RRW: Matt Centrowitz Claims Second NYRR Wanamaker Mile At NYRR Millrose Games

By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

NEW YORK (14-Feb) — With the near capacity crowd on their feet and the decibel level rising, Matthew Centrowitz claimed his second NYRR Wanamaker Mile title in dramatic fashion here at the 108th NYRR Millrose Games. Breaking the tape a step ahead of New Zealand’s Nick Willis in 3:51.35, Centrowitz’s performance capped off a jam-packed evening of exciting races.

Entering tonight’s mile, Centrowitz had two things on his mind: take home the win, and attempt to set an American record. From the gun, Centrowitz went with rabbit Mark Wieczorek, passing the quarter mile in under 56 seconds, and the halfway point in about 1:55. The only one to stay relatively close with Centrowitz was Nike Oregon Track Club member Pat Casey.

“It was kind of hard to tell if anyone was behind me,” said Centrowitz. “I just wanted to get out controlled. I wanted a faster time today.”

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As Wieczorek stepped off the track just past the 1000 meter mark, Centrowitz looked comfortable, right where he wanted to be in the pole position. While the pace wasn’t quite up to American record standards, it was still fast, Centrowitz pressing on with the patient Casey hot on his heels.

Sitting in third was Willis, the 2008 Olympic silver medalist and current world leader. Lap by lap Willis chipped away at the gap up to Centrowitz and Casey, thinning it to less than a second with a quarter mile to go. Shortly thereafter he’d pass Casey.

As the bell sounded, Willis and Centrowitz were primed for a battle that would go down in NYRR Millrose Games history. Down the backstretch and around the final bend, Willis came up on the outside of Centrowitz’s shoulder. Side by side, whoever got the inside around the bend would have a slingshot advantage.

“Once Willis came up on me on the backstretch I knew if I let him by me at that point then it was game over,” said Centrowitz, who managed to gain a slight advantage as the crowd’s roars grew louder. “I pretty much gave a hard effort there, I would say close to [being] all out just to fight him to the corner. I think at that point, the last 50, [between] him and I it was whoever could hold on at that point.”

At the line it would be Centrowitz stopping the clock in 3:51.35, just off Lopez Lomong’s 2013 meet record of 3:51.21. Willis took runner-up honors in 3:51.46, just topping his own national record.

“It’s a big deal,” said Centrowitz, moments after hoisting the winner’s trophy, a large silver cup that bears a resemblance to hockey’s Stanley Cup. “This is a second home to me, competing in front of my family and friends. Millrose is a big deal, it’s a big race in the indoor season. To me it’s kind of like the U.S. Championships for indoors.”

Centrowitz drew inspiration from Eamonn Coghlan, the seven-time NYRR Wanamaker Mile champion who was on hand here tonight. Watching replays of Coghlan’s wins before tonight’s race, Centrowitz said he dug down deep hoping to recreate the magic Coghlan once brought to the track.

Despite running a personal best and national record, Willis was disappointed and frustrated.

“I really really wanted to win this race. It’s a historic event, the Wanamaker Mile, and I’ve yet to come away with a win,” said Willis. “I’ve gotten second twice and third twice, and this is the closest I’ve been. A really good race but Matt was too strong for me down the backstretch.”

While the cheers for Centrowitz’s performance were loud, they were just as emphatic when it was announced that 40-year-old Bernard Lagat had broken the indoor world masters record for the 1500m and mile. Finishing fourth in 3:54.91, Lagat eclipsed Coghlan’s mile time of 3:58.15.

“I’ve never been in a race that was as stacked as that,” said Lagat, whose 1500m en route time of 3:40.20 also broke the existing indoor world masters record of 3:44.12. “I am going home so content with what I did today. Really happy because I haven’t done a mile indoors in a long time and coming back, doing 3:54 after four years of not running [the mile indoors], to me that is not bad.”

Surrounded by media members, Lagat praised Centrowitz for his gutsy performance up front, and made a bold prediction: that Centrowitz would take home gold at the IAAF World Championships 1500m this summer in Beijing. Lagat also feels Centrowitz will break his American indoor mile national record next year.

As for his thoughts on Lagat, a mentor and friend, Centrowitz joked around.

“When I’m 40 I’ll probably be bench pressing like 300 [pounds] in the weight room and I don’t know if I’ll even be running a mile at that point,” he said with a laugh before offering his congratulations to his fellow Nike athlete.

University of Oregon teammates Edward Cheserek and Johnny Gregorek both broke four-minutes for the first time in their careers, running 3:56.43 and 3:57.47 for eighth and tenth place, respectively.

“I was dreaming about it all the time,” said Cheserek. “I was like ‘Hey coach can you give me a chance to go run four minutes.’ It’s a dream come true.”

Sixth place Chris O’Hare clocked the 100th sub-4:00 mile at The Armory; he was timed in 3:55.35.

The Nike Oregon Project swept the NYRR Wanamaker Women’s Mile titles, as Shannon Rowbury took home the women’s crown in 4:24.32, though not without a little drama. Like Centrowitz, Rowbury got out strong, settling in right behind the rabbit, Melissa Salerno. Set to split 880 yards in under  2:10, the only athletes to go with the pacesetter were Rowbury, teammates Jordan Hasay, Treniere Moser, and Mary Cain, as well as Arizona State’s Shelby Houlihan.

At halfway Rowbury found herself right where she wanted to be, powering each step out front with her eyes on the clock. Feeling strong, she’d begun to gap Hasay and Moser.

By the time the bell sounded, it was Rowbury against the clock, or so many thought. With 50 meters remaining, Rowbury’s legs locked up. Slowing mightily, the 30-year-old reached her arms out a bit and gritted her teeth. For an instant it looked as if she may fall to the track.

“I tried to start moving and I think it just caught up to me in the end,” said Rowbury with a chuckle. “I just had that elephant on my back the last 50 meters or so.”

Rowbury remained calm and composed, shuffling across the line in 4:24.32, still managing to break the ceremonial finisher’s tape.

“I knew I had an American record in me today, but, well, I thought I did,” Rowbury said before assuring everyone she did not feel injured. “I’d love to have another opportunity to go after it because I know I’m capable. Just today wasn’t the day.”

Behind Rowbury, Moser moved up for second in 4:27.49, with Stephanie Charnigo finishing third in 4:28.02. Hasay and Morgan Uceny rounded out the top five in 4:28.27 and 4:29.39, respectively, with Cain a distance eighth in 4:31.31.

Whenever Bowerman Track Club’s Lopez Lomong returns to his home state, he aims to put on a show for his loyal supporters. That he did in the men’s 5000m, relying on a finely-timed kick to secure the title in 13:27.60.

While teammate Ryan Hill and Japan’s Suguru Osako did most of the front-running, it was Lomong sitting in the catbird’s seat biding his time. With a World Championships-qualifying time likely out of the picture, no one wanted to make too-bold of a move until the final 400 meters came.

It was Lomong’s final 200 meter circuit that proved to be the deciding factor, as the two-time Olympian recorded a 27.45 second last lap, holding off both Hill and Osako.

“I grew up in this beautiful state, I grew up in Upstate New York, and this is my second time running Millrose Games in my professional life,” said Lomong, saying the meet is like a trip to Disney Land. “I’ve always wanted to come and win [here] because this is the state that really supported me at a young age and all through my professional life.”

Reflecting on Lomong’s victory and Hill’s 13:27.80 hard fought second place, coach Jerry Schumacher smiled and laughed.

“Lopez loves Millrose,” Schumacher told Race Results Weekly. “It was a pretty exciting race, right? Eight, six guys in it with a lap to go, that’s what racing is all about. Those are the best races.”

Osako took third in a Japanese national record of 13:28.00. Two weeks after winning a pair of races at the Armory Track Invitational, Cam Levins placed sixth in 13:33.35.

In the women’s 3000m, Olympic silver medalist Sally Kipyego and former Iowa State standout Betsy Saina battled valiantly over the final 400 meters, trading the lead at the bell. Coming to New York directly from training stints in their native Kenya, the pair exchanged surges before Kipyego gained an advantage around the final bend.

Finishing in a meet record and world lead of 8:41.72, Kipyego said the victory demonstrated a lot about her current form. She is building up for a half marathon next month.

“I was in Kenya for about seven weeks and it was fantastic,” she said. “I think today, this is a good showing about where I am with my training because I have been doing a lot of strength work.”

Eric Jenkins of the University of Oregon won the men’s 3000m in 7:44.91, nearly the fastest time ever run by an American collegiate athlete. Sporting retro Oregon singlets, Jenkins and teammate Will Geoghegan took first and second ahead of Bowerman Track Club’s Andy Bayer.

“It was a good race, I’m pleased with it nonetheless,” said Jenkins, a native of New Hampshire. “It means a lot to come back East and run well… The training’s been great and you can’t ask for anything more than to train with the guys we’ve been training with.”

In the men’s 1000m, New Jersey native Robby Andrews surged hard with 150 meters remaining, giving Nike’s Erik Sowinski a run for his money. Rounding the final bend step for step, it would take all Sowinski had to hold off Andrews at the line. That he did, prevailing by five-hundredths of a second 2:21.18 to 2:21.23.

“I was nervous, I mean that guy can close off a pace like that,” said Sowinski. “I’m happy with the win, every time you get a win it’s good. It’s my third race [of the season] but I feel like it’s the first where I actually got to race… It’s the first race I got to sit in there and actually race at the end so I’m excited about that.”

Ajee’ Wilson earned her third victory of the season at The Armory, winning the 800m going away in 2:01.57. She is unsure whether she’ll race the 600m or 1000m at the USA Championships in two weeks time.

The Boys and Girls High School miles were swept by athletes from New Jersey, as James Burke claimed the Boys win in 4:11.25 and Catherine Pagano the Girls in 4:50.66.

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