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February 12, 2017

Rundown: Five takeaways from the fast times at Millrose Games

Hey friends, Paul here. Our expert at takeaways, Chris Chavez, is currently on a Megabus back to New York City, from Washington D.C., where he was this weekend, watching his 5th-place-in-the-Big East Marquette Golden Eagles lose to a mediocre Georgetown squad in hoops. Don’t worry. In general, Chris will be the one unpacking the results of meets. But please bear with us just this once as you digest my appraisals and analysis of yesterday’s Millrose Games.

As high school milers have gotten faster, we’ve gotten spoiled.

DJ Principe hung on for a 4:02.96 as the lone high school athlete in the men’s invitational mile, failing to crack the four-minute barrier, after running 4:00.97 earlier this season. Given how cavalier teens have been recently about running in the 3:5X range these last couple of years, I’d imagine a lot of fans were expecting Principe, a Stanford-commit, to easily dip under 4, dabbing across the finish. (I’m sorry. I don’t actually know any teens so I rudely assume they all love memes.) It’s easy to forget that there was a lengthy drought of Sub-4 high schoolers following Webb and that despite it happening with greater frequency this decade, it’s still really tough to pull off.

The winning times in the boys and girls invitational miles were 4:07.24 and 4:49.06, respectively.  Syracuse-bound Noah Affolder’s mark lowered the meet record, which is no small feat given the quality of fields past. NBC didn’t show a second of it during their coverage. They at least gave the girls field its due respects and Abbe Goldstein, who will attend Harvard in the fall, ran a great race. Her time, however, pales in comparison to the winning time last year, 4:41.84, run by Kate Murphy, another one of the current batch of wunderkind milers that have rendered us difficult to impress.

LET THE KIDS BE KIDS.

Off-distances make for interesting races, just not necessarily fast ones.

The 300m, 500m, and 1,000m are rarely contested at the elite level, so it was cool to see professionals attempt to navigate weird distances they aren’t accustomed to racing. The women’s 300m saw a loaded field run an honest, but not tremendously fast race. Shaunaue Miller validated her diving Olympic gold finish by comfortably walloping a slew of recognizable names. In the women’s 500m, Courtney Okolo made it clear she’s a strength-based 400m runner as she looked great in the final 100m, distancing herself from 400m hudle gold-medalist Dalilah Muhammad and newly-minted 800m World bronze-medalist Alysia Montano by over two seconds.

The men’s 1,000m field seemed to approach the race with the shared mentality of “Well, this is longer than an 800m, so let’s all go out slow.” After an opening lap in the high 28-second range, David Torrence picked things up slightly, stringing out the field way more than you’d expect from a modest 28-mid second lap. Things rolled a bit in the second half of the race, but from a field comprised almost exclusively of 1:43-45 dudes, they were hardly cooking with gasoline. The timid start left Brandon Kidder and Cas Loxsom with plenty in the tank at the 800m mark, which they hit in 1:53, then proceeded to run down Torrence, with Kidder possessing a stronger kick over the final lap. The race was certainly interesting, but 2:19.92 isn’t the sort of winning time you’d hope for from this talented field.

There are a lot of fast 800m women right now.

And Ajee’ Wilson is among them. Her 1:58.27 looked easy, and there wasn’t really any point where it seemed somebody else might win. Kimarra McDonald did a fantastic job setting the pace and might just have been the meet’s Rabbit of the Day. Sorry, Ford.

Why do events conducted in imperial distances get better fields?

The dudes’ two-mile was one of the most hyped events of the evening and for good reason. The field was absolutely loaded and it was announced ahead of time that the pacing was intended to set up an assault on the American record. Ultimately, that attempt fell short (although Canada’s Mo Ahmed did break ol’ Cam Levins’ two-mile mark) but when it became clear the pace wasn’t quite brisk enough, it didn’t matter, because you had a four-man battle over the last 1200m. Ben True, Ryan Hill, Ahmed, and Andrew Butchart gave the fans something to cheer for, even though the field’s headliner, reigning Olympic 1500m champ Matt Centrowitz, more or less shat the bed.

Just speculation here but had the women run two-miles as well, instead of the indoor standard 3,000m, perhaps there would have been additional incentive for elites to seek entry. Many contracts reward American records and since the two-mile is run way less frequently, it’s generally an easier mark to break than the oft-contested 3,000m. Stephanie Garcia and Kate Van Buskirk put on a show over the final couple of laps after a great rabbiting job by Ashley Higginson, but the field was strung out from the beginning, and though fast times were run, the race didn’t have the same depth and level of competition as the men’s two-mile.

The Wanamaker Miles didn’t disappoint. (And Christian Soratos didn’t either.)

This is not a sizzling hot take. The meet’s marquee event, delivered. In the women’s race, Lauren Wallace set a slightly slower-than-asked-for pace, but it didn’t matter. Despite a 2:12 opening 800-yards, the trio of Shannon Rowbury, Sifan Hassan, and Kate Grace had made it clear through their separation from the pack, that they were the only ones in contention to win. After Wallace peeled off at 1,000-yards, the pace remained fairly constant, with Oregon Project teammates Rowbury and Hassan working together to keep it so. Grace fell of a bit with about a quarter to go, but managed to regain her composure and bury Rowbury over the final lap, as Hassan really opened up and did some burying of her own, creating a two-second difference over the last 200m. Her 4:19.89 destroyed the rest of the field, but nine women dipped under 4:30 at the same time. It would have been interesting to see the trio of Bowerman’s Shelby Houlihan and Colleen Quigley, as well as Rachel Schneider in this race, instead of at BU where they all ran below 4:26.

In the men’s invitational mile, Soratos ran 3:54.23, won by almost five full seconds, and would have gotten him third in the Wannamaker with that time. He looks like a different runner than the one we saw last outdoor season.

In the men’s Wannamaker, Daniel Winn’s pacemaking set up the field for a fast close, off an honest tempo. Nine men ran under 3:58, but it was the breakaway pack of Kyle Merber, Clayton Murphy, Chuck Philibert-Thiboutot and eventual victor Eric Jenkins that made the race honest after Winn dropped off. With a quarter to go, Jenkins led with Merber on his outside shoulder. At the bell, Merber shot to the lead, and looked like he might become the first winner of both the high school and pro mile at Millrose. But Jenkins shifted gears with 100m to go and made everyone else look silly, including 800m bronze-medalist Murphy, whose final lap was the second fastest in the field, and enabled him to pass Merber who faded to third. For a 5,000m guy, Jenkins has unbelievable closing speed, and his 3:53.23 is nothing to shake a stick at. (19-year-old Drew Hunter quietly ran 3:56.80, a new PR, for seventh, which leads me to believe college is stupid, overrated, and nobody should do it.)

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