As one famed football coach once told a vanquished loser, "there was glory in it all for everybody today."
Change sports, change seasons and change speakers, but the message rang just as true at The Armory to the nearly 5,000 fans gathered for the 108th edition of the NYRR Millrose Games on Valentine's Day.
As veteran track writer Frank Litsky, who'd covered the meet for The New York Times for decades and can be called president emeritus of the New York Track Writers Association put it, "It was marvelous. l love Millrose. The field in the Wanamaker Mile was sensational, and the race ended up sensationally, too. Now, I can't wait until next year."
Sensational events abounded, from the beginning of the meet to the big windup.
It was a wonderful-wonderful Saturday at The Armory for James Wreh II and Kcaysha Medas-King. They were the "fastest kids on the block" in the track and field spectacular many have called "The Indoor Olympics."
Young Wreh dashed down the middle of the Armory track in 8.11 seconds, the precocious Medas-King in 8.48.
It was a very big day for Jonah Gorevic and Lauryn Heskin, too. Gorevic lowered the NYRR Youth Boys 800-meter record to 2:18.20; Heskin led all Youth Girls 800 runners in 2:28.04.
There was plenty of glory at The Armory, as well for James Burke and Catherine Pagano. Port Jefferson, LI's Burke ran off with the New Balance High School Boys Mile in 4:11.25; Northern Highlands, NJ's Pagano outran all her girls high school rivals in 4:50.66.
Along with everyone else, the Syracuse Track Club quartet of 60-somethings had plenty to smile about. They took their Masters upper-bracket men's 4x400 relay in a stepping-lovely 4:27.67.
Thus, the bottom line to all of this was that, yes-yes-yes, the fourth edition of the NYRR Millrose Games to be held at the Armory (since moving from Madison Square Garden in 2012) was win-win-win for all cast members as well as the whole sport of track and field.
The internationally assembled pros of the open division understandably grabbed the bulk of attention.
Oh, for sure, the spotlight shined most brightly on men's Wanamaker Mile luminaries Matthew Centrowitz, Nick Willis, Pat Casey and Bernard Lagat; on women's Wanamaker Mile champion Shannon Rowbury; on Brycen Spratling, who demolished all records in the men's 500 meters; on Erik Sowinski and Robby Andrews, who delivered a down-to-the-wire 1000 meters; on college teammates Eric Jenkins and Will Geohegan, who led the way in the 3000 meters; on Lopez Lomong and Ryan Hill who ran 1-2 in a moderate-pace 5000 meters; and women's racing winners Phyllis Francis in the 400, Ajee' Wilson in the 800, and Sally Kipyego in the 3000.
The Schmertzes, dad Fred and succeeded by son Howard, had been the chieftains of the NYRR Millrose Games for long years going all the way back to the 1920s. But now the Millrose reins are in the capable hands of former mile star Ray Flynn and Armory Track Foundation president and CEO, Dr. Norbert Sander, and they're doing a masterful job of it.
"I was delighted," said meet director Flynn, the former Irish mile star. Gratefully delighted, you might say."
"We had some great races," said Flynn. "We had some great performances by great competitors, who really engaged the crowd."
"Wonderful, wonderful meet," said Armory Track Foundation president and CEO Dr. Sander.
The classic Wanamaker Mile – first staged at Millrose in 1915, when it actually was a two-mile race – produced a 3:51.35 triumph. His second at Millrose – by local hero Matthew Centrowitz.
Centro won it over Nick Willis, the Michigan-grad New Zealander (3:54.36), with Oklahoma State alumnus Casey (3:54.36) leading eight others under four minutes. But it was fourth-place Bernard Lagat (who was 40 in mid-December) stealing the show from all his younger rivals. His 3:54.91 absolutely mauled all records in masters miling.
Eamonn Coghlan's masters best-ever of 3:58.15 at age 41 in 1994 was good as gone before the race even started.
Seven-time Wanamaker champion Coghlan was in from Ireland – where he is a member of his nation's Senate – to lead the cheering for Lagat.
"All credit to Bernard," said Coghlan. "I had no doubts he was going to break my record, and then he went out and did just that."
Lagat won his first Wanamaker Mile in 2001, added his others in 2003, 2005-6-7-8-9-10, but hadn't entered the Wanamaker Mile in four years, running the longer distances.
"Eamonn told me I was going to run 3:54. And it exactly happened."
Centrowitz's first seven laps went 29.52, 27.58, 29.09, 29.75, 29.72, 29.74, 29.15 and he kicked home in 26.84, thus regaining the Millrose title he'd won in 2012 at 3:53.94.
However, beating the world record (Hiham El Guerrouj's 1997 3:48.15 for Morocco), the American record (Lagat's 3:49.89 at Fayetteville, Ark. in 2005) or the Millrose and Armory record (Lopez Lomong's 3:51.21 in 2013) wasn't happening.
"I wanted a faster time, but it was a big deal for me to win a second title," said Centro.
"Matthew hit another gear to hold me off," said Willis. "I always thought I'd catch him, but he was saving something for me."
Trailing back of Lagat were Evan Jager in 3:55.25; Englishman Chris O'Hare in 3:55.35, for the 100th sub-4 in history at the Armory; 2012 Olympic silver medalist Leonel Manzano, 3:56.05; five-time NCAA longer-distance champion racer Edward Cheserek of Oregon, fomerly of St. Benedict's Prep, 3:56.43; Lagat’s training partner Lawi Lalang in 3:57.15, and Columbia grad Johnny Gregorek, now of Oregon,10th in 3:57.47.
Spratling, the University of Pittsburgh graduate, raced to the fastest 500 meters in indoor track history, 1:00.06, holding off Michael Berry (1:00.43) and Bershawn Jackson (1:00.70), with Belgium's Jonathan Borlee fourth (1:00.76).
Duke grad Rowbury had run 4:22.66 in a flat-track meet in Winston-Salem, N.C. last week, but settled for a 4:24.32 win over Trenier Moser (4:27.39), as Bronxville's Mary Cain, now based in Portland and training with the Nike Oregon Project, wound up eighth (4:31.21).
Iowan Sowinski and New Jerseyan Andrews gave the fans an exciting 1000 meters; Andrews' huge charge around the final turn falling just short, 2:21.18 to 2:21.23.
Neptune, NJ's Ajee' Wilson had no real problem winning the women's 800 in 2:01.57, with Charlene Lipsey's 2:02.05 sufficing for second.
Canadian Cam Levins was sizzling at the Armory Collegiate Meet two weeks ago (a 3:54.74 mile win followed by an 8:15.38 two-mile, just half an hour apart) but was unable to find his rhythm in the Millrose 5000 meters.
The race named for Finnish great Paavo Nurmi went to Lopez Lomong (13:28.60) over Ryan Hill (13:27.80), Suguru Osako (13:28.00), Donn Cabral (13:28.64) and Andrew Bumbalough (also 13:28.64), all just 64/100ths apart. Levins settled for sixth in 13:33.35.
There's nothing like a hometown athlete to stir fans stirring and Phyllis Francis surely did. Cardozo High School of Queens grad Francis, the NCAA champion and record-breaker last year for Oregon, fought off Olympic gold medalist Sanya Richards-Ross to win the two-lapper, 53.14 to 53.71.
Olympic decathlon champion Ashton Eaton placed third in the men's 60 hurdles (his 7.51 was just 1/100th back of winner Aleec Harris and Jason Richardson) and then grabbed another third (at 25-3 1/4) back of long jump winner Damar Forbes' 26-4 1/4. Oh, and he also did a disappearing act, leaping over the fence at the end of the mid-track straightaway, then leaping right back to message the fans that he'd not been hurt.
Jesse Williams, the 2011 world champion high jumper, won his specialty at 7-7 with Mike Mason also sailing 7-7, but on his third attempt, to Williams' first.
Kipyego, the Kenya Olympian out of Texas Tech, ran off with the women's 3000-meter title in 8:41.72, where NCAA cross country champion Kate Avery of Iona College was sixth in 8:53.12.
Susan Rudin 1-mile race walking titles went to Shore AC's Jonathan Hallman, with an eye-opening 5:53.58 win in the men's race over Olympians Trevor Barron and Andreas Gustafsson; and Olympian Maria Michta-Coffey, in a 6:34.47 breeze.
Hallman and his dad, Thomas Hallman, had driven all the way from Liberty, S.C. for the meet; soon as it was over, they drove right back.