A sellout, celebratory crowd of 5,000 filed out of the Armory’s New Balance Track and Field Center Saturday evening following an action-packed 110th edition of the NYRR Millrose Games, and Dr. Norbert Sander was in an understandably upbeat mood.
The Armory Foundation's President and CEO – the man who had made all this possible at "the House That Norb Built" – was a total-smile as he recounted event after event that had made this latest renewal of the most venerable, most renowned of all indoor track meets one of the best yet.
"I would say that, in the annals of the Millrose Games, this was certainly one of the greatest," said former NYC Marathon champion Dr. Sander.
"You know, when you look at the records set, the quality of the races, how close they were; you know, it was one thing after another, it was spectacular.”
"You really couldn't ask for more, you really couldn't.”
"This is a great sport and we had a full house.”
"The atmosphere and the degree of excellence in general, the excitement was at such a level, and it stayed there. It wasn't all of a sudden just one big race, it was a continuation of terrific, outstanding performances.”
"It started at 11:45 (a.m.) and it just kept going..."
Special tributes to Jack Rudin and Allan Steinfeld, immortal figures in the founding and growth of the New York Road Runners and in track and field, who'd passed away in recent months, were a major part of the proceedings, too.
Here's a recount of some of those gaudiest NYRR Millrose Games details:
No one – not even such immortals as Madeline Manning, Cheryl Toussaint, Joetta Clark Diggs and Hazel Clark – had ever won four consecutive Millrose women's 800-meter titles.
But Neptune, New Jersey pride and joy Ajee' Wilson did just that and in spectacular fashion Saturday with an American-record 1:58.27 four laps. With top rival Charlene Lipsey making a hard charge of her own, both dipped under the 2002 1:58.71 American record performance of Nicole Teter.
And for good measure, sixth-place finisher Samantha "Sammy" Watson crossed the line in 2:01.28, thus besting the USA national scholastic record of the famed Mary Decker that had endured since 1974.
With typical modesty, Wilson, the 22-year-old Temple University graduate and Olympic semifinalist, acknowledged, " of all the Millrose Games I’ve run in, it’s fun to see how far I’ve come."
The women's 500-meter race – two and a half laps around the Armory oval – was the setting for another American record. Rio 2016 4x400 relay gold medalist Courtney Okollo, out of Texas A&M, sped the route in 1:07.34, thus topping Shana Cox's 2010 mark of 1:08.70 from the AR charts.
The men's 500, though, was a great race but a near miss. Olympian Vernon Norwood (1:00.11) edged NYAC's Brycen Spratling (1:00.90) and so Spratling's 1:00.06 in 2014 stays in the book and the sport still awaits the first American to dip under the one-minute mark.
Per NYRR Millrose Games tradition – and a concept of meet director Ray Flynn, of "leaving the best for last" – the men's NYRR Wanamaker Mile was again a dazzler.
Flynn, Sander and the other 5,000 in the Armory had high hopes of someone emerging to put a scare into either the AR (Bernard Lagat's 3:48.99 in 2005) or the Armory and Millrose record (Matthew Centrowitz's 3:50.63 last year) but that's not the way the script evolved.
Instead, Eric Jenkins, the New Englander who'd transferred from Norheastern University to Oregon and come of age as a celebrity of his event by winning last September's Fifth Avenue Mile, outclassed and out strategized an all-star field to win in 3:53.23. No less than eight others bested the 4-minute mark.
“It’s historic,” said the delighted Jenkins. "The best people run in this race. It’s one of the good wins for me. I knew that I didn’t have the speed a lot of these guys have but I know I have the strength." And so he fought them all off.
Oh, and the second-echelon Invitation Mile delivered some additional sub-4 running when Christian Soratos (3:54.23) bested Penn's Christian Hatler (3:59.21.)
Holland's Sifan Hassan was another featured eight-lapper, lowering the NYRR Wanamaker women's mile record to a billiant 4:19.89.
The 2016 world indooor 1500-meter champion outdueled U.S, 800-meter Olympian Kate Grace, the Yale grad, and 2015-16 NYRR Millrose Games champion Shannn Rowbury – who was also the cover girl for the official Millrose program – and finally got the meet record under 4:20.
(But the women's world mile record remains the 4:17.14 run in 1990 by Romania's Doina Melinte at the fondly-remembered Meadowlands Invitation Meet which put East Rutherford, N.J. on the world sports map.)
When Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas won the women's Olympic 400 final in Rio, it took her a desperation tumble over the finish line to edge USA's Allyson Felix for the gold medal.
"No, that (the Rio tumble) wasn't planned; it just happened to happen that way," Miller continues to tell the track world. There were no tumbles needed at the Armory, either, as Miller zipped 300 meters to win in 35.71 over an illustrious field.
Leading the chase pack were Ashley Spencer (36.27), veteran Natasha Hastings (36.88) and Sydney McLaughlin (the Olympian now a senior at New Jersey's Union Catholic High School) in 37.09.
With Centrowitz opting to run The Paavo Nurmi two-mile, considerable spotlight focused on that event, too. But the NYC-rooted "Centro" was not quite in his Rio form and wound up seventh in 8:21.07 in the 16-lapper led by Dartmouth grad Ben True, the former cross country skiing star, in 8:11.32.
Sixty-meter straightaway titles went to sprinters Clayton Vaughn, 6.62, and Dezerea Bryant, 7.12, and hurdlers Omar McLeod, the Olympic champion from Jamaica, 7.46, and Canada's Phyllis George, 7.98.
The men's 60 sprint this year celebrated the great legacy of the New York Pioneer Club and Coach Joe Yancey, with Vaughn earning a special plaque presented by Pioneer Club star Harry Bright.
Two of the three field events on the Saturday card also attracted the best of Rio. Gold medalists Derek Drouin of Canada led the male high jumpers at 7-5 1/4 and pole vaulter Katerina Stefanidi of Greece the female pole vaulters at 15-9 3/4.
The Junior Men's Pole Vault, coordinated by "Flying Circus" mastermind Tim St. Lawrence, was a big hit, too. Louisiana high school sensation Armand DuPlantis won it with a brilliant 18-10 ¾ clearance. Just one other vaulter in the Millrose annals, of any age, has ever gone higher, and he's 2015 World Champion Shawnacy Barber of Canada.
A late scratch in the boys PV, though, was Texan Riley Richards, grandson of the famed Rev. Bob Richards, 11 times a Millrose vault winner and the only man ever to win consecutive (1952-56) Olympic vault titles.
One more sensational NYRR Millrose Games youngster was Carlisle, Pa.'s Noah Affolder, the boys high school mile winner in 4:07.24, time that finally bettered the meet mark of 4:08.0 that Kevin Byrne had set in 1977.
Shore Athletic Club's Jonathan Hallman continues proving himself the quickest young pedestrian in the nation. With a big charge over final two laps, 23-year-old Hallman won the Susan Rudin/USATF National Championship one-mile racewak in 6:04.29. It was his fourth Millrose walk win in five years, but it was never easy, either.
"It's always a long ride up here (he and his Dad annually drive up from their home in Liberty, S.C.) and I've been fighting a cold for a week," said Hallman. "And now we've got to turn around for the long ride back."
Impressive, too, was two-time Olympian and now four-time winner of the Susan Rudin women's mile walk, Long Islander Dr. Maria Michta-Coffey, in 6:31.85 over Olympic teammate Miranda Melville (6:36.82.)
More fun for Dr. Sander, a proud Fordham alumnus: His Ram successors won the Metro college 4x400 relay in 3:18.00 and ran a close second to Penn in the distance medley.