Big-time track and field returned to Madison Square Garden on Friday night with the sport's oldest and most glamorous indoor competition, the 99th annual Millrose Games, and its historic Wanamaker Mile. The crowd of 14,851 was expecting a fast race and got it, but it was a one-man show.
The expectation was for a sensational race between Bernard Lagat, the Kenyan-born American who set a Millrose and Garden record of 3 minutes 52.87 seconds last year, and Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia, the world-record holder at 5,000m and 10,000m, but never before a miler.
The race was not really a race at all. Lagat poured it on and Bekele stayed with the pace as long as he could. But halfway through, he was 20 yards back, and at the end he fought off pursuers and finished second.
He was coming out of the last turn when Lagat broke the tape in 3:56.85, fast by anyone's standards for this undersized, 11-laps-to-the-mile track. Bekele ran 4:01.57, a marvelous debut, but Lagat's quarter-mile splits of 56.0 seconds, 1:53.7 and 2:54.5 were too much for a novice on banked-board tracks.
"I knew I had to run real fast to win," Lagat said, "and I did."
Bekele considered himself a winner, too. "This is a very tough race for me," he said. "I was not disappointed, because this was my first time."
The Wanamaker Mile was the last race in the five-hour program. The next to last was the boys' high school mile, in which 17-year-old John Coghlan of Ireland, the son of the legendary miler Eamonn Coghlan, ran his first indoor race. He trailed almost all the way and finished eighth in the nine-man field in 4:28.76. Dan McManamon of Shenendehowa, New York, won in 4:17.18.
There were large Ethiopian and Jamaican contingents in the stands, and stars aplenty. One was Gail Devers, at 39 the most successful female hurdler in American history and an Olympic gold medalist in the 100m dash. Here, she ran the 60m hurdles, a Millrose race she first won 14 years ago.
Devers has won the Millrose title three times, but not on this night. Joanna Hayes, the Olympic 100m champion, won in 7.93 seconds, the fastest by an American this year. Devers finished an unaccustomed fourth in 8.13, but she had an excuse. This was her first race as a mother, and she held up a trophy of her own, her 7-month-old daughter, Karsen Anise.
"I didn't want to push it," Devers said. "I didn't lose any body parts. Everything wasn't in synch, but I'm not over the hill yet. To be honest, the one title I didn't have was motherhood, and that's what I wanted."
The heralded women's 60m dash lived up to its billing. Me'Lisa Barber, the fastest American this year, led until Veronica Campbell of Jamaica, the Olympic 200m champion, caught her at the tape. Campbell won in 7.10 seconds. Barber was second in 7.10. (To be more precise, the times were 7.095 for Campbell and 7.098 for Barber.) Lauryn Williams, the world 100m champion, was third in 7.19.
In the long history of this meet, no man has won the 60m dash and the 60m hurdles on the same night. Terrence Trammell, who has international credentials in both disciplines, tried for that double and failed. He finished third in the hurdles in 7.66 seconds (Dominique Arnold won in 7.59). A half-hour later, Shawn Crawford won the sprint in 6.59, with Trammell third again in 6.67.
In the men's 800m, Khadevis Robinson, as usual, took an immediate lead, stayed in front on the tight track and dared the others to do something about it. David Krummenacher almost pulled even on the last lap, but Robinson held him off by a meter in 1 minute 49.98 seconds.