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Millrose Games Celebrates 100th Birthday as Track’s Most Prestigious Indoor Event
Guess you’d have to be a runner to appreciate the Millrose Games, which celebrated their 100th edition this weekend at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
The Millrose Games may not be the most prestigious indoor athletics meet in the world, it is in fact THE most prestigious indoor invitational athletics meet in the world. As a high school and college runner, you dream of running the boards at the Millrose Games in Madison Square Garden the same way a football player dreams of playing in the Super Bowl.
Athletics has had a hard time in the United States lately and that’s why the 100th edition of the Millrose is so important. Only the 2007 Millrose Games, as Dick Patrick wrote in USA Today on Thursday (2-1-07), “survived the demise of a once-vibrant domestic circuit that the United States had monopolized.”
Patrick is right.
Not only has Camelot lost its shine with the tragic loss of President John F. Kennedy, the Millrose Games has lost some of its bloom, but it can still flourish thanks to the famous Wanamaker Mile competition and enough athletes world class to deserve 2 hours. of live coverage by ESPN2 on Fridays and 1 hour by ABC on Saturdays.
I was glued to the TV for both screenings.
Many runners who would watch the Millrose Games on the tube wouldn’t if it weren’t for sportswriters like Dick Patrick. His pre-meeting coverage of the event in USA Today was interesting, informative and extensive.
The Millrose Games were started in 1908 by John Wanamaker of the Wanamaker department store chain and rose to prominence in the 1920s. Herb Schmertz, who worked for the Wanamaker department store in New York, became the manager of met Millrose in 1934 and ran the Millrose games for 40 years, until 1974, when his son Howard, a New York lawyer, took over in 1975 and continued until 2003.
The Schmertz family ran the Millrose Games for 69 years and Howard Schmertz continued as Competition Director Emeritus for the 100th Millrose Games. The new competition director is Mark Wetmore of Global Athletics Management.
John Wanamaker of Wanamaker Department Stores was an American retail giant. He opened Philadelphia’s first department store in 1861 and would eventually have 15 more stores in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware.
Wanamaker is considered the father of modern advertising in America. He was the first to copyright his advertisements, the first to guarantee his goods and offer exchanges and refunds, he created the price tag as we know it today and was the first to set up a restaurant in his department store.
Wanamaker was well ahead of its time as the first department store with electric lighting (1878), the first store with a telephone (1879), the first store to install pneumatic tubes to transport money and documents (1880) and the first store with an elevator (1884).
It is hardly surprising that John Wanamaker sponsors a major sporting event and gives birth to the Millrose Games. As major sponsors, fixtures and attendance began to fade in the 1990s, Europe became a much bigger indoor player; however, the Millrose Games continued thanks to the Schmertz family.
The Millrose Games have been through three Madison Square Gardens, two World Wars and a Great Depression and survived to celebrate their 100th anniversary.
This year’s centennial meet saw Gail Devers, 40, already the meet and American record holder in the hurdles, win the event in 7.86 seconds – the fastest time in the world this year and nearly a full second better than the listed world record for masters athletes (40+) at 8.71.
Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva set a Millrose Games record in her first competition on American soil. Isinbayeva is the 17-time world record holder; she continually breaks her own world record and tried her last attempt at Millrose but missed.
In the famous Wanamaker Mile on Saturday, four-time winner Bernard Lagat took on Craig “Buster” Mottram, the 6-foot-3 Commonwealth Games champion, and Alan Webb, the new American “house” miler. Lagat, a Kenyan runner, has apparently become a US citizen.
Lagat’s legacy is already assured as he is a double Olympic medalist in the 1,500 meters. Webb became the first American high schooler to break 4 minutes for the inside mile (3:59.86), and outside Prefontaine Classic in Eugene (OR) would run 3:53.43 to break the National High School of Jim Ryan, 36 years old. save. In 2004, Webb won the Olympic 1,500 meter trials and he ran an outdoor mile in 3:48.92 last year.
The Wanamaker Mile is different and challenging because Madison Square Garden has a 160 meter track with angled boards compared to the normal 200 meter indoor tracks. Because it’s shorter, the corners are harder and it’s 11 laps instead of 8 laps.
In this year’s race, Alan Webb led behind Pacemaker Moise Joseph for a 1:54.99 half mile, then Bernard Lagat, the defending champion, took over until Australian Buster Mottram sprints ahead with 4 laps to go.
Mottram knew that Lagat considered it vital to be in the lead with two laps to go to win, and so Mottram poured it in and still led on the final lap. Lagat then switched to another gear and won with a better finishing gear in 3:54.26. Mottram finished second in an Australian record 3:54.81, and Webb was a disappointing fourth.
I really felt for Alan Webb. He was so excited to do better against Lagat. When asked with Lagat before the race, the announcer reminded Webb that Lagat had gotten the better of him several times and asked how Webb would beat him this time. My heart sank.
I’ve run too many races and I understand how the announcer was able to seal Webb’s fate right there. I don’t think Webb was ready to answer such a question just before the competition and couldn’t adjust mentally before the competition.
Webb’s response to the announcer was that he “needed to be tougher” when a better response would have been “he needed to be smarter”, especially if Webb had run a more tactical race and knew his leg speed was as good as Lagat’s at the finish.
Otherwise, he couldn’t have won without pushing harder earlier in hopes of wearing down Lagat. Lagat is a Kenyan, not a turtle. He can fly as well as run. Webb’s best inside mile forward was a triumphant 3:55.18 a short week ago in Boston.
Remember, Lagat won in 3:54.81, only 37 hundredths of a second faster. I guess Webb is physically ready, but he has work to do emotionally and mentally to beat Lagat, whose hardened, winning experience and confidence has improved.
They run the Wanamaker Mile for the same reason they play the Super Bowl. You can talk all you want about who will win or why, but the winning team will have to prove any claims on game day.
Dick Patrick ended his pregame story with this exceptional sidebar:
Howard Schmertz was 7 years old when he saw his first Millrose Games in 1933, accompanying his father, meeting director Herb Schmertz.
Howard Schmertz, who succeeded his father as manager in 1975, has since missed only two Millrose encounters when fighting in World War II. (Here are Howard’s best Millrose moments) Schmertz:
10) Bernard Lagat wins the 2005 Wanamaker Mile with a Madison Square Garden record 3:52.87.
9) Suleiman Nyambui wins the 1981 5000 (meter race) after a duel with Alberto Salazar, after a victory in the New York Marathon. Nyambui sets a world record of 13:20.4.
8) Irishman Eamonn Coghlan wins a record seventh Wanamaker Mile in 1987, beating Marcus O’Sullivan (another great Irish runner).
7) In the 1984 long jump, second-placed Carl Lewis took over and set a world record of 28 feet 10¼ inches.
6) Marine Corporal John Uelses, using a newly designed fiberglass pole, becomes the first to clear 16 feet in the pole vault.
5) In 1974, Tony Waldrop recorded the first mile under 4 minutes in Millrose history.
4) Mary Decker won the 1,500 (metre race) by 80 yards in 1980 and set a world record in 4:00.8.
3) In 1955, the Dane Gunnar Nielsen took back his world record for the mile from Wes Santee in 4:03.6. Meanwhile, Fred Dwyer, forced off the track on the last lap, and Santee were practically struggling on the straight in Nielsen’s slipstream.
2) In 1942, Cornelius Warmerdam, borrowing a bamboo pole, became the first to clear 15 feet in the vault. He beat the Millrose mark of 14-3, held by Sueo Ohe, killed several weeks earlier during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines.
1) In 1959, 17-year-old John Thomas became the first to clear 7 feet indoors in the high jump, beating Charlie Dumas, the first to clear 7 feet outdoors.
Hats off to Dick Patrick for bringing back great memories. And hats off to Millrose Games, still the best indoor games in the world.
Copyright © 2007 Ed Bagley
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