"Fant-tastic!

"This meet was fan-tastic."

The 109th edition of the NYRR Millrose Games was little more than 15 minutes over and sprint great Ato Boldon, his NBC broadcasting chores complete, had time to cool down, calm down and look back on Saturday's Armory Track and Field spectacular with a degree of rationality.

And every time he did, he came back to that same word.

Yes, "fan-tastic" it was, with an emphasis on that first syllable.

A fan's delight it truly was -- and you did not; repeat, did not have to be a lifetime devotee of the sport -- a track "junkie," in the sport's parlance -- to leap to that conclusion.

And so, too, said meet director Ray Flynn and Armory Foundation president Dr. Norbert Sander -- whose views might rightfully be considered unbiased -- but were true nevertheless.

"I've been to a lot of Millrose Games (first as a champion miler, then as a leading sports agent, and now as director of the whole show)," said Flynn, "but this is definitely the best."

"It had everything, close races, fast races, great performances up and down the list of events.

"And with everything happening, the crowd (a sellout that had them nearly hanging from the rafters) really got into it. I just don't know how it could have been any better."

A master stroke was saving the best for last -- and so the Men's Wanamaker Mile proved exactly that, a thriller of all thrillers,  boiling down to a single question coming around the final turn --just who had the most guts, just who wanted the glory, just who was determined to write his own chapter in the lore of this storied event?

"That was truly an incredible race (won by now three-time champion Matthew Centrowitz in a meet-record 3:50.65 over Nick Willis'  3:51.06; with Brit/Oklahoman Chris O'Hare a right-up-there third in 3:52.91, New Jersey favorite son Robby Andrews in the form of his life, fourth in 3:53.16, and four more under four," beamed Dr. Sander.

Of course, of course, Dr.Sander, the former NYC Marathon champion is the real hero of this story as the man who transformed the near-derelict Armory building into a world-class venue and who continues to see the whole Armory scene get better and better and better.

"Every race, beginning to end, was close and exciting, the kids, the high school runners, the collegians, the open runners, the pros, they all got into it; one race always seemed to get better than the one before," continued "The Doc" -- who did not violate the Hippocratic Oath in keeping The Armory from the wrecking ball that next-door neighbor New York Presbyterian Hospital at one time wanted to bring in, to further its own expansion plans.

"Right now, I just don't know how we can do any better the next time.

"But we're certainly going to try."

The race before the Men's Wanamaker Mile - the Invictus 60 meter dash for Wounded Warriors -- stirred every kind of emotion. But the winner, U.S. Army sergeant Robert Brown, who won in 7.81 seconds, wasn't looking to win the sympathy vote. He merely wanted to be accepted as a Millrose champion, too -- and the Armory crowd did exactly that.

Another brilliant move was promoting a strong secondary section of the Men's Mile -- designed for those deemed not quite ready for the prime time experience of the Wanamaker Mile itself.

And this one -- led by former Columbia/Oregon star Johnny Gregorek in 3:56.75 -- produced no less than its billing with eight finishers under 4 minutes.

Sizzling as they all were, it was the fourth of them who made some of the day's biggest news.

Not only did Loudoun Valley, Va. high schooler Drew Hunter best his own National indoor mark of 3:58.25 (set here two weeks ago) but he had quite a few thinking he had the right stuff to better fellow Virginian Allen Webb's 2001 national outdoor record of 3:53.43 sometime this spring, too.

He'll be back at the Armory in three weeks for the National Scholastics -- but only to run the 4xmile and distance medley relays.

"Back in the day," as some say, late-great Millrose Games director/ National Track and Field Hall of Fame member Fred Schmertz, who was followed by son Howard as the main man of the show -- often said "the Olympic Games is our own trials for the Millrose Games."

Well, guess what?

The statement might be virtually true as ever. Come August, check out the list of Rio de Janeiro Olympic winners. It is likely to bear a striking resemblance to this roll call of 2016 NYRR Millrose Games winners:

Men's 60-meter dash, Canadian hopeful and potential Usain Bolt threat, Andre De Grasse in 6.61; 60 hurdles, Omar McLeod in 7.46; 400, Grenada's Bralon Taplin, edging Queensite/Olympic medalist Lalonde Gordon, in a meet-record 45.35; 800 -- Duane Solomon fighting off Penn Stater Brannon Kidder in a meet-record 1:47.25; and 3000, Ryan Hill holding off a talent-packed field to delivered another meet record win, 7:38.82, as steeple star Evan Jager ran fourth in 7:40.10 and Edward Cheserek, Oregon's king of all NCAA kings, went sixth in 7:40.51.

Moving right along, the women's 60 dash went to 9-time World/Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix, in her first Millrose start since 2002, in 7.15; the 60 hurdles, to Janay DeLoach in 7.85; the 400 to Armory favorite Natasha Hastings in 51.66; and the 800 to three-time National champion Ajee' Wilson continuing down the comeback trail after her injury-curtailed 2015 season, rallying to beat Brenda Martinez, in a world-lading 2:00.09, to 2:00.14.

The women's mile saw Duke alumna Shannon Rowbury continuing her avowed march on Rio, in a 4:24.39 verdict over rapidly Fordham grad Kerri Gallagher's 4:26.18.

The women's 5,000 meters (a new Millrose event) went to Ethiopia's Betsy Saina, leading a parade of USA chasers in 14:57.18.

Moving over to field events, Erik Kynard topped the male high jumpers at 7-6 1/2; Marquis Dendy spanned 26-8 1/4 to lead the long jumpers; and Greece's Katerina Stefanidi and USA's Demi Payne raised the women's meet pole vault  record to 16-0 3/4, joining the elite 16-foot club with the win going to Stefanidi on the fewer-misses rule.

World decathlon champion Ashton Eaton snared a second in the 60 hurdles and a sixth in the long jump; wife Brianne Tesien-Eaton went fifth in the hurdles.

The racewalkers -- in their Susan Rudin National Championship one-mile events -- got into the spirit of the occasion as much as the runners.

Long Islander and Olympic hopeful MariaMichta-Coffey -- with a top-10 Rio 20K finish a good possibility -- fought off Miranda Melville to win the women's event, 6:30.16 to 6:35.25. Jonathan Hallman of Shore AC made the long ride from Liberty, S.C. more than worthwhile with a charge around the final turn to beat out John Cody Risch, 6:13.66 to 6:17.17.  For both Michta-Coffey and Hallman, it was a third Millrose win in four years.

The girls high school mile was a dazzler, front-running Virginian Kate Murphy blazing to a 4:41.84 record win. California "wild card" entry Isaac Cortes stunned his Eastern rivals to win the boys race in 4:09.87.

Think that Virginia brothers Noah and Josephus Lyles of T.C. Williams High (whose parents are ex-Seton Hall stars) are impressive now? They (with Tre'Kel Lockett and Kia Cole) powered TCW to a 1:27.29 meet 4x200 win. Consider how much better they will be by this summer's World Junior Championships, and maybe-just-maybe the USA Olympic Trials.

Quite obviously, there was glory for it in all Millrose participants.  Quite obviously, the 110th NYRR Millrose participants in 2017 will have a very tough act to follow.

Comment