Very Happy Masters
They were four fit guys, twice as old as the other athletes in Friday's Armory College Night II, warming up in the clerking area.
Three were from Boston and another made it from up near Syracuse and they were united in one purpose: To become the first group of 40-somethings to break eight minutes in the 4x800 relay.
Chris Simpson (44) to Scott Weeks (40) to Mark Gomes (42) to Erik Nedeau (41) stole the show on Friday night, clocking 7:58.12, which is believed to be a world best for masters.
Pulled along by New Jersey Institiute of Technology and three hastily arranged runners from Columbia, the unattached team of men made most of their opportunity.
Simpson went 2:00.9. Weeks, of Syracuse, was a recent addition to the lineup. He ran 1:57.8 and was closing on the leader from Columbia when he handed off. Gomes split 2:00.9. And then Nedeau, a former world indoor bronze medalist in the 1,500 (1995), sped through a 1:58.4 carry as the crowd noise picked up.
On Nedeau's final lap, the spectators in the Armory's balcony rose to their feet and cheered him home.
"What made it easier was that this place was loud as hell," Nedeau said.
A team from Philadelphia owns the club record at 8:07.48. That really wasn't in play Friday. The guys who came to NYC on Firday were gunning for sub-8.
"We are really pumped about sub-8," Weeks said. "We're happy to break the record, but becoming the first group under eight (minutes) is special."
Master's athletes train in obscurity, between jobs and family responsibilities, pursuing goals that usually matter only to them.
"It's been a year of aches and pains," Weeks said.
Simpson, the elder statesman and team leader, said the plausibility of the sub-8 attempt became more realistic when Nedeau turned 40. Nedeau is the coach at Amherst College.
"The reality of master's running is that getting four people to the same place, and healthy, is 90 percent of it," Gomes said.
NJIT played a key role. In order for the performance to stand any chance of being ratified, one other team had to finish the race.
Afterward, the quartet basked in the glow of a rare Armory victory lap. And one of the members of NJIT's squad approached the older men with his shoe in his hand. All four of them autographed it for him.