, back fromIreland, as synonymous as ever.
4. Sadly, New York Pioneer Club athletes haven’t been competing at the Millrose Games for quite a few years now. Sad, because in their day, the Pioneers represented the best of the best. Coached by the immortal Mr. Joe Yancey, and then by the extraordinary Mr. Ed Levy, the Pioneers truly lived up to their name by opening so many doors that others might have closed on them. They represented democracy in its truest sense and then delivered on that promise by running to glory after glory. A major step forward at Millrose 2017 was the men’s 60-meter dash now named for Joe Yancey. And former Pioneer Club middle distance and hurdles great Harry Bright was here to present the handsome Joe Yance plaque to new champion Clayton Vaughn.
5. The “Fastest Kid On The Block” races – boys and girls 55-meter dashes – were originally designed to determine the fastest kids from the New York Metro area. But now these events have widened the horizons – by far. “Fastest Kid” of 2017 was 8-year-old Bernard Ibiroga of Kildare, Ireland. He won by an eyelash in 8.403 seconds and another Irish youngster, Emily Kelly, ran 8.97 seconds to place third in the girls event.
6. Just one pole vaulter had ever soared higher than 19 feet at the Armory and that was 2015 World Champion Shawn Barber. But now two on the list is Armand “Mondo” DuPlantis, a senior at Lafayette High School in Lousiana, who went up-up-up and over 18 feet, 10 1/4 inches to set a national high school record. It didn’t matter that there was no open men’s PV on the 2017
Millrose program. DuPlantis – who will represent Sweden internationally; his mom is Swedish – still gave the Millrose crowd a real “high.” (So, too, did Olympic champion Katerina Stefanidi of Greece, the women’s winner at 15-9 3/4.)
7. Racewalkers are often short-changed in this sport. Their event isn’t on the card of the World Indoor Championships and few of the media take major interest. But for those who do, Jonathan “Jon” Hallman, representing the Shore Athletic Club, provides a great story. He’d won the Susan Rudin 1-Mile Racewalk at Millrose three times in the past four years but winning it again was never easy. He’d been battling a cold all week. He’d endured a long drive to the Armory from his Liberty, South Carolina home with his dad. And then he had to rally in the final two laps to overhaul Marek Adamowicz of Canada. But, delighted with the win and the handsome silver bowl presented by Mrs. Rudin, he and Dad could smile every mile of the return trip to South Carolina.
8. New York City’s Public Schools Athletic League has long been a testing ground for the young high school athletes who’ve gone on to bigger – sometimes very much bigger – things in the sport. The list is long and lustrous, and three PSAL “alumna” runners earned the golden honor of representing Team USA at the Rio Games of 2016. Dalilah Muhammad became the first American woman ever to win the 400-meter hurdles. Natasha Hastings won another gold medal in the 4×400 relay, and Phyllis Francis was on that foursome, too. Cheered by local fans, Hastings ran third in the 300 and Muhammad third in the 500 at Millrose 2017.
9. There is all this magnificent Millrose history, and every time you look into it, there seems to be more. The history of Paavo Nurmi’s greatness, for example. The magnificent “Flying Finn,” who collected nine gold and three silver medals in his brilliant career, also found time to win the Wanamaker Mile in 1925. With 2017 marking the 120th anniversary of Nurmi’s birth in 1897, and the 100th anniversary of Finland’s independence, the Paavo Nurmi two-mile run became a Millrose 2017 feature. And it lived up to all its billing with Ben True’s dramatic 8:11.33 win over Ryan Hill’s 8:11.56 with Olympic 1500 champion Matthew Centrowitz seventh in 8:21.07 and nine all-told under 8:30. Last time Millrose had a 2-mile race was 1979, when Suleiman Nyambui won in 8:30.3 (the event was then run at 3000 meters until 2016.)
10. And surely one of the very best things about Millrose 2017 was its offical program – 44 pages full of great stats, photos and stories of Millrose and – amazing but true in this bottom-line era – given out absolutely free to everylast Millrose attendee. That’s right, this gem of a collector’s item was f-r-e-e.
“Miracle On 34th Street was a classic 1947 film starring Maureen O’Hara,John Payne, Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn.
Personal preference, however, is “Miracle On 168th Street,” produced by Ray Flynn, Dr. Norbert Sander. Mike Frankfurt and the star-studded Millrose 2017 cast.