By Chris Lotsbom, @chrislotsbom
NEW YORK (13-Sep) -- Americans swept the top spots here at the 34th annual NYRR Fifth Avenue Mile, as Jenny Simpson claimed her third title in four years and Jordan McNamara won his first crown here on the streets of Manhattan. It was the eighth time in event history that a pair of Americans broke the tape first.
Simpson Makes History With Third Crown
American Jenny Simpson came into today's NYRR Fifth Avenue Mile knowing that a win would guarantee her place in history, for no woman had ever claimed more than two titles. From the time she lined up near the Metropolitan Museum of Art until the moment she broke the tape in Grand Army Plaza, a resolute stare never left the 28-year-old's face.
Leading wire to wire, Simpson would break the finish tape in 4:19.4, securing her third title and the $5,000 first place prize.
"Every race I get nervous, every race I know that there are people who are raising the bar and raising the level," said Simpson, clutching an American flag. "I just feel really fortunate. This year went so well, I don't want to take it for granted."
As soon as the gun sounded, Simpson bolted to the front just as she did in her winning run twelve months ago. Under orders from Alberto Salazar, the Nike Oregon Project trio of Mary Cain, Jordan Hasay, and Treniere Moser tucked in directly behind.
"I just sat on her and I felt good," said Hasay, who trailed Simpson by a step at the quarter mile mark, reached in 62 seconds. "It's just an honor to be out there with her."
Charging up the slight hill to the midway point, Simpson still had the gritty determined look on her face, appearing strong and in control. She'd take home the $1,000 premium for leading at halfway.
Sticking to her pre-race strategy and not letting anyone come up on her shoulder, Simpson passed the three-quarters mark in 3:17. While in the lead, she used the crowd's cheers to gauge how close her competitors were.
With 300 meters to go, fellow New Balance athletes Brenda Martinez --the 2012 champion-- and Ireland's Ciara Mageean were beginning their kicks and had momentum on their side, closing the gap ever so slightly.
However, the day belonged to Simpson, matching her competitors sprint with a kick of her own. She'd cross the line first in 4:19.4, followed closely by Martinez (4:19.6) and Mageean (4:21.2). American Heather Kampf and Norway's Ingvill Makestad Bovim rounded out the top five in 4:21.4 and 4:21.9, respectively. A record 14 women broke 4:30.
"I really knew to save one final big push for that last two blocks and I'm just so grateful it was enough to win it," said a smiling Simpson. "I don't know if I'll ever use that strategy again because it's just so hard to run that way [from the front]."
The moment Simpson reached the finish line, her season had come to a close. Up next is 14 days of no running at all. Next year, Simpson said she plans on returning to defend her win and go for title number four.
"I'll try to win fifteen years in a row if I can!" Simpson joked with one reporter. "It's great to be on top and doing well, but it's especially fun to win this race."
Though they didn't win, both Martinez and Mageean were proud of how they fought all the way through the finish.
"I'm absolutely over the moon," said a glowing Mageean who had struggled with injuries the last two seasons. "Returning home feeling quite happy and very proud to have the tri-colored flag flying up there in the Fifth Avenue Mile. I hope we did our country proud out here today."
Other notable finishers included Morgan Uceny in sixth (4:22.0), Hannah England in seventh (4:23.1), and Mary Cain in tenth (4:25.5). Cain did not speak to the media following her race, although she cheered home the children's which followed the professionals and then did a workout at the Central Park Reservoir with her coach, Alberto Salazar.
In her final race as a professional, Canada's Diane Cummins, 40, placed 18th in 4:40.2.
McNamara Prevails In A Photo-Finish
A pair of races played out on the men's side, one midway through and one at the finish. Bursting from the start was Will Leer and Lawi Lalang, establishing themselves at the head of the sixteen-man field. Hours before the race, a number of athletes had joked around about who would be the one to push the pace and go for the $1,000 prime at halfway (given to the leader as long as they break 4:00 at the finish). Immediately it was apparent that Leer and Lalang's eyes were on the prize.
"Dangle the carrot and someone's going to bite," Leer told Race Results Weekly. "Unfortunately there were two of us there trying to eat the same food. We went for it, absolutely."
Passing the quarter mile in 57 seconds, the pair would steadily gain a five meter gap on the field, ultimately hitting halfway in approximately 1:56. At that very instant Leer made a slight lean to nip Lalang for the rights to $1,000. Subsequently, both athletes slowed the pace and re-joined the field.
The next major move came with 400 meters to go, when last year's third place finisher Garrett Heath injected a surge that seemed to catch the rest of the field off guard.
Powering his way towards the finish, Heath was trailed by Ireland's Paul Robinson and Kenya's Augustine Choge. Doing all he could to maintain form, Heath kept his eyes forward and hoped for the best.
"I think my strength is just pushing from a long ways out and making it a long, hard surge," said Heath. "I made them work for it... I couldn't tell where anybody was though."
While Heath kept his form in the middle of the roadway, on the far right-hand side was Jordan McNamara, a mile ace who claimed this year's GNC Live Well Liberty Mile in Pittsburgh. About five meters from the line, McNamara pulled up and matched Heath stride for stride.
With his left arm reached skyward pointing the number one, McNamara leaned and took the win in 3:51.0. Heath recorded the same time for second, with Robinson third in 3:51.1. Choge, fourth, finish a tenth of a second later in 3:51.2.
"I was just hanging on for the first 800m it was so fast, and I knew the last 800m would go around 1:52 so I just told myself to stay in position," McNamara told Race Results Weekly, sporting the Oregon Track Club vest. "I saw with 400 to go that people were starting to come back and I got excited a little bit.
"I thought I was second place until the last three steps," McNamara continued with a sly smile. "To cross first against a great field, it's a real privilege."
McNamara joins a list of notable American winners that include Steve Scott, Bernard Lagat, and Matthew Centrowitz. Centrowitz, 24, wound up sixth today in 3:52.4
"I hope it just solidifies my place in American distance running and I hope people really take me seriously because I've got my eyes on [the Olympics in] 2016," said McNamara.
Early leaders Lalang and Leer wound up ninth and 12th, 3:53.9 and 3:55.9 their times. Because Leer finished in under 4:00, he earned the coveted $1,000 halfway bonus.
Fifteen of the sixteen man field finished under 4:00, nine of whom were under 3:54.
PHOTO: Jenny Simpson edges Brenda Martinez to win her third Fifth Avenue Mile (Photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
PHOTO: In a photo finish, Jordan McNamara (l) wins his first Fifth Avenue Mile over Garrett Heath, Paul Robinson and Augustine Choge (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)