NEW YORK (31-Jan) — As impressive as Cam Levins’s two individual victories were at tonight’s Armory Track Invitational here, it was the indoor world record performance delivered by Team USA that stole the show. The quartet of Matthew Centrowitz, Mike Berry, Erik Sowinski, and Patrick Casey combined to run 9:19.93, obliterating the previous mark of 9:25.97 set by the University of Texas in 2008. Levins won the mile (3:54.74) and then the two mile (8:15.38) approximately 35 minutes later.
Entering today’s meet, much had been made about the United States’ attempt at the distance medley world record. As the team toed the line, a feeling of excitement outweighed any nerves.
“You know, it is a little bit more pressure [to go for the world record], but it’s also a little bit more fun, more to shoot for,” said Casey after the race. “To come here and run the DMR and not put that prediction out there, that expectation, I don’t think it would have created as much excitement as it did tonight.”
After Matthew Centrowitz led off with a 2:49.47, 1200 meter leg, Team USA had a 3.7-second lead on Team Ireland. Sprinter Mike Berry would extend the gap to 4.7 seconds after his 400m leg, handing off to Sowinski after a 46.40 split.
Racing on his favorite indoor oval (the same oval in which he had set a then-600 meter American record in 2013), Sowinski used The Armory’s crowd to his advantage. Sowinski seamlessly passed the baton to Casey out front, with Team Ireland 3.7 seconds adrift. That’s when things got interesting.
In the opening 600 meters of the anchor mile leg, Ireland’s Ciaran O’Lionaird ferociously gained ground and caught up to Casey. With half a mile remaining, the Nike Oregon Track Club teammates were running within a step of one another.
“I know he must have run a pretty aggressive 600, but I knew I had a couple of cards to play. But, at the same time, you don’t want somebody that talented hanging around that long,” said Casey, a late replacement in the relay for Jordan McNamara, who withdrew due to a knee injury.
Not wanting to disappoint the exuberant crowd, Casey dug deep and injected a surge with a lap remaining. O’Lionaird couldn’t respond, his face grimacing under an orange headband as he visibly tied up.
Stopping the clock in 9:19.93, Casey let out a scream. The American squad had broken the world record by more than six seconds.
“Any time you say you’re going for a world record it puts a little more pressure on you out there. The guys ran well,” said Sowinski. “To break the world record by six seconds is awesome.”
“These guys built up such a big lead that I had to die out there to let the lead go,” added Casey.
Team Ireland also dipped under the old world record, finishing second in 9:25.37. New Jersey-New York Track Club rounded out the top three in 9:27.16.
Witnessing the record run was Princeton coach Jason Vigilante. Vigilante was the head coach of the University of Texas team that previously held the world record.
“I’m delighted and fortunate that I was part of a team that was able to set the record in 2008, and I’m very happy about that,” Vigilante told Race Results Weekly, pausing briefly trying to find the right words. “And I’m even more happy now that it’s been broken by an American team. That’s terrific.”
Before the distance medley world record was set, it was Canada’s Levins who awed those in attendance. The 2012 Olympian over 10,000 meters opened his day with a 3:54.74 win in the mile, running away from Britain’s Chris O’Hare in the final lap. O’Hare would finish in 3:57.26.
Not known to be a miler, Levins came oh-so-close to setting a Canadian national record in the discipline. He wouldn’t have much time to celebrate his new personal best, though, having to prepare for the upcoming two mile.
In the 30 minutes before taking the line for the two-mile, Levins said he spoke to his coaching team, sat down for a few minutes, and jogged for roughly one minute. Finishing with a handful of strides, Levins took his place on the track and quickly found himself alongside teammate Galen Rupp once the gun sounded.
“[Coach Alberto Salazar, Pete Julian, and I] talked after the mile and said, ‘hey, just tuck in, a fast last half-mile and be ready for it.’ I sort of was thinking, maybe, I was going to get dropped by Galen, but I didn’t,” Levins said.
The pair ran at the head of the field, splitting the mile in 4:13. Not until 120 meters remained would Levins make his bid for the win, joined by American Ben Blankenship. The duo swung wide, overtaking a fading Rupp, with Suguru Osako of Japan doing much of the same moments later.
“I just had to put myself in it,” said Blankenship, lying on the floor after the race, exhausted. “I was kind of at the point (with) 200 meters I was like, well, I ran a pretty good 3-K, almost 3-K. I told myself, if I’m still here just go for it.”
Around the final bend, Blankenship stumbled slightly while Levins replicated his kick from a half hour before. Pumping his arms through the finish, Levins stopped the clock in 8:15.38, just off of his own Canadian record.
“We rested up a lot more for these races this weekend, and I felt fresh and good. I don’t know if I was really expecting to come back and run a good two-mile after my mile, that’s for sure,” Levins told a group of reporters. “I feel the strongest and fittest I’ve ever have. I’d like to think so.”
Levins credited his fitness to the training he’s done alongside his Nike Oregon Project teammates.
“I think it’s showing that we’re doing something right. We’re all very fit, and starting to thrive under Alberto’s program,” he said.
Osaka finished second in 8:16.47, followed by Blankenship (8:16.53), and Rupp (8:17.24). Rupp did not speak to the media following his race; Levins said that this was a rust-buster race for Rupp, and that he’ll be back in top form soon.
In the women’s 800m, nearly all eyes were on the two hometown favorites, Bronxville, N.Y.’s Mary Cain, and Neptune, N.J.’s Ajee’ Wilson. For both it’d be their first 800m of the year.
Spread out single file, Cain found herself in a bit of trouble with 400 meters remaining. After pacesetter Kimarra McDonald stepped off, Charlene Lipsey was in first followed by former NCAA 800m champion Natoya Goule, Wilson, then Cain.
Appearing slightly boxed, Cain could not move up. Her teammate, Treniere Moser, was able to slingshot by on her outside, just as Wilson was doing the same at the head of the field.
Around the final bend, Wilson was able to hold off a hard charging Moser and Lipsey for the win. Her time was 2:01.63, with Moser and Lipsey crossing in 2:01.79 and 2:02.20, respectively.
“It’s always nice to come here and win races. I’ve been here, I can’t even count how many times. It’s always natural, very fun, to run here,” said Wilson, sporting her blue adidas kit. “Last 200 was just put myself in position. I know I had something left. Early on, I got tripped up a little.”
Cain wound up fifth in 2:02.75, but said she had more left in the tank.
“I know I was in shape to run faster. Again, I thought I was getting out fast, but it’s just a different sort of getting out fast for the 800,” Cain told reporters. “I’ve got to say I was impressed by Ajee’ who was back there with me. I was pretty freaked out. She found the perfect opening and I didn’t. I should have gone with Treniere. By the time I was making my move, it was a little too late. I feel like I probably gave up a little bit in the 200.”
Cain continued: “I can’t wait to get back into the 1500 where I know what the hell I’m doing. You know, I’ve run 1:59 before I feel like that was just perfect race, perfect day. I know I’m in shape to run that. I mean, I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been, but that’s why I’m really disappointed.”
Nike Oregon Project’s Jordan Hasay bided her time and waited until 300 meters remained to go for the win in the women’s two mile. After completing a 35 second lap with 400 meters remaining, Hasay changed gears and completed back-to-back 200m laps of 31 and 30 seconds to secure the victory. Her final time was 9:38.28.
“The plan was go no sooner than 400 to go. I was hoping that it would be a little bit faster, but it was just really tactical. So, I said this was a really good chance to refine the finish,” said Hasay, adding that she’s worked closely with Alberto Salazar on her arm swing and form. “Nike Oregon Project is supposed to win medals, so we’re just working on that last 400 so we can close because that’s where you win medals.”
Nicole Tully (formerly Nicole Schappert) was second in 9:39.38, followed by Buze Diriba in 9:39.46.
In the open women’s 800m, Great Britain’s Marilyn Okoro took the pace out at a blistering clip of 58 for the first 400m. After taking the bell, she’d tighten dramatically whilst the Netherlands Sanne Verstegen came on strong. Verstegen would win in 2:04.25.
The two-day Armory Track Invitational also featured a full slate of college competition.
Among the distance highlights, Gabriela Stafford of Toronto won her second race in as many days, taking the collegiate 800m in 2:06.49. Stafford, only a sophomore, set an Armory record of 2:42.75 in the 1000m on Friday.
Arizona’s Elvin Kibet led for a majority of the women’s 3000m, claiming the title in 9:24.53; she is the sister of Hilda Kibet. The men’s 3000m was won by Wisconsin’s Malachy Schrobilgen in 7:59.08, the only man to dip under 8 minutes.