Olympians Nick Symmonds and Duane Solomon are the favorites.
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NEW YORK — Saturday’s 106th Millrose Games here will give fans a rare opportunity to watch two high-quality 600-meter races, three laps of the Armory’s fast, banked, Mondo track. In both contests –one for men and one for women– the athletes could set national or world bests for the rarely run distance.
“The nice thing about the Armory is that the athletes get to run fast,” commented meeting director Ray Flynn at a press conference here this morning. “We’re excited. We have some debut athletes… that have never competed at the Armory. So, I think that everyone is very excited about competing here.”
One of those debutantes is Nick Symmonds, five-time U.S. 800m champion. Saturday’s race will be his first in the Armory, his first indoor 600m race, and his only indoor race of this season. He said today that he had three excellent weeks of base training in Mexico with Olympic silver medalist Leo Manzano, but had the flu for five days, which left him bed-ridden. Nonetheless, he’s focused on racing well against his key rival, Duane Solomon, who ran a national best 1:15.70 in Glasgow on 26 January. Solomon said last week that the world best of 1:15.12 by Germany’s Nico Motchebon (1999) was definitely a possibility.
“I would expect nothing less than Duane than to go out hard from the gun,” Symmonds told reporters on Thursday. “Duane and I have been racing each other for almost a decade now. It’s a cat-and-mouse game; I just have to not let him get too far away from me.”
Symmonds said that he could not depend on the potent come-from-behind kick he used to great success in his 800m victories. The 600 is just simply too short.
“I’ve made up 10 or 20 meters before with a lap to go, but the six is not as forgiving,” Symmonds continued. “I’ll have to maintain contact. Duane has some phenomenal 400-meter speed, and he holds the American record. He’s the guy to beat in this race.”
Belgium’s Kevin Borlée, the bronze medalist from the 2011 IAAF World Championships at 400m, likely would have pushed the pace, but he withdrew from the meet yesterday citing back problems. Meet director Flynn replaced him with Erik Sowinski, last June’s NCAA Championships 800m runner up. The other competitors are America’s Mike Rutt, Trinidad’s Jarrin Solomon, and Uganda’s Julius Mutekanga.
Alysia Montaño, fifth at last summer’s Olympic 800m, is the favorite in the women’s race. Born in Queens, the front-running Montaño arrived to New York early to practice on the Armory track where she had never competed. She doesn’t have an official 600m mark to her credit, but said today that she’s run faster than the U.S. best of 1:26.56 set by Delisa Walton-Floyd 30 years ago several times in practice (outdoors).
“Everyone’s seen me race and I definitely put my heart out there on the line,” she said the four-time national champion. “Adrenaline is rushing, the gun goes off and I’m gone. It’s 600 meters. I definitely feel I can hold on for a strong finish.”
Montaño wouldn’t specify any time goals, but she ran some workouts which she said left her feeling confident about the distance, and even breaking the record.
“It sounds fantastic, it sounds very doable,” she said of the record. “I’ve done great time trials where I’ve obliterated that outdoors. That’s the difference. We’re going to be racing around this track three times with tight turns. It could happen, or not.”
Like Montaño, the other competitors are half-milers, including 2012 world indoor bronze medalist Erica Moore, and Neptune, N.J., high school sensation Ajee’ Wilson, who just turned pro. Montaño said she wasn’t focused on the others in the field.
“It’s interesting: I’m going to run it the way I’m going to run it,” Montaño said. “They (600m races) do tend to go out in 52 seconds and die super-duper hard, and it’s kind of fun to chase after that.”