By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom with David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
January 25, 2014
NEW YORK — Here at the 19th annual New Balance Games, an afternoon of fast times and close races brought fans to their feet at The New Balance Track & Field Center at The Armory. Olympian Kim Conley set a new facility record for the women’s mile with her 4:24.54 victory, while Duane Solomon captured the men’s 600 meters and Lee Emanuel was king of the mile in tight finishes.
Conley’s overwhelming win in the mile came as a surprise, as the Olympian at 5000m is thought of as a longer distance specialist. Yet, the 27-year-old knew she had a fast time in her legs.
“My goal was 4:24,” said Conley, who ran 2:05.92 for 800 meters last week in Seattle on an over-sized track. “I didn’t know that this was the race I was going to do it.”
Immediately following pacesetter Stephanie Charnigo from the gun, Conley tucked in behind and passed 440 yards in 64.6 seconds. After reaching halfway in 2:10.3 –just a tad off the 2:10 requested of pacer Charnigo– Conley felt comfortable, but also a bit baffled.
“I was a little surprised [that nobody was close],” she said. The closest competitors –-Nicole Sifuentes, Morgan Uceny, and Sarah Brown— were more than four seconds and ten meters back. “But then I was kind of happy.”
Closing in roughly 34.1 seconds for the final 200 meter lap, Conley crossed the finish with 4:24.54 reading on the clock. Her facial expression was a bit similar to when she qualified for the 5000m at the 2012 Olympic Trials in Eugene: pure excitement and awe. She also set a facility record for 1500m during the race, splitting 4:05.70.
“I just had to run hard, and I knew I was going to win it,” she said. Conley’s time breaks the previous facility record of 4:27.02, set at last year’s NYRR Millrose Games by Sheila Reid. Sifuentes came home second in 4:29.40, and Brown third in 4:29.62.
The men’s mile came down to a last lap tussle between Great Britain’s Lee Emanuel and American Garrett Heath. Through three-quarters of a mile in 2:56.6, Heath held a slight lead on Emanuel, the latter of whom won both the 2009 and 2010 NCAA Indoor Mile titles while at the University of New Mexico.
Entering the bell lap, Heath –coming off an impressive victory at the BUPA Great Edinburgh Cross Country meet– thought he had enough in the tank to pull away.
“I thought I did [have the win],” he said, wearing a bright yellow Brooks vest. “It felt pretty good.”
But Emanuel, who celebrated his 29th birthday yesterday, wasn’t about to let Heath walk away with the title.
“I was kind of sitting on him, hoping to out kick him,” said Emanuel. “I decided to tuck in and get him on the straight… I had to rely on the last 50 meters.”
In those closing meters, Emanuel came up on Heath’s outside shoulder and crossed the line with a pump of the fist in first, 3:54.30 on the clock. Heath was second in 3:54.59. Emanuel broke Irishman Mark Carroll’s 14 year-old meet record of 3:54.98.
“That’s the biggest race I’ve ever won,” said Emanuel in pure jubilation. New Balance’s Craig Miller and Jack Bolas rounded out the top four, timing 3:57.69 and 3:59.38. Adidas’s Robby Andrews did not finish the race.
In a rematch of last year’s NYRR Millrose Games 600 meters, Olympic finalist Duane Solomon and national record holder Erik Sowinski squared off with hopes of setting a new American record.
After passing 400 meters in 51 seconds, Solomon took control of the race with Sowinski a step behind, the latter using the same strategy as he did when setting the American record of 1:15.61 in 2013. Though Solomon appeared to open up a gap down the backstretch, Sowinski pushed hard and made it a close race down the final straight.
Sowinski gave his all to the line, though it was too little too late. Solomon –in what will be his only race of the indoor season– held him off, 1:16.67 to 1:16.78.
“Me and my coach [Johnny Gray] didn’t really have a race plan. It was more of getting the feel of the race,” said Solomon moments after autographing his vest and tossing it to a fan. “With a lap to go, I kind of lost track of what lap I was on… I never picked it up because I was lost.”
New Jersey native Ajee’ Wilson cruised to the women’s 600 meter victory, timing 1:28.27. Running from wire to wire in front, Wilson executed her pre-race plan to perfection.
“I was pretty aggressive for the first lap; I just wanted to get out,” she said. “After that, I just got into a rhythm and maintained.”
Also leading from start to finish was women’s mile steeplechase winner Stephanie Garcia. In the rarely run event, Garcia timed 4:48.97 ahead of Ashley Higginson, the defending champion (4:50.57).
“We knew I needed to get out and just lead it,” she said. “I’m so happy I did.”
Winners of the boy’s and girl’s high school invitational miles were Louis Colson and Laura Leff, respectively. Both earned automatic births in the NYRR Millrose Games with their victories.
“I knew I had to be patient to make my move, and make sure I was up there with the leaders for the bell lap,” said Colson, who hails from Virginia. His final time was 4:18.49, while Leff clocked 5:00.49.
More than 5,000 high school athletes took part in the two-day meet.