By Elliot Denman, Photo by Ross Dettman
“The NYRR Millrose Games and the Wanamaker Mile, they’re alive and well.”
Take that from a man who should know – Eamonn Coghlan, the erstwhile “Chairman of the Boards” who won the classic Wanamaker Mile seven times, the first in 1977, the last in 1987. He ran a glory-filled romp through an era in which indoor track still ranked as a major spectator sport and whose exploits nearly personally filled Madison Square Garden time after time.
With no Coghlan on the scene in the years that followed his brilliant career at Villanova University, and then as an international runner – and finally as a Masters runner (he ran 3:58.15 at age 41 in 1994) – indoor track’s status as a spectator sport began a downward spiral and would eventually prove untenable at Madison Square Garden and other big-city arenas.
Although the scene of many epic races, the Garden’s 11-laps-to-the-mile banked board track was clearly slower than the 200-meter built-for-speed oval by then installed at The Armory in Washington Heights.
Still, many speculated that the Millrose Games’ inevitable move uptown to The Armory in 2012 represented the death knell of both the Millrose meet and its always-spotlighted Wanamaker Mile.
Fortunately, not Dr. Norbert Sander, the late-great visionary whose incredible efforts restructured The Armory from homeless shelter to brilliant center of world-class track and field activity. And, fortunately, not Eamonn Coghlan, the Flying Irishman and runner most identified with the glory years of the Millrose Games and Wanamaker Mile at Madison Square Garden (with his eighth Wanamaker Mile win in 2010, Bernard Lagat bested Coghlan’s total of seven; Coghlan’s quickest at Millrose was 3:53.0 in 1981,Lagat’s 3:52.87 in 2005).
Yet another tradition, in the years since his last race, is a Coghlan visit from “across the pond" to the Millrose meet.
Thus, the former Irish senator was on hand as a celebrated guest at The Armory for the 111th edition of what is now the NYRR Millrose Games on this first Saturday of February 2018.
And as the honorary starter of the NYRR Wanamaker Mile, triggering the start of the 12-man race, slightly more than eight full Armory laps.
Rabbit Riley Masters did his job through 800 meters (1:56.86), before Scotsman and British Olympian Chris O’Hare, the former U.S. collegiate star at Tulsa, took over and the real running began. Much as Coghlan did in his heyday – with his famed “one move and one move only” – this was the only move O’Hare would need.
He was never headed, going on to a 3:54.14 victory over five more under four minutes – fast-closing Josh Kerr (3:54.72), another Brit; Ben Blankenship (3:54.77), Charlie Grice (3:56.47), Nick Willis (3:57.72) and Kyle Merber (3:57.75.)
U.S. collegian Robert Domanic of Mississippi (4:06.02) was the final finisher and then it was time for Coghlan to analyze the whole scene.
“It’s an honor just being here, at the 111th NYRR Millrose Games, and to be part of that history going back all those years,” he told you.
“We’ve had a fantastic NYRR Wanamaker Mile here tonight.
“Nobody was willing to go out with Chris O’Hare, as he was making sure he’d be part of that Wanamaker Mile tradition, too.
“Most important, it’s wonderful to see The Armory hosting the event.
“Seven years ago, they thought it was going to die when it left the Garden, and I’m really so proud of the job they’re doing here now. Now, I think it’s going to last forever.
“In terms of the crowd participation (The Armory was sold out to its 5,550 capacity) and the noise I heard, standing in the middle of that arena there as they ran that NYRR Wanamaker Mile, it was exactly the same (as Madison Square Garden.)
“I tell you, they were going berserk, there was no difference whatsoever. No question whatsoever.
“Chris O’Hare, he’s a good lad, he’s a Scottish lad, there’s no reason why he can’t be up there when they’re passing out the medals (i.e., Olympic Games and World Championships.)
“He’s relatively young and he’s tough mentally.
“But he’s got to stop looking around on that last lap.
“I know he wanted to win it really bad.”
As Coghlan himself did, in 1977 (4:00.2), 1979 (3:55.0), 1980 (3:58.2), 1981 (3:53.0), 1983 (3:54.4), 1985 (3:53.82) and 1987 (3:55.91.)