By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
February 15, 2014
NEW YORK — Records fell by the wayside and dramatic finishes played out here at the 107th NYRR Millrose Games at The New Balance Track & Field Center at The Armory. Bernard Lagat broke his third national record here in three years, winning the 2000 meters in 4:54.74, while Mary Cain thrilled her hometown fans with a tactical victory in the NYRR Wanamaker Mile for Women.
Lagat, a four-time Olympian from Tuscon, Ariz., came to the NYRR Millrose Games with a simple goal in mind: win the Paavo Nurmi 2000 meters in a time under Steve Scott’s national record of 4:58.6.
Reaching the mile in 3:59 behind the steady pacemaking of Pat McGregor, Lagat had plenty in reserve. Just as he had told reporters nearly 24 hours before, the two-time Olympic medalist looked at the race as a mile, plus two additional laps of The Armory’s 200 meter track. For those two final laps, he’d be joined by Cam Levins, Andrew Bumbalough, and David Torrence.
Strung out in single file, Lagat took the bell with Levins trying to make a move on the outside. As quickly as Levins came up on Lagat’s shoulder, the door was closed. No one was getting in the way of Lagat and his his record run.
Crossing the line with his hands high in the air, Lagat had re-written the record books once again. Lagat celebrated his record win with the family of Paavo Nurmi, the legendary distance runner who the race was named after.
“It feels so good,” said Lagat. “I knew that my shape was there and I was ready to race.”
When asked if he’d return in 2015 to try and set his fourth consecutive American record at the meet, Lagat said yes without a moment’s hesitation.
“Definitely. While I’m still running as fast as I can right now, all I can do is do my best,” he said. “It’s amazing. You could see me again. Running [this year] is not the end. I’m still going to be running as fast as I can.”
Placing second to Lagat was Levins in a Canadian record 4:55.35, followed Torrence in third, who was also under Scott’s record in 4:56.99. Five athletes in total dipped under five minutes.
While Lagat’s win drew a loud cheer from the capacity crowd, Mary Cain’s victory brought the house down. Living about 30 minutes north of The Armory in Bronxville, N.Y., Cain had many family, friends, and fans in attendance.
Not letting the pressure get to her, Cain ran conservatively through the opening laps, choosing not to follow pacemaker Heather Kampf who hit the 440-yard mark in 64 seconds, just as organizers had asked. Kampf slowed to allow the field to catch-up, but this race wasn’t about time; it was about winning. With about 600 meters remaining, Cain’s Nike Oregon Project teammate Treniere Moser put in an acceleration. Cain responded with ease, leading as the bell sounded.
Opening up her stride, no one could match the 17-year-old’s speed. Unofficially, Cain covered the final 200 meters in 29.7 seconds, leading to a 4:27.73 victory. She capped off her win with a lap of honor, saluting the fans who had risen to their feet. Joining her was runner-up Moser, who ran 4:28.86.
“I always love getting the flowers, it’s always like the best part. I wanted to share it with Treniere cause she did so awesome. That was definitely very special,” said Cain, pausing mid-answer as the National Anthem played in the background.
Speaking about her race, Cain was pleased.
“The goal today was to compete and race hard. That’s what I did and I’m really happy.” she said.
Of note, high schooler Alexa Efraimson (Camas, Wash.) placed sixth overall in a personal best 4:32.15, defeating a three professionals and three collegians.
While the women’s mile was a purely kicker’s affair, the men’s race had both a fast pace and a dramatic finish. University of Arizona star Lawi Lalang was intent on breaking the collegiate record, pushing the pace behind the designated pacemaker, Brian Gagnon, early on. Gagnon hit the first quarter in about 57 seconds, and halfway in 1:55.5.
Lalang’s eagerness led to the field stringing out after Gagnon retired at 1000 meters. Nick Willis was the only one to keep direct contact through the middle stages. As Lalang and Willis battled at the bell, both were beginning to feel their early efforts.
At that exact moment, Will Leer –roughly ten meters behind– started his kick.
“I kind of lost track of laps. You couldn’t hear a split because it was so loud in here,” he explained. “I was going by Nate [Brannen], going by Leo [Manzano], coming up on Craig Miller and I hear ding ding ding. I’m like ‘Oh Crap! I got to go! I got a lot left.'”
Go he did, catching Lalang and Willis around the final bend. The three men barreled down the homestretch with Leer on the outside, Lalang in the middle and Willis on the inside. Leer just edged his rivals in 3:52.47, with Lalang getting second in a collegiate record of 3:52.88, and Willis a close third in 3:53.02. Seven men broke 3:57.
“To be able to pull out a win here is absolutely enormous and gives me a great amount of confidence,” said Leer, who wears a thick beard.
Finishing eleventh in 4:06.11 was Alan Webb, running in his final professional race.
“I’m just overwhelmed with gratitude,” said Webb, emotion building in his eyes. “I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
New Balance’s Kim Conley dominated the women’s 3000 meters, breaking from the field within the first kilometer and never looking back. Though Dartmouth’s Abbey D’Agostino and Iowa State alum Betsy Saina made hard efforts late to catch the 2012 Olympian, they were to no avail. Conley’s winning time of 8:48.35 was a new facility record by nearly ten seconds. The first nine women broke 9:02, the IAAF World Championships qualifying mark.
“I really love The Armory,” said Conley, who now owns two Armory records; in January she timed 4:24.54 to win the New Balance Games mile in a facility best.
The Mel Sheppard Men’s 1000m was billed as an American record attempt, but that never panned out. France’s Pierre-Ambroise Bosse claimed the victory in 2:17.63, while Erik Sowinski placed second in 2:18.63. Nick Symmonds, the IAAF World Championships silver medalist over 800 meters, finished third in 2:18.87.
“I guess the record isn’t so soft,” said Symmonds, speaking of David Krummenacker’s national mark of 2:17.86, which has stood since 2002.
The women’s Road to Rio 800m, which showcased teen-aged athletes, was won by IAAF World Championships finalist Ajee’ Wilson in 2:01.81. A week after a disappointing showing at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston, Wilson returned in front of her home crowd to claim the win. It would take a strong surge around 18-year-old Aníta Hinriksdóttir to capture the title.
New York’s Luke Gavigan and Virginia’s Caroline Alcorta claimed victories in the New Balance High School miles. Their winning marks were 4:08.96 and 4:46.06, respectively.
“I think today was a terrific track and field meet,” said Dr. Norbert Sander, executive director of the Armory Foundation. “Overall it was a very, very successful event. With records and great races, we couldn’t ask for more.”