Thursday, May 09, 2013

Nick Willis and Sarah Brown Win TC Mile Titles

New Zealand 2008 Olympic 1500 silver medalist Nick Willis and four-time NCAA titlist Sarah Brown took the men's and women's elite races at Thursday's Medtronic TC Mile down Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis. Willis followed Minnesotans Garrett Heath and Will Leer through the early stages of the race and took control of the event in the final quarter mile, coasting across the finish line in a course record 3:56.2.

Brown(4:33.3) had to change her race strategy early and maneuver herself into position to pull out the victory in the final stretch from Canada's Nicole Sifunetes(4:33.4) and Team USA Minnesota's defending TC Mile champion Heather Kampf(4:34.1).

The win($5,000) and course record bonus($10,000) will buy plenty of baby clothes for Willis, whose wife is expected the couple's first child in June.  With a NE wind at the runners' backs, Heath and Leer took out the race at at a record pace, going through the half mile near 1:58, said Heath.  Leer was pushing the pace then with Willis lurking over the Minnesota native's shoulder.  With a quarter to go Willis pounced, surging into the lead and opening up enough of a gap that he could shut down the afterburners and coast through the finish for his eighth straight win in 2013, as the top six men broke four minutes.

Willis coasted, he said, because he didn't want to break the record by too much in case he wanted to try and break it again next year if gets another chance.  After crossing the line and shaking hands with the runners he just vanquished, Willis ran back up the finish straight, giving high fives to the crowd and soaking in the atmosphere.

"It was a great course and a great crowd,"  Willis said, and he'd love to come back and defend his title.  The only reason he hadn't run the event before was that it had been the US championships and off limits to foreign runners.  As this year the race wasn't a US Championship and had an attractive prize purse, Willis added it to the list of events he'd wanted to participate in, but hadn't done.

"This year I've been doing events that I've never done before," he said and doing a split season--the first half new events to pad the bank account prior to the birth of their child, and the second half aimed at the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow.

He declared at the pre-race press conference that the objective was to break the course record, and when asked if he and training partner Leer would cooperate to make the pace fast, Willis responded that front running was not the pair's forte, and that even if the early pace dawdled and they came through in 3:05 at the 3/4 mile mark, a relatively pedestrian pace for the quality of field in the race, Willis believed that he could still get the record.  To do it off of that pace, however, would require about a 52 second final quarter.

As the race developed, he didn't have to sprint that fast.  The quick early pace pulled the top three men's finishers under the course record(David Torrence's 3:58.4 from 2011). 2013 US road mile champ Heath ran 3:57.3, and Macklin Chaffee, fresh off a personal best 1500(3:39.91) at the Payton Jordan Invitational in April, got past Leer(fourth/3:59.3) to take third in 3:58.1.  Aussie Craig Huffer(fifth/3:59.4) and defending champ Craig Miller(sixth/3:59.7) rounded out the top six.

Brown was runner up in the 2010 Medtronic TC Mile under her maiden name, Bowman.  That event was more memorable for Brown in that it was at the event that she met her husband, Darren Brown, the son of one of the best US steeplechasers of the 1970s,  Barry Brown.  This year, Sarah was a late entrant, only jumping into the field after a disappointing run in San Diego last weekend where she finished seventh in the 800 in 2:03.14. Feeling the tailwind and hoping to go for Sara Hall's course record of 4:30.8, Brown's pre-race plan was to push the pace early and be aggressive.  But she found herself buried in the pack and unable to get clear unless she wanted to expend a lot of energy.

Instead she had to revise her strategy on the fly and get herself positioned to be in the right spot to launch her sprint in the final stretch.  A huge pack took the final corner bunched together, but Brown was able to get in the lead and edge Sifunetes at the finish by a tenth of a second.  The packed lead group and roller derby style racing culminating in a mad dash for the finish is "what I've come to expect in road miles," said Brown.

How did she celebrate her victory?  Brown and her New Balance teammate, Australian Olympic steeplechaser Gen LaCaze(fourth/4:35), went on a "tempo run" along the River Roads.

Full elite mile results are HERE.


Nathan D.H. Freeburg said...

Such a fun, electric race to be part of. Amazing watching the elites come in at the end. They almost made it seem effortless.

Nathan D.H. Freeburg said...
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