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Posted: January 30, 2007

Athletics: Looking Back And Ahead, Coghlan And Lagat Size Up Wanamaker Mile

From David Monti

© 2006 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

NEW YORK (29-Jan) -- With 11 Wanamaker Mile victories between them, Eamonn Coghlan and Bernard Lagat chatted with reporters over lunch at a Midtown restaurant here today, definitely savoring their memories of the Millrose Games more than their Chicken Française.

Coghlan, 54, whose seven Wanamaker Mile titles in 1977, 1979-81, 1983, 1985 and 1987) earned him the nickname "Chairman of the Boards," looked over Lagat and liked what he saw.

"First of all, he's a gentleman," said the Irishman who added, "I think he has everything."

Everything, but three more Wanamaker titles to draw even with Coghlan, who retired meet director Howard Schmertz described today as "the greatest performer in Millrose history."

It's hard to argue with that assessment. Coghlan's dering-do on the old wooden track at Madison Square Garden helped sell tickets and earned him fans around the world. He learned to master running on small tracks, and he said he sometimes raced as many as three times in one weekend back when the U.S. indoor circuit was more robust. But it was Millrose that made "Coghlan" a household word.

"It's really an honor to be part of the celebrations," Coghlan said of attending the 100th edition of the meet on Friday, and a special gala the day before.

In a career full of memorable Millrose moments, he said that his best victory in the Wanamaker Mile was his last against countryman Marcus O'Sullivan.

"It would have been my last one because in 1986 Marcus beat me," Coghlan recalled. He trained dilligently for the 1987 edition in anticipation of the rematch. "I got myself in really good shape," he said.

It was Steve Ovett's first-ever run at Millrose, and the Briton joked that running on the little 145m Garden track was like running "in a bathtub without faucets." Coghlan said he lined up on the outside of the stagger so he could have a clear shot at the first turn. After the gun, he tucked in and waited.

"I just sat in the back of the pack," he said.

O'Sullivan made his move with a lap and one-half to go, Coghlan stuck with him and shot past his younger rival on the turn to take the win as the crowd roared. Coghlan recalls that O'Sullivan was smiling when he passed him.

"It was probably one of the most emotional (victories) of my indoor career," he said.

Lagat listened and smiled, his mind replaying his own victories including his sizzling 3:52.87 clocking in 2005 which took down Coghlan's 3:53-flat meet record set in 1981. He was clearly excited about his race on Friday where he will face Australian Craig Mottram, Americans Alan Webb and Chris Lukezic, Ukranian Ivan Heshko, and Canadian Nate Brannen.

"I'm really excited to run with them," said Lagat who traveled to New York with his wife, Gladys, and his one year-old son, Miika. "It gives me another challenge."

Lagat, who became an American citizen in 2004, won here in 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2006 (he was second in 2002). At 32, it is possible that he could tie Coghlan's record before he retires. The Irishman, who was 34 when he got his last Wanamaker victory, said he likes Lagat's chances on Friday night and sees him as the favorite, citing his experience.

"I have to go with Bernard for the win," said Coghlan. He pointed to Mottram's size as a handicap on the tight track and that Heshko would have a hard time using his kick because the final straightaway is so short. He also said that Webb would be a factor. "He's obviously in really good shape," he said.

Both Coghlan and Lagat share a strong sense of tradition, which --besides the generous appearance fees-- is what drew them to Millrose in the first place.

"I think Millrose has a good tradition," said Lagat. "I think it is a unique event."

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