From Daegu to Millrose?
DAEGU, SOUTH KOREA — Eleven years after his first victory at The Armory Track and Field Center, Olympic silver medalist Nick Willis hopes to score another, bigger win there.
"Next year, of course, is Olympic year and I certainly don't have my schedule fixed, but if things work out, sure, naturally, I'd like to run the Millrose Games at the Armory," said Willis, the New Zealander out of the University of Michigan, Tuesday at Daegu Stadium.
"We all know the Armory track is tremendous. London's still a long way off but Millrose (coming to the Armory Feb. 11, 2012) could be a good indication of how we stand, and what we have to do for the Games.
"Everybody's going to have a lot of options next year. Millrose would be a good one for all of us."
It was March 2001 when Willis took his first American adventure. A senior at New Zealand's Hutt Valley High School, he trekked to the Big Apple and competed in the National Scholastic Championships at the Armory.
"I won in 4:09 and that was a great experience for me. It was a good taste of American track."
He loved that taste and headed off to Ann Arbor, Mich. Well, after graduation from the U of M (where he collected an array of NCAA and Big Ten honors) he's still an Ann Arbor resident and a frequent competitor on the American scene.
The Commonwealth Games' 1,500-meter champion for New Zealand in 2002 and 2006, he finished third in the Olympic 1,500 final at Beijing in 2008, but was elevated to second with the later drug disqualification of first-place finisher Rashid Ramzi of Bahrain.
"I ran Millrose twice at Madison Square Garden (placing second and third back of Bernard Lagat) and it was a wonderful experience," said Willis. "Think I ran a 3:58 and a 3:59. Certainly we'll lose something moving away from the Garden. But nothing stands still. We'll have to start a new tradition at The Armory."
Willis cruised into the semifinals of the 1500m at the 13th World Championships with his 3:39.24 qualifying run Tuesday, just back of winner Daniel Komen of Kenya at 3:38:54. Also advancing were Ireland's Ciaran O'Lionaird (3:40:41) and Americans Matthew Centrowitz (3:39:46) and Leonel Manzano (3:40.77.) They'll run the semis Thursday night with the big final set for Saturday.
But bowing out was Andrew Wheating, the 6-foot-6 Vermonter, 2008 Olympian and Centrowitz's former teammate at the University of Oregon. Caught in heavy traffic, Wheating never found his stride and settled for a subpar 3:42.68 eighth place in his heat.
As the only 1,500-meter representative of Ireland and thus heir apparent to greats Eamonn Coghlan, Marcus O'Sullivan and Ray Flynn, O'Lionaird carried heavy responsibilities into the World Championships. But, as a young man who has already earned a masters degree from Florida State University (where he also earned a heap of ACC middle distance honors), he's obviously got a good head on those shoulders.
"I've never had the chance to run the Millrose Games, but maybe that will happen next year," said O'Lionaird. "New York's always been a great place for Irish milers, so maybe that will open the door to guys like me."
Of course, having Ray Flynn as meet director of the Millrose Games at The Armory can't hurt his chances, either.
"At first, when I heard the Millrose Games was moving out of Madison Square Garden, I was really disappointed," said Centrowitz, whose father, Matt, the Power Memorial Academy (and U. of Oregon) grad who went on to two USA Olympic teams and set the American 5,000-meter record, was a NYC track legend.
"I remember going to the Garden with my dad, and my family, and seeing all the greats run. The atmosphere of it all was amazing. But things change, I understand that, and now they'll have to work on bringing that same kind of atmophere to The Armory. The track's great, everybody knows that. Now they'll have to make the Millrose Games great there, too. A lot goes into it, but it can be done."
Centrowitz knows he carries one of American track's big names into every start — and maybe one of those will be at a future Millrose Games. Stay tuned. He will have one indoor and one outdoor season of eligibility remaining at Oregon.
Manzano has run at past editions of the New Balance Invitational at the Armory and thus knows the track's inherent possibilities; but he never got the chance to run at the Garden. "Millrose at the Armory could be exciting," he said. "For New York fans, it could be a good London preview. I sure hope they come out and support the meet. It might even be better at the Armory. A capacity crowd, a lot of noise. Things like that. The athletes, you always know, are going to respond to that.
"Sure it will be different. But that's life. Things move along."
But first things first. For Willis, O'Lionaird, Centrowitz and Manzano, moving along again — World semifinals to finals — is the big-big thing on their minds.