Another Millrose Games victory for Bernard Lagat (© Victah Sailer)
Two-time world champion Bernard Lagat lit up Saturday's 105th edition of the Millrose Games – if it wasn't already alight – by running 13:07.15 to chop more than four seconds off the US indoor record for 5000m.
This year's meeting brought the traditional Millrose formula of high school, collegiate and open races 130 blocks up town from its longtime home at Madison Square Garden to the Armory Track & Field Center on TK street. Lagat is a veteran of both, having won the historic meet-ending Wanamaker Mile eight times and set a national two-mile record at the Armory last year.
Saturday night he came to lay siege to the 5000m mark but found himself pushing to reach the finish before his own training partner, NCAA cross country champion Lawi Lalang. Lalang finished in 13:08.28, a collegiate record, and in third place Stephen Sambu, also a collegian, ducked under the former mark himself in 13:13.74. In seventh, Edward Cheserek, a high school student in nearby Newark, New Jersey ran 13:57.04 to set a national high school mark. With the meeting record falling in the bargain, four records were set in the one race.
"Lawi was helping out, Sambu was helping out, we all wanted the records," Lagat said. "I enjoy this kind of race, with a lot of high school and collegiate athletes who can look at me and say, I can keep doing this for years. I love the energy. Lawi is a student, he's still learning to race, but he's mastered the training that Coach Li gives us. He's not intimidated."
For his part, Lagat and Lalang's coach saw the fruit of a sleepless plane flight. Traveling overnight from a collegiate meet in Seattle to New York, James Li "did a little planning on the flight." He mapped out each lap, "Where they could relax and where to pick up," and wound up with a scrap of note paper with the plan for a 13:07. "...and that's what they ran."
Williams tops 2.32m
World champion Jesse Williams cleared 2.32m to win the high jump on his second attempt at the height, then took three attempts at 2.35m. "I have to stay focused, because there's more of a spotlight on me this year," said Williams. "I want to be consistent in the mid-2.30m range so I can go in to the Olympics knowing I can jump high enough to win."
Jenn Suhr didn't reach quite the heights of last week, when she vaulted 4.88m in Boston, but she still required only one clearance to win. Suhr entered the competition at 4.58m, cleared it on her first attempt (thereby winning over Lacy Janson, whose best clearance was 4.52m), then made three unsuccessful attempts at 4.71m.
Simpson v Rowbury goes to Simpson
It was a battle of World Championships medallists in the women's 1500m, the "metric mile", as world champion Jenny Simpson held off 2009 world bronze medallist Shannon Rowbury at the line, 4:07.27 to 4:07.66. Simpson moved to the front immediately after the pacemaker stepped off and defended the rail, even as Rowbury made two attempts to take the lead in the bell lap.
"I was prepared to lead [myself] if I needed to," said Rowbury. "I tried to go by but didn't move in time."
Simpson was ebullient after a disappointing race in Boston the previous weekend. "Whoever has the rail has an advantage," she explained. "When I heard the bell I knew I just had to run hard and hold the rail. Leading can generate a lot of pressure, though; you have to remember you committed to that tactic. [Racing Rowbury] means I have no time to sit back and say, 'I have this in the bag.' I could not let up for a second."
"4:07 is not near what I'm capable of, but in February, it's great," Simpson added. "My coach called me this morning and told me to forget about everything, just race. Sometimes you have to remember that you love it."
Oliver evens the hurdle score
David Oliver improved on his 60m hurdles time with a 7.51 victory over Terrence Trammell (7.52). Trammell had pipped Oliver in a slightly shorter race at the US Open meeting at Madison Square Garden two weeks before.
"I'm still trying to work out the kinks," said Oliver. "I had to make adjustments when I was injured, and I grooved in some bad habits. I'm still rebuilding good technique. I need to do it in practice, do it in warmup, and bring it to the track, so this is the fun part. I just want to race; training is so monotonous."
Merritt and Richards-Ross win the long sprints
Sanya Richards-Ross ran a dominating 50.89 world lead in the women's 400m, almost a second ahead of Natasha Hastings (51.85). After a quick hug from Lagat, still finishing his interviews, Richards-Ross said: "I was pleased with how I ran off no speed-work and not tapering my training. My coach told me to just consider it practice, and I have to say I like having five thousand people coming out to cheer for my practice!"
LaShawn Merritt echoed Oliver's words in describing his own race, the rarely-run 500m. Merritt won in 1:01.39 over Jeshua Anderson (1:01.86) and described how the race jolted him completely out of his comfort zone. "I had a race plan coming in, and it went out the window," said Merritt. "When I came to the line, I was expecting a three-turn stagger and to start out of blocks, and then it was a two-turn break and no blocks. But once I got into it, it went better than I thought. It was fun."
Merritt added: "Being a 200m-400m guy and finishing a 500m that strong tells me it's going to be a great season."
Phoebe Wright took charge of the women's 800m but Morgan Uceny only let her keep it until the last lap. Uceny stalked Wright from the end of the first lap, saying afterwards: "I figured a move could happen any time, and I didn't want to get gapped." It turned out that the move was made by Uceny herself, and she won in 2:03.35 with Fantu Magiso closing fast for second in 2:03.72. Magiso was pleased to get that after a tumble on the first corner left her knee bloodied and forced officials to call the race back for a re-start.
With longtime champion Lagat moving up to the 5000m, the fabled Wanamaker Mile was left to the younger men, and it was world bronze medalist Matt Centrowitz who ran away with the race in the end. "Centro" took the lead with 300m to go and looked unpressed, although Miles Batty actually held on to him through the closing lap and finished almost within a half second, 3:53.92 to 3:54.54. Batty's time represents a US collegiate record.
"I didn't know what to expect in my first mile of the year," said Centrowitz, "but I wanted to get after it whatever the pace was. My workouts indicated I was in shape for a 3:55, so to be able to run that fast is a good sign."
The women's long jump went to world silver medallist Olga Kucherenko, who reached 6.75m on her fourth jump before fouling her remaining two. All four of Kucherenko's legal marks would have won the competition.
The women's 60m went to Bianca Knight in 7.25 over Jessica Young (7.26). Former 100m world champion Lauryn Williams was fourth (7.28) and Bahamian Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie sixth (7.33). The men's 60m was won by Keston Bledman in 6.62. The women's 60m hurdles went to Kristi Castlin in 7.91.
Parker Morse for the IAAF