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Olympics’ Top Two Pole Vaulters Stefanidi, Morris Eye New Heights at 110th NYRR Millrose Games


Olympics’ Top Two Pole Vaulters Stefanidi, Morris Eye New Heights at 110th NYRR Millrose Games

Olympic silver medalist Sandi Morris (left) and Olympic gold medalist Ekaterini Stefanidi will continue the next chapter of their world-class competition at The Armory. Photos by Victah Sailor

The razor-close Olympic competition between Ekaterini Stefanidi of Greece and Sandi Morris in the women's pole vault will be renewed during the 110th  NYRR Millrose Games at The Armory’s New Balance Track & Field Center on February 11, 2017. 

Last summer in Rio de Janiero, Stefanidi took the gold medal and Morris earned silver for USA after both women cleared 4.85 meters (15 feet, 11 inches). On count back, Stefanidi won a tiebreaker because she cleared 4.70m on her first attempt, while Morris needed two attempts. 

After the Olympic Games, Morris, a former standout at the University of Arkansas, became the first American outdoors to clear five meters (16-4.75) and the second woman in history besides Russian Yelena Isinbaeva. 

Stefanidi, 26, was a world youth champion back in 2005 and has been a presence on the European and global stages ever since. 

Stefanidi will return to The Armory as the defending NYRR Millrose Games champion while Morris finished third last February.

The women's pole vault at the NYRR Millrose Games will be named for John Catsimatidis, Manhattan businessman with interests in energy, real estate and supermarkets.

Also on the pole vault docket is a high school boys’ competition that is set to include Armand Duplantis of Lafayette, La., the national record holder. 

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"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.


109th NYRR Millrose Games Highlights


109th NYRR Millrose Games Highlights

Allyson Felix is embarking on an ambitious mission in 2016 as she prepares for a 200-400 double, plus relays, at the Rio de Janiero Games.

That journey included a victory in the 60-meter dash on Saturday at the 109th NYRR Millrose Games at The Armory, which followed one of the loudest cheers of the night for her introduction.

Felix’s race was over in a flash – 7.15 seconds – but was one of the memorable moments from a meet that featured repeat winners in the Wanamaker Miles and a handful of other close, exciting finishes.

“It was awesome. I felt really welcomed,” said Felix, who attracted a horde of young autograph seekers. “I don’t get to run much indoor, so it was special to come back here to a place I have high school memories and really feel the love.”

Matthew Centrowitz won his third Wanamaker men’s mile – the signature event of the meet – much the same way he won his second. Centrowitz slid ahead Nick Willis with 200 meters to go and then outkicked him to break the meet and track records with 3:50.63. Willis of New Zealand, who has finished in the top three five times but never won, ran the second-fastest time in meet history with 3:51.06.

“He was strong the last 150 (meters),” Willis said. “I gave it my best and wasn’t able to get as close as last year.”

The two of them spent a couple of days talking about the 2015 race, which Centrowitz won by .11 seconds. Saturday’s race was not a carbon copy, but the finish between the two of them was similar. Chris O’Hare was third (3:52.91) and Robby Andrews lopped 18 seconds off his long-stale indoor mile PR with 3:53.16.

The other miler everyone was talking about was high school phenom Drew Hunter, who lowered his own indoor national record to 3:57.89 in the B race and placed a very strong fourth. Incredibly, Hunter has been struggling to shake a cough and has not been feeling 100 percent healthy for a couple of weeks.

In the women’s Wanamaker, Shannon Rowbury successfully defended her title and ran 4:24.39 – almost identical to her finish time in 2015 (4:24.32). Rowbury was seeking to run under 4:20 but the pace was a bit slower than the 2:08 that was talked about beforehand. Rowbury split 2:12.02 and was alone for the second half of the race. There were eight women under 4:29, including runner-up Kerri Gallahger, who ran a very strong time of 4:26.18.

Ryan Hill won the loaded men’s 3,000 meters in 7:38.82. Hill and the next eight guys in the race broke the meet record. A large pack was still together with 400 meters to go and it ended up being a kicker’s dual between Hill and Hassan Mead for the win.

Oregon’s Edward Cheserek led the train of runners through a middle chunk of the race. He lost a little bit of ground late but his time of 7:40.51 earned him sixth place and was the second-fastest collegiate time ever. It also eclipsed Galen Rupp’sOregon school record.

In the women’s 800, Ajee Wilson won her third Millrose title by withstanding the on-rushing close of Brenda Martinez. Wilson edged Martinez at the line, 2:00.09 to 2:00.14. It was the fastest winning time at Millrose since 2002.

The boys high school mile was even closer. Californian Isaac Cortes sprung a finishing kick that caught a trio of New Yorkers off guard and the Great Oak senior rallied to take the win in 4:09.87 -- .01 seconds ahead of Noah Affolder of Carthage NY.Aidan Tooker of Saratoga Springs NY was third in 4:10.20 and Conor Lundy of Fordham Prep NY was fourth in 4:10.68.

Kate Murphy of Lake Braddock ran away from the field to win the girls high school mile in a meet record time of 4:41.84. Murphy was aiming to run under 4:40 but wound up slashing more than three seconds off the meet record. Murphy moved to No. 9 on the all-time list.

In keeping with the theme of big wins by Virginians, the T.C. Williams boys 4x200 relay cruised to 1:27.29 – matching the US#1 that the team ran on Jan. 30 at the Virginia Tech Invitational.

Bralon Taplin from Grenada smashed the track record in the men’s 400 meters by running 45.35 seconds. Lalonde Gordon, a New York resident who represents Trinidad & Tobago, was second in 45.51.

The women’s 400 meters was also fast. Natasha Hastings returned to the track she grew up on and beat defending champion Phyllis Francis in 51.66.

The women’s 5,000 meters saw another of the close finishes. Betsy Saina edged out Molly Huddle for the victory, 14:57.18 to 14:57.31.

Canada’s bright young sprint star Andre DeGrasse won his professional debut by taking the 60 meters in 6.61 seconds. China’s Su Bingtian was second in 6.62.

Katerina Stefanidi broke the Greek national record in the pole vault with her clearance at 16 feet, 0.75 inches and also defended her title. American Demi Payne also made that height but finished second because she had more misses at lower heights.

Erik Kynard, the Olympic silver medalist from London, won the high jump with 7 feet, 6.50 inches.

Marquis Dendy jumped 26-8.25 and prevailed in a new format for the long jump in which jumpers were eliminated round by round.  

Olympic decathlon champion Ashton Eaton placed second to Omar McLeod (7.46) in the 60 hurdles but only had one fair jump and was last in the long jump.

No race was closer than the high school boys 55-meter dash. Tajh Gilchrist of Bowie MD won the race by a margin of .002 seconds over Ade Jones-Roundree of Imhotep PA. Both ran 6.40. Daija Lampkin from Middletown DE won the girls race in a meet record-tying 6.91.

In the CHSAA boys 4x800, Archbishop Molloy got past its rivals and won in 7:55.57. St. Joseph’s By the Sea and defending champion St. Anthony’s were both within a second.

In the Eastern boys 4x800, State College PA posted the fastest time with 7:51.59, good for US#3.

Paul Robeson’s girls won the Eastern girls 4x200 in 1:39.09 and then quickly came back about 35 minutes later and won the PSAL girls 4x400 in 3:50.53 with three members of the same lineup. 

On Thursday, Gwendolyn Berry broke the meet record in the weight throw with her toss of 79-8.25.  


Preps Enter The Limelight at NYRR Millrose Games


Preps Enter The Limelight at NYRR Millrose Games

A high school girl's name will be etched onto the Women's Wanamaker Mile trophy, albeit rookie professional Mary Cain. And two other high school girls got a rare taste of elite international level racing on Saturday at the 107th Millrose Games at The Armory in New York.


Records Highlight 107th NYRR Millrose Games

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Records Highlight 107th NYRR Millrose Games

For the third consecutive year, American Olympian Bernard Lagat re-wrote the record books, setting a new American record for 2000 meters at the 107th NYRR Millrose Games. Lagat's four minute, 54.74 second victory was just one of the many thrilling events that captivated a capacity crowd at the New Balance Track & Field Center at The Armory. 

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