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January 10, 2018

Is this Nick Willis’ best chance at winning the Millrose Games Mile?

The 2018 Wanamaker Mile fields were released on Tuesday and the headlining match up from the New York Road Runners’ press release was Eric Jenkins defending his title against Nick Willis, who is still seeking his first victory in his six chance at the race.

“I’ve run the Wanamaker Mile five times, and come third twice, and second three times,” Willis said. “I still am yet to get the victor’s trophy. At 34, this may very well be my last chance to win this historic race, so I have put a huge focus of my training to make this happen. I love running in New York, and The Armory was the first track in America that I ever raced on, at the National Scholastic indoor meet in 2001. I can’t wait to come back and attempt to execute the perfect race.”

Father Time sometimes has a way of catching up to people on the track but there are exceptions of stars who continue running well late into their 30s. Willis could be one of those guys but he’s approaching it with the mindset that there may not be that many sub-3:55 miles, which has been needed to win the race in recent years, left in his legs. But could this also be his easiest chance yet? Let’s be clear nothing in track comes easy and tactical races can lead to wacky results. If we judge these athletes by stats, let’s take a look. Also remember that what happens in previous races has no impact on what happens on race day because there’s just so many factors (training, injuries, travel, etc.) that can go wrong. This is just an interesting exercise.

Willis has finished no worse than third but walked away as the runner-up three times.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how Nick Willis has fared at the Millrose Games:

2008: Runs 3:58.14 for third place. Race was won by Bernard Lagat in 3:57.51

2009: Runs 3:59.48 for second place. Race was won by Bernard Lagat in 3:58.44

2014: Runs 3:53.02 for third place. Race was won by Will Leer in 3:52.47.

2015: Runs 3:51.46 for second place. Race was won by Matthew Centrowitz in 3:51.35.

2016: Runs 3:51.06 for second place. Race was won by Matt Centrowitz in 3:50.63.

Now the good news for Willis is that Lagat has since moved to the roads and Centrowitz is not racing this year. Leer is in the race and he’s the only guy in the field who has beaten Willis twice. But if we take a look at their most recent performances, Willis has not slowed or been hampered by injuries as much as Leer. Willis won a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics and made the World Championship final last year to take eighth. Leer didn’t race a 1,500 or mile on the track in 2017 and his season’s best from 2016 was 3:38.23. Leer may have won the 2015 Millrose Games but struggled during that outdoor campaign. So if we judge them by their most recent results, Willis gets the edge. It is impressive that they’ve gone head-to-head- 29 times since 2008.

Here’s how Nick Willis stacks up against the rest of the 2018 field:

Nick Willis vs. Will Leer

11-2 in the mile

23–6 in all events

Last loss was in December in the Honolulu Mile on the road by 1 second. Last time Leer beat Willis in a mile was at the 2015 Millrose Games.

Nick Willis vs. Kyle Merber

4–0 in the mile

6–0 in all events

Nick Willis vs. Charlie Grice

2–0 in the mile

6–0 in all events

Nick Willis vs. Chris O’Hare

4-1 in the mile

10–2 in all events

O’Hare beat Willis at the HOKA Long Island Mile in September but then got his revenge a few days later by winning the 5th Avenue Mile.

Nick Willis vs. Ben Blankenship

4–1 in the mile

6–1 in all events

Blankenship’s win against Willis came when he struggled to a 4:12 at the TC Mile last summer.

Nick Willis vs. Robby Andrews

2–0 in the mile

7–0 in all events

Nick Willis vs. Eric Jenkins

1–0 in the mile

Nick Willis vs. Robert Domanic

0-0 in all events

Nick Willis vs. Charles Philibert-Thiboutot

0-0 in the mile

2-0 in all events

Nick Willis vs. Josh Kerr

0-0 in all events

Nick Willis vs. The Field Combined Record

28–4 in the mile

So the guys that are missing? How lucky is Willis that they’re not in this race? Willis was 8–20 against Lagat in his career in all events but 6–6 in the mile. Willis did win their last five mile races. Willis doesn’t have a losing record against Centrowitz overall. He’s 9–8 since their first meeting in 2007. Willis is 4–2 against Centrowitz in the mile with both of those loses coming at the Millrose Games so run wild with the theory that Willis can only beat Centrowitz in open air.

28–4 is a solid record against this field. This weekend, Willis will be running an indoor mile at the new University of Michigan indoor facility. We’re presenting these numbers now so that you can let them simmer in your brain over the next couple weeks. We’ll have a full preview the week before the Millrose Games but if you’re looking for someone experienced and hungry, then Willis might be your guy.

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