Bernard Lagat going after American, world records in rarely run 2,000m event.
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NEW YORK — Entering Saturday’s 107th NYRR Millrose Games at The New Balance Track & Field Center at The Armory, a number of streaks are on the line in the distance disciplines. Speaking to members of the media today, Mary Cain, Bernard Lagat, Nick Willis, and Kim Conley each spoke about their recent success on the track and time spent racing in the Big Apple.
Lagat, 39, of Tucson, Ariz., has raced at the NYRR Millrose Games in twelve of the last thirteen years, including an active streak of nine years. In each of the last two NYRR Millrose Games, Lagat has set national records — 13:07.15 for 5000m in 2012, followed by a 8:09.49 national mark over two miles last year. Though both records have since been broken by Galen Rupp, Lagat is ready to etch his name in the history books once more, this time in the rarely run 2000 meters. He’ll be part of the Paavo Nurmi 2000m, a race honoring the legendary distance runner from Finland.
Steve Scott’s American record of 4:58.6 has stood since 1981, while Kenenisa Bekele’s world best 4:49.99 was set in 2007. If Lagat has a good day, both could very well come down.
“That is my aim, that is what I have been training for,” said Lagat, sporting a red Nike sweat top in honor of Valentine’s Day. “I have done all the training, I have focused on it, and that is what I am coming to see — if I can do that. I am confident that if all goes well with the pacemaking and my body feels good, I want to break that record.”
Lagat said that his strategy was to view the race as a mile, with a mere two laps of The Armory’s 200 meter banked oval tacked on the end. It’ll be the first time in the Millrose Games’ 107-year history that the 2000 meters is on the meet program.
“I have been thinking about it that it might as well be eight laps (a mile), and you just add two,” he said. “This one is like a mile, add two laps. Simple strategy.”
On the women’s front, one could very well argue that Mary Cain and Kim Conley are among the hottest runners on the planet this winter. Combining for six wins in the eight races they’ve entered, both have shown a forceful dominance early on.
Cain returns to her home track with hopes of claiming the NYRR Wanamaker Women’s Mile. At this meet last year, Cain drew the loudest cheers of the evening when finishing runner-up to Canadian Sheila Reid, setting a new American Junior record of 4:28.25 in the process. Since then, Cain has turned professional as part of the Nike Oregon Project, become the World Junior Record holder for 1000 meters (2:35.80), and bettered her indoor mile personal best to 4:24.11.
Reminiscing about last year’s Millrose Games experience brought a smile to Cain’s face.
“Definitely that victory lap, Sheila Reid was really nice to share it with me. It was really fun going around that last lap. Having that sort of atmosphere definitely changes the race,” she said. When asked what it would be like to potentially win and do a victory lap all by herself this year, Cain beamed once again. “That would be really amazing. I would love to do that, but I think there are a lot of capable women in this field who could be those people taking that victory lap away from me. I guess I’ll just play it by ear!”
Morgan Uceny, Sarah Brown, Emily Lipari, Corey McGee, and high school sensation Alexa Efraimson will join Cain in the NYRR Wanamaker Women’s Mile.
Similar to Cain, Olympian Kim Conley has been on a tear of late. In each of the three races she has run this season, the 27-year-old University of California-Davis alum has set personal bests: 2:05.92 for 800m in Washington, 4:24.54 for the New Balance Games mile victory last month (setting a new Armory record), and just last week winning the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix 2000m in 5:41.10.
All season long Conley has maintained that her focus is on the outdoor season and running a fast 10,000m time at Stanford’s Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational. But with her recent success, Conley did consider ditching those plans and taking a stab at the World Indoor Championships in Poland.
“After I ran the mile [at the New Balance Games] I spent pretty much the entire plane ride home changing my prior plans, thinking about going to [the USA Indoor Championships and] World Indoors,” she said. After talking it over with coach Drew Wartenburg, Conley decided to keep the primary focus on the outdoor season. “Eventually we decided that the best course of action was to stick with the plan. What I realized was that I couldn’t go to Indoor Worlds and run a good 10,000 at Payton [Jordan Cardinal Invitational]. It was an either-or, but we decided that it was important for me to run that 10,000m for the long-term plans leading up to Rio [de Janeiro, where the 2016 Olympic Games will be held].”
Conley will be tested in the 3,000m on Saturday, facing the likes of NCAA Cross Country National Champion Abbey D’Agostino (Dartmouth) and runner-up Emma Bates (Boise State), as well as former Iowa State standout Betsy Saina.
Just two-and-a-half weeks ago, 2008 Olympic silver medalist Nick Willis was back home, enjoying the summer months training in his native New Zealand. Now he finds himself in New York City, where nearly a foot of snow has fallen in the last week.
Despite the drastic change in climate, Willis is happy to be back in the city, a place in which he’s run very well over the course of his career.
Willis has twice won the NYRR Fifth Avenue Mile and just last November won the NYRR Dash to the Finish Line 5K in a national record of 13:46. On Saturday, he’ll return to his primary distance in the NYRR Wanamaker Mile, racing for the first time at The Armory since when he was in high school, some 13 years ago.
“It’s fun to come back to the track,” he said.
Coming off a 3:58.14 win last week in a strategic race in Boston, Willis is confident he can go even faster, though knows any one of the other twelve men entered could play spoiler. Challengers include 2012 Olympic silver medalist Leo Manzano, NCAA Indoor mile record holder Chris O’Hare, as well as the University of Arizona’s Lawi Lalang, a training partner of Lagat. Alan Webb, the American national record holder for the mile outdoors, will be racing for the final time.
“Alan ran his first ever sub-four minute mile on this track, and that was the exact same day I ran my 4:01 mile in New Zealand, a high school record as well,” recounted Willis. “This is going to be his retirement race and we get to run together. We’ve been good friends over the years. We didn’t run at [the University of] Michigan together but we have the [coach] Ron Warhurst relation. It’s a real honor to be in the same race as him.”