Deresse Mekonnen beats Bernard Lagat at the 104th Millrose Games (© Errol Anderson)
Bernard Lagat found Deresse Mekonnen too much to handle in the Wanamaker Mile Friday evening at the 104th Millrose Games. Lagat, an eight-time winner of the capstone event at New York's historic marquee indoor fixture, played a close game of cat and mouse with the World Indoor Champion but found his own famous closing speed insufficient to get by Mekonnen.
The Millrose Games is an IAAF Indoor Permit meeting.
Millrose's 160-yard Madison Square Garden track also saw top performances from World Indoor champion Fabiana Murer in the Pole Vault, Heptathlon World record holder Ashton Eaton, and Shot Putter Ryan Whiting.
Lagat's streak over
Lagat, undefeated in the Wanamaker since 2005 (he also won in 2001 and 2003), sat in second for the early laps, and when Mekonnen went to the front to escape a box with four laps to go, Lagat continued to shadow him closely. Mekonnen himself said afterward that he was "running for second" at that point, hoping to shake the rest of the field before Lagat led them by. However, when Lagat tried three times to find a way around the 23-year-old Ethiopian and was unable, Mekonnen realised he had victory in his grasp. "I just had to hang in there," he explained.
"I didn't expect to run this well," Mekonnen said after the race. "I have only had three months of training after stomach problems which kept me from running for six months. It took a lot for me to win today. Lagat is a great guy, and I would've been glad if he'd won. If I am invited, I will come back and be happy to compete here again because I can see the spectators have a great love of the sport."
The Madison Square Garden crowd came to their feet to see the two milers dueling in the closing laps. "I wanted to win really badly," said Lagat. "I wasn't going to give him just one try and give up. He doesn't know what he's done for me today. It would be one thing for me to win a ninth in 2011. But what would it mean if I could come back next year and win again?"
Lagat pointed out that it will be twelve years before Mekonnen reaches the age, 35, at which Lagat won his eighth Wanamaker Mile.
Murer outduels Suhr
The two highest pole vaulters of 2010 faced each other at Millrose, and Brazil's Fabiana Murer came away with the win at 4.74m. After Jenn Suhr opened at 4.44m, Murer joined the competition at 4.54m. Murer recorded the first miss of the pair at 4.64m, with Suhr keeping a clean slate, but Suhr faltered and failed to clear 4.74m while Murer made it on her second attempt. Murer then made three attempts at 4.84m, which would have been a meet record and South American area record.
"The crowd helped me over," Murer said. "I was tired from training hard, and haven't been able to rest a lot before this competition, but my experience in 2010 has given me more confidence. I need to improve my form, that's most important, but I feel that I know better how to compete now."
Whiting upsets Cantwell, Hoffa and Nelson
It might be unfair to expect Christian Cantwell to be at the top of his form just a few weeks away from shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum, but Cantwell did not make it easy for Ryan Whiting. Whiting, the only putter in a field of four who had not won a World Championship, had the only legal mark in the first round and retained the lead with a 21.08m toss in the second round. Cantwell reached 21.14m in the third round, which might have stood for the win had Whiting not returned with a 21.31m heave in the fourth and last round.
Reese Hoffa was third with a 20.52m toss in the third round; meet record holder Adam Nelson was unable to record a legal mark.
"This is the first time I've beaten Christian head-to-head," said Whiting. "I knew I had to relax and do what I needed to do. The four here could be the four on the team (for Daegu). If I stay healthy, I'll make it."
Bryan Clay, Trey Hardee and Ashton Eaton met in a three-event "multi challenge," which Eaton won from behind. The three events, Shot Put, 60m Hurdles and High Jump, were scored with the indoor Heptathlon tables. Eaton stood fourth after the shot, his 14.22m mark over 100 points behind Hardee's 15.94m, but Eaton eroded Hardee's and Clay's leads with a 7.64 hurdle run (good for 1074 points) and then reached 2.05m in the High Jump to seal the victory when the veterans only managed 1.96m.
"There was a lot of nervousness with the competition I faced tonight,"
said Eaton, "but there was a lot of fight, too. The atmosphere called for it. This is only my fifth year in multis, and a lot of learning gets done. Now that I'm in the professional world, there's a lot more time to be specific."
Clay added, "Trey and I weren't planning on doing the indoor season, but I would be hoping to have marks like these in March. We'll come out swinging outdoors in March."
Jamaica has winners but USA has depth
Veronica Campbell-Brown dominated the women's 60m with a world-leading 7.11, and said afterward, "It's early season and there's lots of room for improvement."
Campbell-Brown was just behind Lauryn Williams out of the blocks but overtook Williams' explosive start by halfway and cruised to the finish. Williams took second in 7.22.
"I believe track is 90% mental and if you're mentally weak, you cannot win," said Campbell-Brown. "I'm always mentally prepared."
Cambell-Brown maintained this focus despite a 36-hour travel delay to New York which included twelve hours waiting in an airport at her training base in Florida.
Nesta Carter won a 6.52 world-leading victory in the men's 60m, holding off a late-race charge from Mike Rodgers and Trell Kimmons, who ran 6.56 and 6.57 respectively. "I thought it was a good race, I stumbled at the start and I was a bit confused at the finish, but I'm happy to come out with Mike Rodgers and Trell Kimmons and be ready to go."
Carter's victory was tempered by the knowledge that the team scoring between Jamaica and the USA went to the USA. Campbell-Brown responded, "I tend to think Jamaica is still the sprint capital of the world."
Jamaica's Vonette Dixon won a surprise 8.00 victory in the 60m Hurdles over Danielle Carruthers and Perdita Felicien. Dixon got a quick start and capitalized on it. "I could see Danielle out of the corner of my eye," she said after the race, "and I wanted to get in front of her."
"It's my first race of the season," said Dixon, who trains in Georgia with Terrence Trammell's training group. "I just wanted to see where I was. I wasn't expecting to be this fast."
Also on the track
Sara Hall, second place three times at the Millrose women's 1500m, finally earned a win, running 4:15.35 to three-time winner Carmen Douma-Hussar's 4:16.73.
Natasha Hastings was first to the break in the women's 400m and held the lead to the end, winning in 53.60 with Deedee Trotter second.
Rennie Quow earned a second victory in the Mel Sheppard 600-yard run, after Bershawn Jackson withdrew. (Quow also won in 2009.) Quow ran 1:11.82 to best Karjuan Williams and Jamaal Torrance.
Galen Rupp, who was expected to highlight the Two Mile run, withdrew earlier in the week, citing issues related to an asthma attack during a race earlier this month. In Rupp's absence, the race was won by Stephen Haas in 8:48.61.
The 4x160y relay challenge between New York's Fire and Police departments was won by the police. The "Super 60" was won by Jacoby Jones from the NFL, ahead of 2010 winner Anthony Dorsett Jr., also a football player.
Parker Morse for the IAAF
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