By Rich Sands, @sands
NEW YORK (09-Feb) - A near miss at the world indoor record in the mile and a pair of U.S. bests in the 800 highlighted a bustling evening at the 112th edition of the NYRR Millrose Games. The iconic meet was held Saturday at the New Balance Track & Field Center at the Armory in Manhattan.
Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha came within a hundredth of a second of the world record to win the meet's signature race, the NYRR Wanamaker Mile. His time of 3:48.46 was just off the long-standing mark set by Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco in 1997. Following a series of strong results in January, the Portland, Oregon, based athlete had announced last week that he would be going after the mark in New York.
After a cautious first lap, pacemaker Rob Napolitano accelerated and led the way at the quarter mile in a quick 54.7. Only Kejelcha, Clayton Murphy of the U.S. and Edward Cheserek of Kenya were brave enough to maintain contact. As they approached the 700-meter mark, Kejelcha sensed that Napolitano was tiring and moved to the front a lap earlier than planned. He hit the half mile in 1:52.0 and the three-quarters in 2:50.3. Murphy and Cheserek continued to battle for the runner-up spot, but were 20 meters behind Kejelcha.
The two-time defending IAAF world indoor champion at 3000 meters, who trains with Alberto Salazar's Nike Oregon Project, held his form over the final two laps. He passed 1500 meters in a world-leading 3:33.17, and appeared to be on target for the record before coming tantalizingly close. "Until the very end I thought that I could break it," he said through a translator. "I missed it by a little bit, but I'm very happy. I came very close to it and I'm know I'm going to try again and I think I can break it." He said that he will make another attempt this winter.
Behind him, Cheserek outdueled Murphy by a hundredth of a second, 3:53.29 to 3:53.30. It was a lifetime best for Murphy. Josh Kerr of Scotland had the fastest final 200 of the race (27.49) to take fourth in a PR 3:53.65.
That race put an exclamation point on a day of fast performances. Ajee' Wilson claimed the American record in the women's 800, clocking 1:58.60 for the win. That officially lowered the mark of 1:58.71 set by Nicole Teter in 2002. (Two years ago at Millrose Wilson actually ran faster, 1:58.27, but that record was disallowed after Wilson tested positive for a banned substance. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said Wilson was without fault or negligence, since the drug zeranol got into her system via tainted meat, but nonetheless the mark could not be ratified.)
After clocking 1:59.26 last week in North Carolina - the fastest ever on an indoor flat track - the Neptune, New Jersey, native was confident she could get her name back in the record book on the Armory's fast banked oval. "I definitely knew the fitness was there," she said. "I just needed to be smart about pacing. I knew the competition would just make run faster, if anything." Natoya Goule set a Jamaican record of 1:59.13 for second, while Ce'Aira Brown of the U.S. recorded her first indoor sub-2:00 clocking, taking third in 1:59.74.
Donavan Brazier joined Wilson in setting a national record in the 800, but he wasn't able to claim the victory. After a hot early pace, Kenyan Michael Saruni slipped by Brazier down the homestretch to get the win in 1:43.98 and become the second fastest performer in history. Brazier, who had followed the rabbit to a sub-50 opening 400 and blitzed through 600 in 1:16.21, couldn't quite maintain his momentum, but did become the first American under 1:45. His time of 1:44.41 erased Johnny Gray's long-standing U.S. best from 1992 (1:45.00) and moved the Grand Rapids, Michigan, native to fourth on the all-time world list.
"That was as ugly as I've been in a long, long time that last 150," said Brazier, who also trains with the Nike Oregon Project. "And it was painful, but I just tried to grind it out. I was exhausted, I could tell [Saruni] was coming up on me. I don't know if he looked much better than me."
Konstanze Klosterhalfen used an aggressive surge on the fourth lap of the women's Wanamaker mile to break open the race. After a rabbited first quarter in 63.6, the German star (yet another Nike Oregon Project member) was clear of the field at the halfway point (2:09.8). She broke the tape in a world-leading time of 4:19.98, while defending champion Colleen Quigley of the U.S. was a distant secotnd in 4:22.86, a personal best time. Quigley's training partner Kate Grace (4:24.27) was third as nine women broke 4:30.
The men's 3000 meters turned into a potential NCAA championship preview, with Stanford's Grant Fisher holding off Morgan McDonald of Wisconsin for the win, 7:42.62 to 7:42.76. They moved into the third and fourth slots on the all-time collegiate list with those marks.
Wisconsin did get a win in the women's 3000, with Alicia Monson coming from behind to take the race in 8:45.97, just ahead of Rachel Schneider (8:46.44). After a stumble at the New Balance Grand Prix in Boston two weeks ago, steeplechase world champion Emma Coburn had another rough day on the track. Falling at the end of the third lap she worked hard to regain contact with the pack, but couldn't catch the leaders, finishing fifth in 8:52.27.
Marliee Starliper of Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, won the high school girls mile in meet-record time 4:41.66. Unfortunately pre-race favorite Katelyn Tuohy of North Rockland, New York, was ill and couldn't compete. Matt Rizzo of Bronxville, New York, won the boys race in 4:09.12, the fastest prep time in the country so far this season.