RRW: Great Day For Scotland as Jemma Reekie (4:22) & Jake Wightman (3:50) Prevail at New Balance Fifth Avenue Mile

By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2021 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

Jake Wightman wins the 2021 New Balance Fifth Avenue Mile (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)

NEW YORK (12-Sep) — On a glorious late summer day in Manhattan, Jemma Reekie and Jake Wightman of Scotland posted convincing wins at the 40th running of the New Balance Fifth Avenue Mile, the world’s oldest and most prestigious road mile.  Reekie, from Kilbarchan, clocked 4:21.6 while Wightman, who was born in England but raised in Edinburgh, ran 3:49.5.  It was the first time that two Scots won on Fifth Avenue since the race was founded in 1981, and only the second time that two British athletes were race champions in the same year (the last time was in 1987 when Peter Elliott and Kirsty Wade were the winners).

Reekie, 23, used a cautious approach to today’s race.  In the first quarter, which has a sharp downhill, she stayed with the pack while Alicia Monson of Boulder, Colo., ran well ahead of the field.  The race offers a $1,000 prime for the first athlete at halfway, but Monson said she was just trying to get the race going, and feel her way along in her first road mile.

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“I was just trying to push the pace,” Monson told Race Results Weekly.  “I just kind of wanted to see what would happen.”

Monson had a clear lead at halfway (about 2:15) and did win the prime, but she was soon rolled up by Marisa Howard of Boise, Idaho, then moments later the rest of the pack.  Reekie continued to wait and tried to tuck in and shelter herself from the wind.

“I was patient,” Reekie said.  “I was warned by so many athletes to be patient.  I was just like, don’t think and just run.”

Monson didn’t fold, however, and latched on to Howard, Reekie, Dani Jones, Canadian Kate Van Buskirk, Shannon Osika, and Nikki Hiltz.  All seven women were still in contention for the win with a quarter mile to go.

Then Hiltz made a powerful move to the front.  Reekie responded to Hiltz’s left, Van Buskirk to their right, and Jones and Osika behind them.  With four minutes showing on the clock, Reekie began her final sprint in the center of the roadway and Hiltz couldn’t match the Scotswoman’s speed. Reekie, who finished fourth in the Olympic 800m, was a clear winner over Hiltz in second (4:23.0), Osika in third (4:23.4) and Van Buskirk in fourth (4:23.8).  Jones ended up fifth and Monson sixth.

“She ran a great race,” said Reekie’s coach Andy Young who pointed out that she had never worn her white, Nike road racing shoes until she did her pre-race strides.  “She’s in great shape for her very last race of the season.  She’d keep going if she could.”

Wightman, who previously won on Fifth Avenue in 2018, also took a patient approach to today’s race.  The 16-man field stayed close together, hitting the first quarter in under 57 seconds.  Two-time Olympic medalist Paul Chelimo of Colorado Springs, was on the front with Australian Olympian Ollie Hoare and Hoare’s On Athletics Club teammate Joe Klecker of Boulder, Colo.

Just a few meters later, 2016 Olympic 1500m champion Matthew Centrowitz –wearing pink racing shoes– eased to the front on the west side of the roadway next to Hoare, surged hard, and picked up the halfway bonus in about 1:58.  Centrowitz, who won on Fifth Avenue in 2012, had never gone for the prime before.

“Around 700 (meters into the race) I felt kind of good,” Centrowitz told Race Results Weekly.  “I thought, why not go for it?  It was fun.”

Centrowitz eased back on his pace and with 2:25 on the clock the field caught him, again with Klecker and Hoare on the lead.  The pace was clearly picking up, and Wightman started to work his way to the front on the west side of the roadway.  Everything was going according to plan.

“The thing is, you win it once you know how to run it,” Wightman explained to Race Results Weekly.  “You have to be as patient as possible.”

With 3:26 showing on the clock, Wightman was in the lead with Hoare right on his heels.  Klecker was a step behind, and Sam Prakel, Vince Ciattei and Jake Heyward remained close.  Wightman opened his stride fully in the final meters and his form was crisp right to the tape.  Hoare kept it close, but had to settle for second in 3:50.3.  Heyward, who is British but runs for the Nike Oregon Track Club in Eugene, got third in 3:50.4.  Prakel was given the same time as Heyward in fourth.  Klecker faded to 11th and Centrowitz to 14th.

Today’s race capped a good season for Wightman where he finished second in the British Athletics Championships at 1500m and took tenth in the Olympic Games in the same discipline.

“This is the best place to finish it,” he said.

Throughout the history of the race, British athletes have done well.  British men have now won seven times, and British women 6 times.  Some of Britain’s best athletes have been Fifth Avenue champions including Peter Elliott (three times) and Paula Radcliffe (twice).  But never have two Scottish athletes won on the same day.

“It might not happen again,” said Wightman.

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