September 3, 2016
The 2016 New Balance Fifth Avenue Mile produced one historic victory, one massive upset and two incredible races on a fast day in New York. The two professional miles were decided by a combined two-tenths of a second as Jenny Simpson earned her record fifth title by nipping Great Britain’s Diamond League champion Laura Muir, 4:18.3 to 4:18.4, while Eric Jenkins shocked Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz to steal the men’s race at the line, 3:49.4 to 3:49.5. Simpson and Spain’s Isaac Viciosa entered the day tied with four wins apiece, but Simpson’s victory today — her fifth in six years — made her the first man or woman to win the event five times. Both the men and women really got after it on a 75-degree in the Big Apple. Simpson’s winning time was #2 in the event’s 36-year history, behind only PattiSue Plumer‘s 4:16.68 in 1990, while Jenkins’ 3:49.4 was the fastest men’s time since 1995.
Both Simpson and Jenkins were rewarded handsomely by their quick runs as they took home $10,000 each — $5,000 for the win from the New York Road Runners and an additional $5,000 from T-Mobile CEO and running superfan John Legere, who offered bonuses to any woman under 4:20 or man under 3:50 (the $25,000 Legere offered for a course record went unclaimed).
Ben Blankenship is comfortable running at the front of races and employed a similar strategy to the one that delivered him the U.S. road mile title back in May, moving to the lead immediately and taking the field through the quarter mile in a quick 55 seconds. Though most of the field was still in contention at that point, Blankenship did not relent and the pack quickly thinned out. Centrowitz and Olympic 800 bronze medallist Clayton Murphy sat behind Blankenship along with Chris O’Hare as the rest of the field began to drop back. Murphy, sensing the $1,000 prime (awarded to the leader at halfway) was within reach, made a bid for the lead and used his 800 speed to emerge on top in a brief duel with Blankenship, hitting halfway in 1:53.
Murphy backed off, hoping to muster his energy for the final kick, while Blankenship pressed on alone up front. He quickly had company, however, as Centrowitz had moved onto his shoulder by the 1k mark. Murphy was moving backwards as Colby Alexander took his place in third. Centrowitz made his move with 400 to go, dropping Blankenship, and this one looked as if it was over. Surely no one was running down the Olympic champion over the final quarter mile?
No one told Alexander, and by 200 to go he was on Centro’s shoulder and moving into the lead. And out of nowhere, the two leaders were suddenly joined by Eric Jenkins — three seconds behind Centro at the 3/4 mark — who was charging like a bat out of hell. Centro retook the lead from Alexander with 100 to go and once again seemed to have the race won. As he neared the finish line, he glanced back at his gap on Alexander to his left but neglected to check on Jenkins on his right, who was still picking up steam. It was close, but Jenkins clearly got the great Centrowitz at the line and earned a well-deserved victory in 3:49.4. A surprised Centrowitz, who only saw Jenkins once it was too late, was second in 3:49.5 as Alexander took third in 3:50.3, ensuring that Oregon Ducks went 1-2-3.
Top 10 results
1. Eric Jenkins, 3:49.4
2. Matthew Centrowitz, 3:49.5
3. Colby Alexander, 3:50.3
4. Clayton Murphy, 3:52.3
5. Charles Philibert-Thiboutot, 3:52.5
6. Chris O’Hare, 3:53.0
7. Ford Palmer, 3:53.3
8. Ben Blankenship, 3:53.9
9. Leo Manzano, 3:54.4
10. Kyle Merber, 3:55.3
Quick Take #1: Jenkins has some serious wheels
We already knew Jenkins had closing speed. He was moving faster than anyone at the end of the Olympic Trials 5,000 but mistimed his kick slightly, finishing .06 behind eventual Olympic silver medallist Paul Chelimo for the third and final spot on Team USA. Then on July 29, he hit the Olympic standard in the 1500 meters, running 3:35.94, a personal best by over three seconds. But it’s one thing to close well in a 5k and run 3:35 in a quick 1500; it’s quite another to spot the Olympic 1500 champ three seconds with 400 to go and run him down in a mile. Obviously, that doesn’t make Jenkins a better miler than Centrowitz, who’s had a lot more travel and obligations than Jenkins in recent weeks. But today’s win over a stacked field was evidence that Jenkins can really kick. The fact that a guy like Jenkins couldn’t even make the Olympics also shows just how good the U.S. is at 5,000 meters right now.
Quick Take #2: The times today were ridiculous
In the past 10 editions of the Fifth Avenue Mile, only two men had broken 3:51: Nick Willis (2008) and Bernard Lagat (2008 and 2011). Three men did it today (Jenkins, Centrowitz and Alexander), with Jenkins and Centrowitz running the fastest times since Isaac Viciosa’s 3:47.8 in 1995. Why were the times so quick? Well the course is slightly downhill (the second quarter is uphill but the rest is a gradual downhill), weather was perfect (75 degrees with a tailwind) and the field had a de facto rabbit in Blankenship. Combine those factors with Legere’s bonus and there was no reason for the times to be slow today.
Quick Take #3: The halfway prime is an interesting wrinkle
The Fifth Avenue Mile is a fun event and the unofficial end to the track season (even though it’s a road race) for many U.S. pros. As such, it’s a good race to try out different ideas that you may not see much during the regular season, such as the $1,000 bonus for the leader at halfway. The prime certainly looked as if it made a big impact on Clayton Murphy’s race as he made a big surge to get the lead at halfway but was never a factor in the final 400. There’s no way to say how Murphy would have done if he hadn’t made his mid-race move, but it certainly didn’t help him as one of the U.S.’s best tactical runners had nothing at the end of this one.
Quick Take #4: This race needs to be on TV
The races were shown for free on USATF.TV, and while that’s better than charging viewers to watch, it’s not as good as last year, when the elite miles were shown live on ESPN2. Yes, we know that it’s the first Saturday of the college football season. But this race had America’s first Olympic 1500 champion in 108 years and three other U.S. 2016 Olympic medallists (Murphy, Simpson and Coburn) were in the fields. It’s not a great sign for track and field in America when a race like this can’t get televised during an Olympic year.
Simpson, Muir and Kate Grace showed no ill effects from racing less than 48 hours earlier on the track in Zurich as those three led the way in the earlygoing, passing the quarter mark in around 63 seconds. Those three remained near the front during the second quarter as Morgan Uceny made a desperate attempt for the halfway prime but was beaten by a step by Muir (2:12 unofficial). Muir and Simpson got a couple of steps on the rest of the field but were quickly reeled in and at the 3/4 mark (3:16), five women were tightly bunched — Simpson, Muir, Grace, Amanda Eccleston and road mile queen Heather Kampf, who ran to the left of the pack. Muir really started digging and she and Simpson — the two fastest by far on paper — began to separate for good. Muir dropped the others but could not shake Simpson, and with about 125 meters to go, Simpson got a step on Muir. She’d hold that slight advantage all the way to the line, just edging Muir for the win and earning revenge for a couple of Diamond League defeats to the Scot in Paris and Zurich.
Top 10 results
1. Jenny Simpson, 4:18.3
2. Laura Muir, 4:18.4
3. Heather Kampf, 4:19.7
4. Amanda Eccleston, 4:20.6
5. Kate Grace, 4:22.7
6. Shelby Houlihan, 4:23.0
7. Nicole Sifuentes, 4:23.2
8. Katie Mackey, 4:23.5
9. Emma Coburn, 4:23.8
10. Morgan Uceny, 4:24.6
Simpson and Muir have raced three 1500/miles in eight days in three countries and two continents, and each woman has put up world-class performance in all three of them. Check out the results:
August 27 (Paris): 1st, 3:55.22 (British record)
September 1 (Zurich): 2nd, 3:57.85 (her #3 time ever)
September 3 (New York): 2nd, 4:18.5 (road/track mile pb)
August 27 (Paris): 6th, 3:58.19 (her #3 time ever)
September 1 (Zurich): 4th, 3:58.54 (her #5 time ever)
September 3 (New York): 1st, 4:18.3 (road/track mile pb)
After the physical, mental and emotional stress of the Olympics (plus a lot of travel), it would have been easy for Simpson and Muir to lose focus, but they showed that they’re true professionals by stringing together three terrific races. Both women have earned a well-deserved break before regrouping for 2017, which is definitely a good thing.
“I’m really tired,” Simpson told USATF.TV. “I’m really, really ready for this to be the last mile.”
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