2016 Millrose Games Preview: Willis-Centro Rematch, Rowbury & Huddle Dream of American Records, King Ches Against the Big Boys in the 3k and Can Drew Hunter Break the HS Record (Again)?

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By LetsRun.com
February 18, 2016

The NYRR Millrose Games is annually one of the premier meets on the U.S. indoor circuit, and the 109th edition, which will take place on Saturday at The Armory in New York City, is no exception. Once again, the fields are stacked with top American and international talent, highlighted by the showcase NYRR Wanamaker Miles.

For the athletes, Millrose offers a chance to face top-tier competition and to run fast, which is important with the World Indoor Championships qualifying period closing on March 7 (for an up-to-date list of Americans with the World Indoor standard, click here). Some of the top events include the men’s mile (Matthew Centrowitz vs. Nick Willis in a rematch of their epic 2015 race; high school phenom Drew Hunter goes in the B heat), women’s 800 (Ajee Wilson vs. Lynsey Sharp vs. Laura Roesler), men’s 3000 (Ryan HillEvan JagerEric Jenkins, Hassan Mead, Edward Cheserek) and women’s 5000 (Molly Huddle goes against World Championship medalists Gelete Burka and Emily Infeld in a Beijing rematch).

In non-distance action, World Championship 100m bronze medalist Andre De Grasse of Canada will make his professional debut in the men’s 60, Jenna Prandini and Allyson Felix go in the women’s 60, Ashton Eaton faces Aleec Harris in the men’s 60 hurdles and Brianna Rollins and Lolo Jones feature in a deep women’s 60 hurdles field. Eaton will pull double duty in the long jump, where he’ll have his hands full with 2015 U.S. champ Marquis Dendy and Olympic bronze medalist Will Claye.

There will be one notable absence in New York on Saturday: for the first time since 2004, Bernard Lagat will not be competing at Millrose (we’ll let it slide; after all, he is 41 years old).

You can watch all the action live on NBC Sports Network; read on for meet details and distance event previews.

What: 2016 NYRR Millrose Games

When: Saturday, February 20, 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET

Where: New Balance Track & Field Center at The Armory, New York, New York

How to watch: Live on USATF.TV from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. ET, then on NBC Sports Network and online on NBC Sports Live Extra from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. ET.

Live in the NYC area but can’t get tickets for the meet? There are viewing parties at Coogan’s (Washington Heights, Manhattan), 200 Fifth (Park Slope, Brooklyn) and Ainsworth Midtown (Midtown, Manhattan) from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. ET (must be 21 or older to attend).

Pro schedule (all times Eastern)

3:07  MenMel Sheppard 800
3:11  HS BoysPSAL 4×400
3:16  HS GirlsNew Balance Mile
3:24  GirlsNYRR Fastest Kid on the Block
3:26  BoysNYRR Fastest Kid on the Block
3:29  MenArmory Invitational Mile
3:40Opening Ceremony
3:50  HS BoysGeorge T. Eastment CHSAA 4×8
3:58  WomenFred Schmertz Pole Vault
4:00  WomenHoward Schmertz 60-Meter Hurdles
4:05  MenHoward Schmertz 60-Meter Hurdles
4:11  Women60-Meter Dash
4:16  Men60-Meter Dash
4:21  HS GirlsPSAL 4×200
4:28  Women5000 Meters
4:30  MenUSMC Long Jump
4:42  MenJohn Thomas High Jump
4:46  Youth BoysNYRR Young Runners Boys 800 Meter Final
4:50  MenNYAC 400
4:56  MenPaavo Nurmi 3000 Meters
5:11  HS BoysNew Balance Mile
5:19  WomenAT&T 400 Meters
5:24  WomenNYRR Wanamaker Mile
5:34  Women800 Meters
5:39  HS BoysEastern 4×200
5:44  MenInvictus Dash
5:48National Anthem
5:50  MenNYRR Wanamaker Mile

All LRC coverage * 2015 LRC coverage * Meet website * Pro entries * Full entries

Mel Sheppard Men’s 800 (3:07 p.m. ET)

Mel Sheppard 800DuaneSolomonSauconyUSA
Mel Sheppard 800JuliusMutekangaCPTCUGA
Mel Sheppard 800SeanObinwaNigeriaNGR
Mel Sheppard 800BrannonKidderPenn StateUSA
Mel Sheppard 800AlexAmankwahGhanaGHA
Mel Sheppard 800NoahKauppilaPrinceton UniversityUSA
Mel Sheppard 800GarrettO’ToolePrinceton UniversityUSA
Mel Sheppard 800DrewNelsonSRA EliteUSA

Duane Solomon, who opened up his season last weekend in Boston with a 2:19.00 1k (losing narrowly to Andrew Wheating) is the prohibitive favorite. In that race, Solomon strayed from his usual front-running tactics, and though he said he felt he moved too late, there is no shame in losing to Wheating, who is in fine form right now. At 800 meters (which favors Solomon more than 1k), he should be even better, and it will be interesting to see if he elects to run from the back/middle of the pack once again on Saturday.

The one man Solomon needs to be aware of is Penn State’s Brannon Kidder. Kidder, the 2015 NCAA outdoor runner-up at this distance, is five-for-five in 2016, including an NCAA record in the 1k (2:18.26) on January 16 and a terrific 3:55 anchor leg on the Penn State DMR that ran 9:27.20 on January 29, #4 all-time in the NCAA. The 800 is stacked this year at the collegiate level, with four men under 1:47 already (led by superfrosh Donavan Brazier’s 1:45.93). Kidder, who ran 1:47.01 on January 30, will look to become #5 on Saturday.

Drew Hunter Looks to Lower His High School Record in Armory Invitational Men’s Mile (3:29 p.m. ET)

Armory Invitational MileDrewHunterLoudoun ValleyPurcellville, VA
Armory Invitational MileThomasAwadUniversity of PennslyvUSA
Armory Invitational MileJohnTraversIrelandIRL
Armory Invitational MileBlakeHaneyUniversity of OregonUSA
Armory Invitational MileKirubelErassaMizuno/ATL TCUSA
Armory Invitational MileTravisMahoneyNJ-NY TCUSA
Armory Invitational MileJakeHuryszNJ-NY TCUSA
Armory Invitational MileMichaelAtchooNJ-NY TCUSA
Armory Invitational MileJohnCoghlanIrelandIRL
Armory Invitational MileFordPalmerNJ-NY TCUSA
Armory Invitational MileJoeStilinZap / ReebokUSA
Armory Invitational MileWillGeogheganNikeUSA
Armory Invitational MileJulianMatthewsSauconyNZL
Armory Invitational MileGrahamCrawfordNC StateUSA

How hard is it to get into the Wanamaker Mile these days? Consider the following:

  • Thirteen of the 14 men in this race have broken 4:00. The only one who hasn’t is NC State’s Graham Crawford, whose pb is an agonizing 4:00.01 (his 1500 best of 3:38.49 is worth much faster than 3:59 in the mile).
  • Of those 13 men, 11 have broken 3:59, five have broken 3:58, two have broken 3:57 and one (John Travers) has broken 3:56.

And this is the B heat. (We’re usually not a fan of meets having “b” heats, but we’ll make an exception for this one and with Hunter in it).

To our knowledge, the most sub-4:00s in one meet is 26 at the 2014 Prefontaine Classic (let us know if you know of a meet that produced more) and that record will not be broken on Saturday — there are 14 guys in the B heat and 12 more (not including rabbit Kyle Merber) in the Wanamaker Mile. So even if every single guy in both heats broke 4:00, they’d still only tie the record.

Still, the depth on display is insane, and this should be an exciting race as there are a bunch of guys capable of winning. Travers has the fastest pb, but he’s not in 3:55 shape right now; he’s run 4:07 and 4:02 in his two miles in 2016. Ford Palmer and Will Geoghegan were both USA finalists in the 1500 last year and will be strong contenders here. Geoghegan has run 3:41 and 7:58 so far this year while Palmer is making his 2016 debut.

Hunter made history at the Armory two weeks ago; can he go even faster on Saturday?

Hunter made history at the Armory two weeks ago; can he go even faster on Saturday?

And then, of course, there’s the phenom, high schooler Drew Hunter. Hunter has run two races in 2016, and on both occasions, he destroyed a high school record set by an all-time great. On January 30, in Winston-Salem, N.C., Hunter clocked 7:59.33 to take down Edward Cheserek’s high school record of 8:05.46. The next week, at The Armory, Hunter’s 3:58.25 erased Alan Webb’s 3:59.86 from the books as the HS mile record. Hunter was sick the week he took down Webb’s mark, and with two weeks to rebound from it, he could be in position to break the record once again on Saturday. Here’s what Hunter’s coach, Tom Schwartz, had to say to LRC heading into the meet.

“I am confident that Drew is fitter than he was two weeks ago. He’s ready to roll!

“Yesterday, I was told the assigned pacer will target 1200m in 2:57, which serves Drew’s needs well. The field is strong, and it should be an exciting race. I believe the fans will be riveted!”

If that’s the case, a fast time could be in the cards: 2:57 for 1200 is 3:57-low mile pace. Hunter hit 1209 in 3:01.18 in his 3:58 and in both his records in 2016, he’s closed very well (57.17 final 400 in his mile, 29.38 last lap in his 3k record).

There will also be a neat race-within-a-race between Oregon Ducks past (Geoghegan), present (Blake Haney) and future (Hunter). Haney, who was third at NCAAs in the 1500 last year, took down Hunter to win the U.S. junior title at 1500 meters in 2015.

Women’s 5000 (4:28 p.m. ET)- Rematch of Worlds 10k

ShelbyHoulihanNike BTCUSA
LizCostelloNew BalanceUSA
AbbeyD’AgostinoNew BalanceUSA
JordanHasayNike OPUSA
RachelSchneiderUnder ArmourUSA
BetsySainaNike BTCKEN
EmilyInfeldNike BTCUSA

The women’s 5000 at Millrose will double as a World Championships rematch as Geleta Burka, Emily Infeld and Molly Huddle — who went 2-3-4 in the exciting women’s 10,000 final in Beijing last year — will all open their 2016 seasons on Saturday. While the lasting image of that race will forever be Infeld nipping Huddle at the line for bronze, it’s a new year, and with it comes new hope.

Burka, Infeld and Huddle will reunite in New York after an epic race at Worlds last year (photo by Cheryl Treworgy, Prettysporty.com)

Burka, Infeld and Huddle will reunite in New York after an epic race at Worlds last year (photo by Cheryl Treworgy, Prettysporty.com)

When Huddle was first announced as competing back in December, Millrose organizers said that she will be attempting the American record, but she backed off on that statement at Thursday’s press conference, saying that she’d like to break 15:00 and that the American record would be a dream scenario. Indeed, it would be quite impressive for Huddle to break the record (14:47.62 by Shalane Flanagan) as it’s only five seconds off Huddle’s outdoor pb (14:42.64) and this is Huddle’s first race of the season (though Flanagan broke it in her first race of the year in 2009). However, with Infeld on record as saying she’d like to run sub-15:00 as well and Burka, who ran 14:40 last year, also in the field, you can expect a fast race from the gun.

It’s February, so obviously not every athlete is in peak shape, but going off recent history, expect a battle between Burka and Huddle up front. Burka (14:31 pb), Huddle (14:42 pb) have both run very fast at this distance; among the rest of the field, only Betsy Saina (14:39 pb) — who regressed slightly last year after an excellent 2014 season — has broken 15:00.

Flanagan is the only American to have broken 15:00 indoors, but if the pace goes fast, there will be several women in addition to Huddle looking to challenge that mark. Infeld (15:07 pb) already stated her intentions, and the two women who finished directly in front of her at USAs last year in the 5k — Marielle Hall (15:06 pb) and Abbey D’Agostino (15:03 pb) — have been in very good form in 2016. Hall has won all four of her races, including a 4:43/9:07 one-day double on January 22 and an 8:54 3k victory on February 5. D’Agostino has run 4:31 and a U.S.-leading 8:51 in the 3k. Though she only ran 8:56 last weekend for 3k in Boston, she was forced to lead the second group for the majority of the race (Meseret Defar broke away early and won the race handily). If someone else is doing the work for D’Agostino, she could come close to her pb on Saturday.

Paavo Nurmi Men’s 3000 Meters (4:56 p.m. ET) – A Battle for North American Supremacy

EdwardCheserekU of OregonKEN
EricJenkinsNike OPUSA
KemoyCampbellNew BalanceJAM
RyanHillNike BTCUSA
MoAhmedNike BTCCAN
EvanJagerNike BTCUSA
AndyBayerNike BTCUSA
LopezLomongNike BTCUSA
HassanMeadNike BTCUSA
CamLevinsNike OPCAN
MattHughesNike BTCCAN

Storylines abound in this men’s 3k. You can view this as a battle to determine the top 3k runner in the Bowerman Track Club (six of Jerry Schumacher’s boys are on the line here) or as a fatal four-way between the four major powers in Oregon distance running: BTC, the Oregon Track Club Elite (Hassan Mead), the Nike Oregon Project (Eric Jenkins, Cam Levins) and the University of Oregon/Andy Powell’s group (Edward Cheserek, Trevor Dunbar). This will also be the first meeting between former college teammates Jenkins and Cheserek since Jenkins graduated from Oregon in June. Has Jenkins closed the gap on his friend since then? (Remember, Jenkins was the last guy to beat Cheserek at NCAAs, doing so at this very distance last year)

For Canadian fans, this race could also be critical in determining their 3k team for next month’s World Indoor Championships. The Canadian Indoor Championships are this weekend, but it does not serve as a qualification meet; per Athletics Canada’s selection policies, the first criteria athletes will be judged on is performance ranking: i.e. time. Cam Levins is the Canadian leader right now at 7:46.51, but assuming this race goes faster than that, selection could come down to which two out of Levins, Matt Hughes and Mo Ahmed crosses the line first (assuming that all three want to run World Indoors).

Cheserek broke 4:00 for the first time at Millrose last year

Cheserek broke 4:00 for the first time at Millrose last year

The implications for the U.S. team aren’t as important (since the top two at USA Indoors go automatically if they have the standard) but with many of the top contenders for the 3k team in this race, the winner will have to like his chances of making the team (of course, Galen Rupp and Garrett Heath will be running at USAs, and perhaps Matthew Centrowitz too). Based on his 2015 season (U.S. titles indoors and outdoors) and devastating kick over the final 200, we lean toward Ryan Hill taking this one.

What we’re most interested to see, though, is Cheserek taking on the big boys in a big race. Cheserek doesn’t have his 3k qualifier for NCAAs this year, but seeing as that’s something he could get at any meet in America, we’re hoping he’s not flying across the country just to get a qualifying mark. Thus, this race could offer a rare glimpse at how Cheserek stacks up against the best in the country at one of his better distances (he finished eighth in the Wanamaker Mile in 3:56.43 last year, but he’s a better 3k runner than miler). And it could also be a chance for Cheserek to chase the collegiate record of 7:38.59, set by Alistair Cragg in 2004. Cheserek has eschewed record chases to this point in his NCAA career, but if he’s coming out here to race (and again, why fly out to New York for a high-profile time trial?), he could challenge that mark if the pace is hot enough up front. Cheserek’s pb is 7:47.20, but that was from two years ago; he should be capable of much faster on Saturday if Powell gives him the green light.

NYRR Women’s Wanamaker Mile (5:24 p.m. ET)- Rowbury Goes for AR

NicoleTullyHoka One OneUSA
ShannonRowburyNike OPUSA
TreniereMoserNike OPUSA
LeahO’ ConnoradidasUSA
CiaraMageeanNew BalanceIRL
KatieMackeyBrooks BeastsUSA
A wobble to the finish line was the only shaky part of Rowbury's race last year at Millrose

A wobble to the finish line was the only shaky part of Rowbury’s race last year at Millrose

Shannon Rowbury won this race in commanding fashion a year ago, and in the 12 months that followed, nothing has happened that would suggest she won’t defend her title on Saturday. So far in 2016, Rowbury has tuned up with an 8:53.52 3k on January 15 (don’t read too much into the time; the race only had two finishers) before winning the mile at the Camel City Elite Races handily in 4:26.01 on the flat track. The only American who has challenged Rowbury at this distance over the past two years is Jenny Simpson, and since Simpson is not in this race, it’s hard to envision Rowbury losing.

The more interesting race is Rowbury against the clock. Last year, Rowbury took a shot at Mary Slaney’s American record of 4:20.5h here and came up short; now, after breaking Slaney’s AR at 1500 outdoors, she is taking another crack at the indoor mark (Rowbury said she was even thinking of going after Doina Melinte’s WR of 4:17.14 until Genzebe Dibaba destroyed it on Wednesday). It will take a big effort from Rowbury to break the record (remember, she only ran 4:22.10 in the mile outdoors last year in Brussels) but if she gets some good pacing, it should be close.

While Rowbury figures to be alone up front chasing the record, she’s not the only talented athlete in this field and the battle for second is wide-open. Kerri Gallagher, who was a surprising addition to the U.S. team at 1500 last year, has looked strong so far this year, most recently winning the 3k at Camel City in 8:56.52. Nicole Tully, who, like Gallagher, broke out in 2015, struggled in her season opener (9:04.85 for 7th in the 3k at the Armory Track Invitational two weeks ago) but is always a threat in a close race.

Efraimson, Uceny and Moser all squared off in the 1500 last week in Boston, with Efraimson coming out on top in 4:12.06 (7th overall); Uceny was 8th in 4:15.88 (after getting tripped up) while Moser (the runner-up at Millrose a year ago) DNF’d after falling.

Finally, there are 2015 NCAA stars Leah O’Connor and Dominique Scott. O’Connor, who set the NCAA meet record in the mile last year (4:27.18) graduated last spring but is still based in East Lansing with coach Walt Drenth; she ran 4:32.76 for second at Notre Dame two weeks ago. Scott only has outdoor eligibility remaining at Arkansas, but with a 4:08.65 1500 pb, she could be a threat here.

Women’s 800 (5:34 p.m. ET)- A Great Clash

800 MetersAjee’WilsonadidasUSA
800 MetersRaevynRogersOregonUSA
800 MetersKimarraMcDonaldUnnattachedJAM
800 MetersLynseySharpNikeGBR
800 MetersLauraRoeslerNikeUSA
800 MetersNatoyaGouleadidasJAM
800 MetersLatoshaWallaceUSAUSA
800 MetersPhoebeWrightNikeUSA
800 MetersBrendaMartineznew balanceUSA

There’s a reason this is the final women’s race of the evening: it’s the best one. Two weeks ago at the Armory Track Invitational, Wilson, Roesler and Sharp engaged in a terrific three-way battle which ended with Wilson (2:02.15) barely holding off Roesler (2:02.18) and Sharp (2:02.25). Roesler actually looked the best of the three, but she found herself blocked entering the home stretch and ran out of time to catch Wilson before the line. Roesler’s comeback from an injury-plagued 2015 has gone tremendously so far (she’s gotten faster in every race in 2016) and a win at Millrose would be the biggest sign yet that she’s back to the form that saw her take second at USAs in 2014.

However, a win will be hard to come by given the quality of this field. Sharp ran 2:00.30, the #2 time in the world this year, last weekend in Boston and Wilson, of course, beat both Sharp and Roesler the last time they raced. Plus you can’t forget about 2013 World Champs bronze medalist Brenda Martinez, who has been in superb form so far in 2016, running 4:04.58 for 1500 in Boston last week.

One other runner to keep an eye on: 19-year-old Oregon sophomore Raevyn Rogers. Rogers ran 1:59.71 to win outdoor NCAAs as a freshman last year and in her first race of 2016, she broke the NCAA 600 record in Seattle (1:26.34). This is her first 800 of the season; don’t be surprised if she takes down Sabrina Southerland’s NCAA leader of 2:03.10.

NYRR Wanamaker Mile (5:50 p.m. ET)- Rematch of Willis vs Centro

MatthewCentrowitzNike OPUSA
DanielWinnBAA adidasUSA
GarrettHeathBrooks BeastsUSA
JordanMcNamaraNike OTCUSA
KyleMerberHoka One OneUSA
CharlesPhilibert ThiboutotAsicsCAN
JordyWilliamszVillanova UniversityAUS
RileyMastersBrooks BeastsUSA
Which of these two men will prevail on Saturday?

Which of these two men will prevail on Saturday?

Once again, the NYRR Millrose Games has delivered a tremendous field for the Wanamaker Mile. The two biggest names are Matthew Centrowitz and Nick Willis, who staged a thrilling duel to the finish last year that earned Centrowitz his second Wanamaker Mile title. Willis has finished second or third in each of his four appearances, and at 32, he’s running out of chances. He desperately wants to win this one.

As they did a year ago, both men enter in fine form. Willis won four races in New Zealand before heading to the States last week; he announced his return with a comfortable world-leading time of 3:53.27 in Boston on Sunday. Centrowitz has been just as impressive. After a rust-busting 7:55 3k in Portland on January 15, he blitzed a 3:54.02 mile at Camel City on January 30 (remember, that was on a flat track) and then stepped up to 3k six days later, where he defeated Hassan Mead, Tom Farrell and other distance specialists to win in 7:40.74.

Given how well both have run and how close last year’s race was, it’s silly to call one man the favorite. Over the course of their careers, Willis has the edge: he’s 9-4 all-time vs. Centro and has faster PRs in the 1500 and mile (though Centro has two World Championship medals to Willis’ one Olympic silver). And last year, Willis won three of their four matchups. But the one he lost was in this race, and Centrowitz has looked untouchable the last two indoor seasons. Bet against him at your peril.

This is more than a two-man race, however. Willis and Centrowitz have to be considered co-favorites but there are several other guys who could break them up. Great Britain’s Chris O’Hare, an NCAA champ at Tulsa, set the collegiate record (since eclipsed) in this race three years ago and went on to make the World Championship final that year. He came up .08 shy of making another WC final last year and has looked tremendous in two races in 2016, running 3:56.00 in Boston on January 30 and 3:54.59 in New York on February 6, both wins.

Garrett Heath has been on fire this year as well, taking down Mo Farah in a 4k XC race in Edinburgh on January 9 before pulling away to win the 3k at Camel City over Lawi Lalang on January 30. Heath said he hadn’t done much speed work at that point, so he could be dangerous now that he’s had three weeks to work on it. However, against pure milers such as Centrowitz, Willis and O’Hare, the strength-oriented Heath may still not have the wheels to take it in a close race.

Wheels aren’t a problem for Robby Andrews: he’s one of the last guys on the circuit you want to see in your rearview mirror. But if the race plays out as it did last year (Centro and Pat Casey were the only guys to go with the rabbit and the winning time was a quick 3:51.35) Andrews will have to make sure that he’s in striking distance if he wants to contend for the win. Andrews has the ability to overcome seemingly insurmountable gaps at the end of races, but even he has his limits, and if Centrowitz/Willis go out near 3:50 pace again, that could prove too rich for Andrews’ blood.

Finally, don’t discount Canadian Charles Philibert-Thiboutot (3:34/WC semifinalist last year) and Cory Leslie, who challenged Centrowitz at Camel City and ran 3:56.25 on the flat track there.