Lagat ties the Chairman; Hooker scares Bubka's record at Millrose Games

01-30-2009

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Jill Geer
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NEW YORK - On the track and in the field, Bernard Lagat and Steven Hooker kept 11,543 fans on their feet Friday night at the 102nd Millrose Games. A longtime Madison Square Garden favorite, Lagat tied Eamonn Coghlan's record with his seventh Wanamaker mile victory, while Hooker posted the best indoor pole vault in the world since 2002, breaking several records in the process.

The first stop of USATF's 2009 Indoor Visa Championship Series, the Millrose Games will be broadcast by NBC from 1:30-2:30 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday. Check local listings.

The Co-Chairman

In tying Coghlan's seven victories, Lagat became the "Co-Chairman of the Boards," but it wasn't without a fight in the evening's climactic event. With a pacesetter towing Lagat through a 56.9 quarter mile and 1:57.8 half-mile, the pace slowed to 3:00.2 at three-quarters, with Lagat leading Olympic bronze medalist Nick Willis by a stride.

Owning six Wanamaker titles, a pair of 2007 world championships and two Olympic medals, Lagat knew to expect a move by Willis. That move came with 1 ½ laps to go on the 145-meter track, when Willis burst past Lagat on the backstretch. Lagat appeared momentarily stunned but quickly responded and got on the New Zealander's shoulder.

Just after the bell lap, Lagat began his move, and he passed Willis on the backstretch. He won in 3:58.44, with Willis second in 3:59.48 and Pablo Solares third in 4:00.85. His historic performance earned Lagat the Team USA Athlete of the Meet award, presented by Visa.

Hooker's heights

In his first competition since winning the Olympic gold medal in August, Steven Hooker stunned even himself with a near-world-record performance in the Fred Schmertz men's pole vault. The charismatic Aussie won the competition with a first-attempt clearance at 5.70m/18-8.25, then made 5.88m/19-3.5 on his third attempt to break Jeff Hartwig's Millrose record of 5.87m/19-3 and break his own Australian indoor record of 5.81m/19-0.75.

He wasn't done, next clearing 6.01m/19-8.5 on his first attempt to set Australian, Millrose Games and Madison Square Garden records. It eclipsed his own outdoor personal best mark of 6.00m/19-8.25, was the highest indoor vault ever on U.S. soil and made him the #4 vaulter in history. He moved the bar to 6.16m/20-2.5 to take aim at Sergey Bubka's world record of 6.15m/20-2, set in 1993. After two decent attempts, he gave the bar a good look on his third try, serving notice that Bubka may have to keep his eye on this latest challenger. More than a foot behind him, Hooker left Olympic fourth-place finisher Derek Miles (5.70m/18-8.25) and Giovanni Lanaro of Mexico (5.60m/18-4).

Jenn Stuczynski threatened record books in the Gill women's vault, but not before she got a scare from a legend. In a small field, American indoor record holder and 2000 Olympic gold medalist Stacy Dragila matched Stuczynski's heights as both women cleared 4.61m/15-1.5. It was Dragila's best jump since she broke the American records indoors (4.81m/15-9.25) and outdoors in 2004 (4.83m/15-10). Yet only Stuczynski cleared 4.71m/15-5, which she accomplished on her first vault, before taking a shot at the American record at 4.82m/15-9.75. A huge clearance on her third attempt ended with her hitting the bar on the way down, keeping Dragila's name in tact on the AR lists.

Goucher makes it 2-0 in the mile

In yet another amazing New York City performance, 2007 World Outdoor 10,000m bronze medalist Kara Goucher crushed the field in the NYRR women's mile. A freshly minted marathoner after placing third at the 2008 New York City marathon, Goucher took the lead Friday night at the half mile, then made it a one-woman race. She crossed the line in 4:33.19 for her second straight Millrose win, well ahead of Marina Muncan of Serbia in 4:37.77 and Mestawot Tadesse of Ethiopia in 4:38.30.

In the circle

The Visa men's shot put produced yet another close competition as three of the world's best traded tosses. Heading into the fourth and final round of competition, 2007 world champion Reese Hoffa and Olympic silver medalist Christian Cantwell both had best throws of 20.48m/67-2.25. In the final round, Cantwell improved to 20.53m/67-4.25, only to be outdone by Nelson, who took his second consecutive Millrose victory with a final throw of 20.79m/68-2.5.

In the straightaway

In a rematch of the women's 100m hurdles silver and bronze medalists from Beijing, Sally McClellan of Australia and Priscilla Lopes-Schliep of Canada turned in a thrilling race in the women's 60m hurdles. The Olympic silver medalists, McClellan got out well and was in the lead until the final stride of the race, when Lopes-Schliep nudged ahead to successfully defend her Millrose title in a world-leading time of 7.95 seconds. McClellan was second in 7.96 and Tiffany Ofili of the United States was third in 8.02.

The men's 60m hurdles was much less dramatic, with two-time Olympic silver medalist Terrence Trammell dominating in 7.45 seconds, the fastest time in the world this year and just .02 off Allen Johnson's Millrose Games records. In a race contested after a pair of false starts, Antwon Hicks was second in 7.64, with Hector Cotto third in 7.72.

The 60m dashes produced two first-time winners in their first outings. In his Millrose Games debut, and after enduring three false starts, 2008 U.S. indoor champion Michael Rodgers denied Trammell a double victory, winning the Visa men's 60m in a world-leading, personal-best time of 6.51. Trammell was second in 6.54, and two-time Olympic 200m medalist Shawn Crawford was third in 6.62. In the women's race, first-year pro Bianca Knight won her first Millrose title in 7.23, with Olympic Trials 100m champion Muna Lee second in 7.28 and Mechelle Lewis third in 7.29.

Seaman wins another one

The New York Athletic Club's very own Tim Seaman won his fifth career title in the Susan M. Rudin men's 1 mile race walk, finishing in 6:02.58 to defeat his training partner, Andreas Gustafsson of Sweden (6:04.54), with Mike Tarantino in third (6:08.58). With the race serving as a national championship event, Seaman tallied the 34th national title of his career.

Teresa Vaill won her second consecutive national title in the women's 1 mile race walk, finishing as the first American in the race, finishing in 6:51.33. Rachel Lavallee of Canada won the overall race in a Millrose Games record 6:47.45, with Vaill second and Solomiya Login third in 7:09.21.

High school miler magic

Jillian Smith of Southern Regional High School won her second straight title in the adidas girls' mile run. After sitting fourth for the first stages of the race behind Melanie Thompson of Voorhees HS, she took over the race and threatened the meet record before finishing in a swift 4:51.88. Cory McGee of Pass Christian was second in 4:54.59, and Emily Lipari of Roslyn was third in 4:57.70.

In the boys' mile, 2008 Millrose runner-up Robby Andrews of Manalapan used a fantastic final lap to win in 4:17.42 over Bret Johnson of Ocean City (4:19.61) and Mark Feigan of East Greenwich (4:20.43).

Other elite event winners included Amy Acuff taking her fifth Millrose title in the John Thomas women's high jump with a clearance of 1.92m/6-3.5; Monica Hargrove out-leaning Aliann Pompey of Guyana in the women's 600m, 1:19.50 to 1:19.51; Renny Quow of Trinidad winning the Mel Sheppard men's 600 in 1:11.32; Amber Campbell taking the women's weight throw (23.33m /76-6.5) and Jake Freeman winning the men's weight throw (23.77m/78-0).

Athlete quotes, 102nd Millrose Games

Bernard Lagat, Wanamaker Mile winner: "The race was good. I was prepared coming in. I had been training very well. I feel fast, I feel fresh. It's good to come back and win. Ending up the season not winning a lot last year because of the injury I had, to start the year with the win, this is not another race for me. This race means a lot. I have a lot of respect for Eamonn Coghlan. Today, winning seven like him means a lot to me. He is a man who was rooting for me today. He wanted me to win today, so that means a lot. He told me he had no doubt that I was going to win. Today when he was coming into the track, he said 'I will be at the finish line to give Lagat the trophy.'

On Willis' move: "I had enough reserve in the tank. As you guys could see, after the pacemaker dropped, I didn't want to go all out. I knew it (Willis' move) was going to happen, it was just a matter of if it would be with 3 laps to go or 2 laps to go. My coach and I had discussed to take advantage of the last backstretch. I took advantage of that to come back and win. It is tough to pass on the turn. It is really wide.

I've been running here since 2001. I think I've run and gotten in different situations in the race. I remember when Laban Rotich passed me in 2003, he caught me by surprise. If somebody surprises you, you have to be able to go instantly. In this tight track, if you wait for too long, it's going to be too late.

On if he wants to repeat his double victory at World Outdoors: "Yes, I hope so. Last year I was in good shape and trained so well through the Trials. After the Trials, I got an Achilles tendon problem. It became a big problem three weeks before the Olympics. If I train like this, no problems, I could see myself running well like I did since 2007. ... I would love to run the New York City Marathon, either competitively or for fun."

Nick Willis, 2nd in Wanamaker mile: "It went pretty much to plan for the first half of the race. I thought the requested pace would be a little fast, so I purposely held back. I was supposed to take the lead with 3.5 laps to go in my mind, but I wasn't quite feeling it, so I decided to wait. The last chance to go around him, I had to make a really sudden move, and I think that zapped a bit out of my legs. We battled it out, and the crowd really got behind it, but I didn't have it in my legs because of that first move. It was important to make sure Kip (Lagat) had a challenging run, and I'm glad he didn't have a walk in the park. The crowd enjoyed it. It was nice to be part of history."

Steven Hooker, men's pole vault champion: "It was a little unexpected. I've had a really interrupted preparation. I've had one complete pole vault before I came here. About four weeks ago I broke a pole while I was jumping and it hit my knee, and I haven't vaulted since then. To come out here and jump a personal best is a bit of a surprise, and to have such good jumps at the world record, is very exciting and very surprising.

He (Bubka) is the benchmark in pole vault. That's the first time I ever put the bar up to his world record. I think that's a good experience, particularly in the first meet of the year. Hopefully I'll get a couple more shots in coming weeks. I'd like to think that I've got more in me. The more jumps I do, hopefully my technique will become more solid. I'm not going to get too ahead of myself, but it's definitely a good way to start the season.

My last jump (at the world record), I felt, was really, really good. I probably just need a bigger pole and I'll get closer. I think I blew into it a bit. Either I need to push the stands back a bit or just get on a bigger pole. I think it's achievable, after attempting it. Even now, I can't believe I've just attempted the world record. I'll go watch videos of the competition with my coach, but right now, I'm just happy. There's not much more I can say."

Kara Goucher, NYRR women's mile winner: "I was ready to do something a little different today. My coach talked to me about taking the lead at the half mile and slowing it down, which is something I never do. So I took the lead and was waiting for someone to come up on me, but they didn't."

On her fast time: "I ran 4:39 on my own a couple of weeks ago. The pace (at Millrose) was out pretty quick, and if I hadn't faded the last couple of laps, it might have been faster. My stride is a shuffle, so my coach told me, when you want to move fast, don't stride out. Try to make it quick.

On how the mile reflects her marathon training: The mile tells me I'm not doing too much. Alberto (Salazar, her coach) says doing the shorter races is a good indicator. When you're training for a marathon, you may feel a little burnt. In an 80-mile week, which is what I'll end up at this week, I can still run a 4:33 mile. Apparently, he's not pushing me hard enough. I'm running 18 miles on Sunday.

"I love New York. It's a great city. I didn't start racing in New York until last year, and I didn't know what I was missing."

Teresa Vaill, women's 1 mile race walk national champion: "It was a great race today. I'm happy I did it. I like coming to New York because I am from here. But I'm not really training for indoors, just preparing for outdoors. I'm working towards Outdoor Nationals to secure a spot on the World Championships team. I've been race walking for 25 years. I'm starting to get into coaching to get more people involved in the walk. We need more young people in the sport. "

Tim Seaman, men's 1 mile race walk national champion: "That's #34 in the bag (total national titles). I had two paddles (penalties) there at the end, so I just tried to be cautious on the last 400 meters. I slowed a little and really concentrated on my form and I got it."

Jillian Smith, adidas girls' 1 mile run winner: "Going into the race, I wasn't really aiming for the record. When you're in a fast race against fast people, you'll run fast times. I was just going in looking for the win and seeing the best I could do. That's what I did tonight. Being a veteran on the track, it's a lot easier on the turns, and you know when people are going to make their moves. The race would have had a much different outcome if it was a non-banked track. I'm just really glad it's over. All the anticipation and expectations, all the history on this track, I'm glad I could be part of it. I feel pressure going into every race. I'm just glad I was able to do well tonight."

Monica Hargrove, women's 600 yard run winner: "I wanted to be at the break first. She (Aliann Pompey) got out really fast and ran me out to the outside. I just tucked in behind her and thought if I had anything left, I would just bring it home. I thought I was going to be able to pass her pretty easily, but she had another gear, too. That was the first time I ever dipped in a race, and it was my first 600."

Amy Acuff, John Thomas women's high jump winner: "I just moved back to my long approach last week, so I'm not super-confident getting that dialed back in yet, but I generally feel explosive, so I think it's going to be a good season. The whole experience, coming to New York City, there are people in the stands who have been coming here for 40, 50 years. That just gives it more meaning for me. There were some kinks there to be expected this early in the indoor season. This is my last season competing, so this will be my last Millrose, with 90 percent certainty. I believe in the adage to leave before they kick you out. I don't want to get to the point where I'm really struggling. I want to go snow skiing, I want to do other dangerous activities!"

Robby Andrews, boys' 1 mile run winner: "It was slow, but I tried to stay in the top five throughout the race. I learned a lot from last year. All the hard work and the torture my coach puts me through, it's worth it. I've been training pretty hard.

"The track is incredibly hard to run on. You feel like you're going out really fast, but you'll be going through (half-way) in 2:15 or 2:16. You've just got to be there in the end. I thought it was gong to be a lot faster. Bret (Johnson) was right in front of me and these guys were coming pretty hard, but luckily it paid off. I've been training a lot harder than I have been in the past. I haven't really been in the weight room. I hoped that I had it, but Bret, he and I had a run in at meet of champs last year and he blew me out of the water. (On winning at Millrose) It's the greatest feeling ever. I can definitely get used to it. I was so excited. I've never really had that feeling before in the mile. Running in Madison Square Garden, it's just surreal. I'm grateful to have the opportunity."

Amber Campbell, women's weight throw winner: "It was a good competition. I had fun and was ready to throw big. I got started a little rough, but by the end I finally got it together. I was blessed with another good opportunity to compete.":

Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, women's 60m hurdles: "To come back and win back-to-back (Millrose titles), I'm really excited. Not many people get to do that. This was only my second hurdle race of the year. I'm very, very excited. Sally (McClellan) has a really good start, and I've known that from the get-go. I just kept telling myself get down and run between the hurdles. It was really exciting. I've got to start here every year from now on. I love it. There is no meet like Millrose. To start my season off well again is starting in the right footsteps. I'm going back to Toronto. I'll try to run a new personal best this year. In February I leave for Europe to run a few races over there."

Bianca Knight, adidas women's 60m dash winner: "I was a little jumpy at the start. I caused the first false start. I apologized to the ladies because I probably made them sit in the blocks a little. I felt pretty good. It was my first Millrose Games, so to come out with a win, I'm excited. It's really noisy in here, even after they tell the crowd to be quiet. Over the years, I became good running indoors. This year I decided my goal is to break the 200 (world) record indoors at Fayetteville (the Tyson Invitational on February 13)."

Terrence Trammell, men's 60m hurdles winner: "With the hurdles I basically wanted to be sure I had a good start. There is a dip in the first five meters of the straightaway. If you're not careful, you'll tend to overstride and drop your hips. I wanted to make sure I was very technically sound and I was running off each hurdle aggressively. I think I did that for the most part. I haven't been in competition since in the middle of July, so I'm glad to get a race under my belt. I wanted to stay poised and run the best race possible.

On his second-place finish in the Visa men's 60m dash: "Since we had three starts in the hurdles and four in the dash,, I had about seven starts tonight. I'm glad I was able to stay focused. Mike (Rodgers) is an up-and-comer. He's really strong and really talented. This gave me a good measurement of where I am in my training. It was a great race and I'm definitely pleased with how I performed tonight."

Michael Rodgers, Visa men's 60m winner: "It's pretty awesome, but I had to sit in the blocks because of the false start. It's a pretty good opening for me. It's a PR, so I'm pretty happy. At worlds, it cost me a medal, so I had to focus in. My start was OK, so-so. I didn't panic because I know I have top-end speed."

Jenn Stuczynski, Gill women's pole vault winner: "There is definitely a lot of nerves in my first competition of the year. You don't know what to expect. Stacy (Dragila) was jumping really well, so it pushed me. That was nice to have. The American record heights, two of them I thought (the bars) were going to stay, but I guess it wasn't meant to be. I kind of had to tell myself, I wasn't sure at .51 when Stacy made it and at .61 she had a good attempt, I thought I could see me getting second again. But I said I can't think like that, and it was good to get a win. There were some technical things I was working on tonight, but at the same time I question myself on some of the poles I should be on. I kind of contradicted myself today. The indoor season is going to be trusting myself.

Stacy Dragila, 2nd in Gill women's vault: "It was fun to fly high again. That was the most consistent set of jumps I've had in years. Having a full fall of training gives me confidence. This year, I just want to give myself a chance to redeem myself and go out with flying colors, since this will be my last year competing."

Adam Nelson, Visa men's shot put winner: "It started off kind of slow tonight. This is still very early in the season for us. Normally we have one or two open meets before this meet. This was my season opener, so it took me a while to get my competition timing. I think also the fact we were about 25 minutes behind schedule messed us up a little...Every year the fans here at the Millrose Games are just phenomenal. They make this competition worthwhile, no matter how far we throw."

On fatherhood: "It's phenomenal. All the clichés they use to say how much you'll appreciate that baby and how it'll change your life are absolutely true. I remember thinking, no, it's not going to make that big a difference. Really, you finally learn the meaning of unconditional love. Christian (Cantwell, also a new dad) and I have talked a couple of times about our experiences, and I think he feels the same way. We said the exact same thing about it today. You don't realize how much you can love somebody. It's been a great growing experience. It gives you perspective. From the training perspective, it's actually helped in a lot. It gives you something to train for. ... I finished my MBA in December (at the University of Virginia). My wife is finishing law school (at UVA) in May, and we're moving back to Athens, Georgia, to open a yogurt store there. We're pretty excited about the opportunity. It'll be called Moyo. When I was a kid, my name was Mo, and of course Yo for yogurt."