A portrait of Kenenisa Bekele after winning gold in the men's 10,000m final (Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview New York City, USA

Bekele takes on the Mile - 99th Millrose Games - PREVIEW

There will be a familiar high class cast of names on hand for the 99th Millrose Games on Friday night (3 Feb), the longest running sporting event staged at the Madison Square Gardens.

Plenty of famous previous winners will return to this famous New York stage for this IAAF Indoor permit meeting, such as Reese Hoffa, David Krummenacker, Bernard Lagat, Terrence Trammell, Amy Acuff, Hazel Clark, Gail Devers…, and a good selection of Helsinki World Championships medallists Lauryn Williams, Veronica Campbell, Chaunte Howard and Bershawn Jackson…will also do battle. But there is one stand-out name, World Athlete of the Year and overall IAAF World Ranked number one, Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia.

Injury free, Bekele makes Mile debut

Kenenisa Bekele, the reigning Olympic Games and two-time World 10,000m champion, and eight-time World Cross Country gold medallist, will make his professional debut at the distance of one Mile, when competing in the famed Wanamaker event.

“I’ve always liked the challenge of the shorter distance, and with no major championships for me in 2006 this is my chance,” confirmed Bekele when the announcement of his participation was made the beginning of the year. “I like to run in the U.S., and I have heard a lot about this Mile race in New York City."

However, Bekele who holds three World records (10,000m, 5000m, 5000m indoors) pulled out of the Karlsruhe meeting last Sunday with a slight leg injury. His manager Jos Hermens yesterday confirmed that the problem had now healed totally, and that the 23-year-old would be fit and ready for his Mile adventure in New York.

Up against the Ethiopian will be three-time Millrose champion Bernard Lagat, and the race will also include World and Olympic 1500m bronze medalist Rui Silva of Portugal, and the Kenyans Richard Kiplagat, Laban Rotich and Elkanah Angwenyi.

There have been 44 different winners in the 80-year history of the Wanamaker Mile but Lagat has found the 160-yard banked oval at Madison Square Garden to his liking. In last year’s Millrose Games, Lagat clocked 3:52.87 to break the 24-year-old meet record of 3:53.0 set by the renowned ‘Chairman of the Boards’ Eamonn Coghlan and earn the Fred Schmertz Trophy as the outstanding performer of the meet.

Devers back on track in the Hurdles
Five-time Millrose champion Gail Devers is returning to competition after a year off from the sport. Devers, the reigning World Indoor 60m dash champion, and a former 60m Hurdles gold medallist too, has won the hurdles event three times in New York and set the meet record of 7.78 in 2003. The three-time World indoor 60m Hurdles and outdoor 100m Hurdles champion has also won the Millrose flat 60m twice and holds the meet record in that event too.

Devers, 39, who also has two Olympic sprint crowns and one World 100m title on her glittering career CV, hasn’t raced since the first round of the 100m sprint hurdles at the 2004 Olympic Games, and will take on former training partner Joanna Hayes, the 2004 Olympic 100m hurdles champion, in New York, with the other leading contenders being Jenny Adams, Nichole Denby and Jamaican Andrea Blitz.

Williams-Campbell rematch

Lauryn Williams and Veronica Campbell, the World gold and silver medallists in the women’s 100m in Helsinki, will race in the women’s 60m. Williams has defeated Campbell in the last two major 100m championship finals. Along with her Helsinki win, Williams took the silver medal in the Athens Olympics with Campbell in third. Campbell of course won the Olympic 200m gold medal at those Games.

The 60m field on Friday also includes 2005 Millrose 60m champion Angela Daigle-Bowen, Me’Lisa Barber, Angela Williams and Debbie Ferguson. Barber defeated Williams, Daigle-Bowen and Ferguson to win the 60m in a career-best 7.09 in the Reebok Boston Indoor Games on 28 January.

In the women’s 400m, 2005 Helsinki finalist and NCAA champion Monique Henderson is coming off a second-place finish in Boston, and will face Hazel-Ann Regis, Tiffany Williams, Crystal Cox.

Walker and Stuczynski in Pole Vault

Brad Walker and Jenn Struczynski, the men’s and women’s winners of last weekend’s National Pole Vault Summit in Reno (27 Jan), will look to continue their success in Millrose.

Walker, the Helsinki World silver medallist, defeated Toby Stevenson, the Olympic runner-up, by virtue of fewer misses to win at 5.60m in Reno. Walker and Stevenson will face the 2000 and 2004 Olympic champions, respectively Nick Hysong and Tim Mack, American record holder Jeff Hartwig, and Derek Miles, who did not compete in Reno because of a stomach ailment.

Stuczynski, a former basketball, volleyball and softball player who took up vaulting a year and a half ago, has made no secret about her designs on the American indoor record of 4.81m held by Stacy Dragila.

Stuczynski the 2005 USATF indoor champion, has had five consecutive personal bests this season, leading up to her 4.68m vault to move into second on the all-time U.S. indoor list (14 Jan in Michigan). Dragila, who moved from Phoenix, Ariz. back to Pocatello, Ida. to resume training with longtime coach Dave Nielsen in early January, did not compete in Reno and again is not entered at Millrose. However, the field will include Jillian Schwartz, who finished second to Stuczynski in Reno, Tracy O’Hara, April Steiner and Mary Sauer.

Trammell goes for historic 60m and 60m Hurdles double

Terrence Trammell will attempt to become the first athlete, male or female, to accomplish a sprint-high hurdles double at this meeting when he runs in the 60m and 60m Hurdles. Trammell, the double Olympic 110m Hurdles silver medallist, was the  Millrose 60m Hurdles champion in 2001, the year in which he also took the World Indoor title. He just missed the Millrose double in 2003 when he won the 60m and finished second in the 60m Hurdles.

Trammell, who won the 60m in a U.S. leading 6.57 in Boston last week, will face 2004 Olympic 200m champion Shawn Crawford in the 60m. Crawford is no stranger to the short sprints. He won the 60m in the 2002 Millrose meet and was the World Indoor silver medallist in 2004. Tyson Gay, Aziz Zakar, Leonard Scott and Jason Smoots round out the 60m field.

There will be a formidable field in the 60m Hurdles with three of the 110m Hurdles finalists from Helsinki with Trammell (fifth) and American compatriots Dominique Arnold and Joel Brown, who finished fourth and sixth, competing for honours.

Hoffa to stay on top?

The men’s Shot Put includes the top three idoor throwers in the world in 2006, Reese Hoffa (21.31m), Christian Cantwell (21.03m) and Adam Nelson (20.99m), who will be joined by three-time World outdoor champion John Godina. Hoffa is the defending New York titlist and posted the top two throws in the world this season with his victory over Cantwell, Nelson and Godina in Boston.

‘All in the family’ for Clark

Hazel Clark will be looking to continue the family tradition in the women’s 800m when she goes for her fourth Millrose win in a row. A triumph would mark the 12th win for the Clark family with her sister Joetta, a seven-time Millrose winner in 1985, 1987, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1996 and 2000), and sister-in-law Jearl Miles (2001) in New York. Jen Toomey, Kameisha Bennett, Alice Schmidt, Nicole Cook, Francis Santin are some of the other entrants.

In the men’s 800m, David Krummenacker will be seeking his third Millrose win after victories in 2002 and 2003. His top challengers include 2004 winner Berhanu Alemu, Derrick Peterson, Khadevis Robinson and Kevin Hicks.

Canadian Carmen Douma-Hussar will attempt to defend her title in the women’s Mile with Americans Treniere Clement and Tiffany McWilliams fresh off second and third-place finishes in Boston.

Acuff faces Howard

Amy Acuff has garnered as much attention at Millrose with her wins in 2001, 2003 and 2004 as with her outlandish and risqué outfits. Helsinki world silver medallist Chaunte Howard will be looking for her first Millrose win after defeating Acuff in Boston with an indoor career best 1.95m.

Jackson, Merritt battle over 500m

Bershawn Jackson, the World 400m Hurdles champion, will take on 400m flat specialists LaShawn Merritt, Leonard Byrd and Michael Blackwood in the rarely run 500m. The versatile Jackson, who won the 2005 USATF Indoor 400m title, finished second by two hundredths to Jonathon Johnson in the 600m in 1:18.65 in Boston.

Kirby Lee for the IAAF