The Millrose Games: A Legend in its Own Time

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The Millrose Games: A Legend in its Own Time

Only astute track and field fans or sports historians (or really old geezers) would recognize these names: Paavo Nurmi, Cornelius Warmerdam, Glenn Cunningham...

A few more casual track fans might perk up at these names: Mary Decker, Marty Liquori, Jackie Joyner-Kersee...

And is there a self-respecting sports enthusiast who has not heard of Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis or Yelena Isinbayeva...?

All these legends of track and field—and more...many, many more—have left their blood, sweat and tears upon the fabled boards at the Millrose Games.

Yet the greatest legend of them all may be The Games themselves.

This Friday, January 29, New York's Madison Square Garden will host the 103rd edition of the prestigious Millrose Games—arguably the most famous, and certainly the oldest indoor track and field meet in the world. The Millrose will welcome top athletes from high school, collegiate and professional levels in a kickoff of the USA Track and Field Visa Championship Series.

Consider these milestones:

Friday will be the 96th time the Millrose Games has been hosted by Madison Square Garden, making it the oldest continuous sporting event held there.

Millrose's signature event, the legendary Wanamaker Mile, will be making its 82nd run.

Testifying to its worldwide prestige, Millrose has produced 202 champions who have also been Olympic champions.

Consider these famous moments:

Men's Pole Vault - Cornelius Warmerdam, using a rigid steel pole, became the first to eclipse the 15-foot barrier indoors in 1942.

Men's High Jump - John Thomas, the first over seven feet, in 1959.

Women's 1500 Meter Run - Mary Decker, shattering the World Indoor record in 1980.

Men's Long Jump - Carl Lewis flying 28 feet, 10.25 inches in 1984, establishing a World Indoor mark which still stands.

Wanamaker Mile - Ireland's Eamonn Coghlan, known as the Chairman of the Boards, winning an unheard-of seventh time in 1987. Astonishingly, American runner Bernard Lagat matched that feat last year.

Yet even the star-studded Millrose Games has struggled to fill seats lately.

Due primarily to several high-profile doping scandals and public relations shortcomings, Track and Field has lost some of its lustre in the last 20 years—especially in the US.

Consequently, the IAAF (international athletics governing body) has instituted some of the most stringent drug testing and prevention measures in all of sport.

This, combined with the recent notoriety of mega-stars like Usain Bolt, Isinbayeva, and Kenenisa Bekele has stirred a renewed interest in the sport.

And Millrose accordingly, will this year feature an obvious PR experiment designed to draw in the huge NFL market: the Super 60, a 60 meter dash pitting present and former NFL speed merchants against one another.

As of this writing, expected participants are:

David Tyree - hero of Super Bowl XLI, the New York Giant/Baltimore Raven Pro Bowler was a 200 and 400 meter specialist at Syracuse University.

Willie Gault - the ageless, former world-class hurdler and star for the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX, Gault will be the favorite of the over-50 crowd. Establishing his credentials in football and track at the University of Tennessee, Gault is a young 49.

Tim Dwight - return specialist for multiple NFL teams, Dwight represented the University of Iowa as Big Ten champion in the 100 meters, 4x100, and 4x400 relays in 1999.

Other interesting matchups to watch:

Men's Shot Put - Perhaps one of the best chances at seeing a new world record lies in the men's shot. At least four throwers, including world leader Christian Cantwell, are capable of heaving the 16 pound cannonball over 70 feet. Other notables in the mix are Reese Hoffa, Adam Nelson and Dan Taylor.

The shot will have everyone's attention as no other events are scheduled during that particular competition. Each competitor will have four attempts.

Pole Vault - Retired American Stacy Dragila and reigning queen Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia have certainly focused worldwide attention on the women's vault. It is one of the premier events wherever world-class Track and Field athletes congregate.

And this year's Millrose should be no exception. A great rivalry between America's top two vaulters has the potential of producing new records. Jenn (Stuczynski) Suhr, 2008 Olympic silver medalists and Chelsea Johnson, 2009 World Outdoor silver medalist are both ranked in the top ten in the world.

On the men's side, Tim Mack, 2004 Olympic gold medalist will be pushed by two-time Millrose winner Derek Miles and 2009 World Outdoor bronze medalist, Renaud Lavillenie, of France.

Hurdles - The men's 60 meter hurdles provides another world-class assembly. Reigning World Outdoor champ Ryan Brathwaite of Barbados, two-time Olympic silver medalist Terrence Trammell and Jamaican record holder Dwight Thomas could threaten the Millrose record in the twinkling of an eye.

Rumor has it that reigning World Decathlon champion Trey Hardee will toe the line as well.

Sprints - The women's 60 meters is the headliner in the sprints. Muna Lee, the 2008 US Olympic Trials 100 meter winner, Marshavet (Hooker) Myers, and defending Millrose champion Bianca Knight guarantee a standard-setting time.

Add reigning USA Indoor champ Lisa Barber in the mix and a new Millrose record becomes even more likely.

And late word has it that Olympic gold medalist Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica has entered. This will stir memories of a controversial photo finish with Barber at the 2006 Millrose Games in which Campbell-Brown was finally declared the winner after much scrutiny and study of the photo.

Campbell-Brown's presence brings the interest in this race to a whole new level.

Middle Distance - 400 meter hurdler Bershawn "Batman" Jackson will test his quarter-mile speed against 2009 World Outdoor 400 meter bronze medalist Renny Quow of Trinidad & Tobago in the rare 600 yard race. It will be interesting to see how each runner responds to the extra eighth-mile distance.

Anna (Willard) Pierce, coming off an incredible 2009 where she ran a sub-4:00 1500 meters and a sub-2:00 800 meters, will no doubt find her biggest test in Kenya's Sally Kipyego. The Kenyan won nine NCAA individual titles while at Texas Tech.

It will be Pierce's speed against Kipyego's endurance in the women's mile.

Fittingly, the most dramatic and intriguing matchup comes in the Millrose finale: the Wanamaker Mile. Bernard Lagat, who last year equalled the once untouchable record of Eamonn Coghlan's seven victories, will have to defeat Ethiopia's Deresse Mekonnen to stand alone as the only man to win the Wanamaker eight times.

Mekonnen was the man who out-sprinted Lagat in the 2009 Worlds for silver in the 1500 meters.

(UPDATE: It has been learned that Mekonnen has withdrawn due to a last-minute visa discrepancy. Lagat's challenge is not diminished however, as 2008 Olympic 1500 meter gold medalist Asbel Kiprop remains in the race.)

The Millrose Games will be televised live on ESPN2 from 8-10 pm Eastern Time. Universal Sports will have live online coverage.

The Visa Championship Series indoor circuit continues through February culminating in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the 2010 USA Indoor Track and Field Championships.

Oh...and if you're planning to attend the Millrose Games, Visa will gladly be accepted.

 

Also published at Sports Then and Now

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