Brycen Spratling on his way to setting a world indoor 500m best at the Millrose Games (© Kirby Lee)
The 108th edition of the NYRR Millrose Games, held at the New Balance Track & Field Center at the Armory on Saturday (14), produced two world bests and five world-leading marks.
The men’s and women’s Wanamaker miles are traditionally the most cherished events of the meeting. Besides the usual winners’ cups, this time the organisers secretly prepared additional prizes: one for 40-year old two-time world champion Bernard Lagat, who was targeting Eamonn Coghlan’s M40 world indoor best of 3:58.15, and another one for a potential 100th sub-four-minute finisher at the Millrose Games.
The men’s race didn’t disappoint. Matthew Centrowitz and Pat Casey, who just two weeks ago ran together on the world-best-setting distance medley relay team at the Armory, adamantly chased pacemaker Mark Wieczorek, with New Zealand’s Nick Willis a few meters behind and Lagat in the chase group.
“I didn't look behind me at all, but it definitely felt fast right from the start,” said Centrowitz, the two-time world medallist.
After Wieczorek dropped out with three laps to go, having passed 1000m in 2:25.63, Willis started catching up with the leaders and at the bell he had replaced Casey in second place. Both Centrowitz and Willis demonstrated impressive finishing kicks, but the former was stronger, setting a world-leading time of 3:51.35, just 0.01 shy of the indoor PB he set at this meeting in 2013.
The Kiwi improved on the national indoor record he set last week, running 3:51.46 for second, while Casey took third in 3:54.36.
“When Willis came up on me on the backstretch, I knew that if I’d let him by me at that point, it was game over,” said Centrowitz. “He’d have the inside lane, and I’d have to go around. I pretty much went all out to hold him off around that corner, and it was the race right there.”
Lagat smashed the M40 world best with his fourth-place finish in 3:54.91, and one of the first people to congratulate him after the finish was the former record-holder Coghlan himself. Britain’s Chris O’Hare, who placed sixth in 3:55.35, is now in the meeting’s history books as the 100th sub-four-minute mile performer.
In the women’s mile race, all bets were on USA’s Shannon Rowbury, who clocked 4:22.66 on a flat indoor track just two weeks ago, prompting suggestions that she could break the US indoor record of 4:20.5 set by Mary Decker-Slaney in 1982.
The 2009 world 1500m bronze medallist, who is part of Alberto Salazar’s training group along with Centrowitz, didn’t disappoint, pushing the pace in front all the way and gaining a 30-meter lead by the last lap. But the impressive speed caught up with Rowbury on the homestretch as she stumbled a few times and had to give up any hopes of a record-breaking run. She held on to win in 4:24.32.
“I am disappointed; I knew I had an American record in me today,” said Rowbury. “I'd love to have another opportunity to go after it because I know I'm capable. We started out fast on the first 400m, and I felt it in the end. On the last 30 meters my legs felt like they’ve just disappeared.”
World indoor best – and a world record-holder – tumble
The unexpected world best came in the men’s 500m. USA’s 22-year-old Brycen Spratling overcame some serious rivals, such as former world 400m hurdles champion Bershawn Jackson and Belgium’s Jonathan Borlee, and clocked 1:00.06, beating Ken Lowery’s time of 1:00.17 set in 1987.
“I didn't know I was on a record pace!” said Spratling. “I honestly felt like I relaxed a little bit too much early on in the race. So when I saw the time, I was disappointed, I really wanted to run 59 seconds. But if that's the best time ever run in the world, then I'm ok with it.”
Decathlon world record-holder Ashton Eaton produced the social media highlight of the meeting. He ran an impressive 7.51 in the 60m hurdles for third place in the race and the second position on the 2015 world indoor list.
But Eaton, to the astonishment of the audience, couldn’t handle his speed after crossing the line and jumped over the crash mat at the finish, falling down a four-metre drop on the outer side of the track. Fortunately, the world and Olympic champion landed on his feet and was back on the track in one piece within a matter of seconds, heading over to the long jump runway for his second event of the evening.
The victory in the men’s 60m hurdles was taken by Aleec Harris. In his third race as a professional, he set a world lead and a personal best of 7.50. World champion David Oliver was second with the same time as Eaton, 7.51.
Williams back in shape
Jesse Williams, the 2011 world high jump champion, had injury-ridden seasons in 2013 and 2014, but is determined to put them behind. He proved it in New York, clearing 2.31m on his first attempt to beat Canada’s Mike Mason on count-back.
Elsewhere in the field events, Greece’s European silver medallist Ekaterini Stefanidi took the victory in the pole vault with 4.60m, and Jamaica’s Damar Forbes leaped 8.03m on his last attempt in the long jump for a narrow win over the world and Olympic medallist Will Claye (8.02m).
World leads for Ahoure and Kipyego
Double world silver medallist Murielle Ahoure posted a world lead of 7.05 to win the women’s 60m. Trinidad and Tobago’s Michelle-Lee Ahye came in second with a time of 7.11, 0.06 ahead of two-time world indoor bronze medallist Tianna Bartoletta. All three women set season’s bests.
In the 3000m showdown between Kenyans Sally Kipyego and Betsy Saina, world and Olympic 10,000m medallist Kipyego won in a world-leading 8:41.72. Saina came in second with a time of 8:43.19.
“I knew that Betsy is a tough competition, that she is fit, so this win is a great booster of confidence coming into the outdoor season,” said Kipyego. “The focus is, of course, on the National Trials in July, because I want to make it to the World Championships in Beijing. It was my second and last race indoors: in about a month I will be running the New York City Half Marathon.”
Members of the Bowerman Track Club dominated the men’s 5000m and it all came down to a battle between Lopez Lomong and Ryan Hill. Lomong clocked 13:27.60 for the win, while Hill set a personal best of 13:27.80. Japan’s Suguru Osako, who now trains under the guidance of Salazar, set a national indoor record of 13:28.00 for third.
In the women’s 400m, Olympic champion Sanya Richards-Ross tightened up on the home stretch and was passed by US indoor record-holder Phyllis Francis in the closing stages. Francis clocked 53.14 to Richards-Ross’s 53.71.
USA’s Sharika Nelvis won the 60m hurdles in 7.91 with Jasmin Stowers as a close runner-up in 7.92. Marvin Bracy won his second straight Millrose Games sprint title, clocking 6.53 in the 60m ahead of Antoine Adams and Su Bingtian, who both ran 6.61 for second and third respectively.
Ajee Wilson rarely lets anyone get in the way of her races at the Armory, and once again she came away victorious with a 2:01.57 in the 800m. The men’s 1000m victory was decided in a close fight between Erik Sowinski and Robby Andrews. Sowinski was centimeters ahead of his rival: 2:21.18 to 2:21.23.
Elena Dyachkova for the IAAF