NEW YORK (31-Jan) -- It's official: the boards now have two chairmen.
Retaking the lead after a late-race surge by New Zealand's Nick Willis, two-time Olympic medalist Bernard Lagat powered to his seventh Wanamaker Mile title at the 102nd Millrose Games here tonight, equaling the feat of Irishman Eamonn Coghlan, the famed Chairman of the Boards.
Lagat, of Tucson, Ariz., whose previous seven appearances at the Millrose Games gave him more experience on Madison Square Garden's quirky 145.5m banked track than the other five men in the field combined, followed pacemaker Adam Perkins through the first quarter in a swift 56.9 seconds. The two men opened a slight gap on Willis and the rest of the field, but when the pace sagged in the second quarter (1:56.9 at 880 yards), Willis closed up on Lagat, planning his next move carefully.
"It went pretty much to plan," said Willis, the 1500m bronze medalist a the Beijing Olympics. "I purposely held back. I decided to wait."
It takes 11 laps to cover the mile at the Garden, and with two circuits to go Lagat was still leading. Willis waited until the backstretch to pounce, getting by the man he beat at last September's Continental Airlines Fifth Avenue Mile here and was the first to answer the bell.
"I was prepared out there," said Lagat who knew there was still time to react to Willis's move, if only just. "I had enough reserve in the tank. I knew something like that was going to happen."
Lagat went outside, running shoulder-to-shoulder with Willis through the first two turns of the final lap, before pulling away from his rival on the backstretch to win in 3:58.44, the second-slowest winning time the former Kenyan had posted at these Games. Willis finished second in 3:59.48.
Lagat was thrilled that Coghlan was on hand to see him win and present him with the special Waterford Crystal bowl given to the meet's top performer. "This is not any other race for me," said Lagat. "This race means a lot. I have so much respect for Eamonn."
Like Lagat, Kara Goucher of Portland, Ore., also defended her title in the New York Road Runners Women's Mile. Goucher, who made her marathon debut here last November and set a USA debut record of 2:25:53, had already opened up a big lead with four laps to go, and was never seriously challenged. She won by more than four seconds in a personal best 4:33.19, pretty good for a runner doing 95 mile weeks ahead of April's Boston Marathon.
"I love being in New York," Goucher said over the public address system to the delight of the 11,543 fans in attendance. "It's the greatest city in the world."
Goucher said that the mile gave her positive feedback about her marathon training. "The mile tells me that I'm not doing too much," she explained. Then, joking about her coach Alberto Salazar she said, "Apparently, he's not pushing me enough."
There was also spirited competition in the high school miles. In the girls' race, Jillian Smith of Manahawkin, N.J., took the lead with four laps to go and trounced the field in 4:51.88, to defend her title.
"I wasn't really aiming for the record," said Smith referring to Sarah Schwald's 20 year-old meet record of 4:49.94. "I was just going for the win."
With an explosive move with 150 meters to go, Manalapan High School's Robby Andrews dominated the final lap of the boy's high school mile to win by more than two seconds in 4:17.42. Andrews was beaten to second place here last year, and was clearly thrilled with his victory tonight.
"It's all worth it, all the hard work" he said of his training. "It's great to finally have the victory."
Outside the middle distance events, the most compelling performance was by pole vaulter Steven Hooker of Australia, the Beijing Olympics gold medalist. Hooker cleared 6.01m on his first attempt, a Madison Square Garden and Australian record, then thrilled the crowd with three good attempts at 6.16m, which would have been a new world record. Adam Nelson won the shot put in 20.79m on his final throw, and Jenn Stuczynski won the women's pole vault in a world leading 4.71m.