June 3, 2023


General Evolution

Millrose Games – Best Moments From the Millrose Games

For the first time since the inaugural competition in 1908, the Millrose Games, the oldest continuously contested indoor track meet in the United States, will not happen this year. Originally scheduled for February 13 at the Armory Track & Field Center in New York, the race was canceled as a safety precaution amid rising cases in the COVID-19 pandemic.


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“Canceling the iconic Millrose Games was a very difficult decision, but with all the health concerns surrounding an event of this complexity, rather than risking the athletes, officials, meet personnel, media and others, we have decided to wait until February 12, 2022, for the next edition of the Millrose Games,” meet director Ray Flynn said in a statement on December 22, 2020.

For more than a century, Olympic gold medalists, world champions, and record holders have launched their track seasons at the Millrose Games. With the prestigious competition scheduled to return next year, it seems fitting to take a moment and reflect on the many historic performances that have thrilled track fans inside Madison Square Garden and The Armory (since 2012). Here are nine highlights from Millrose Games past.

Paavo Nurmi sets indoor world bests in 1925—after traveling for 2 1/2 weeks

The winter of 1924-25 was a standout season for Finnish distance runner Paavo Nurmi, and it started with a victorious opening night inside Madison Square Garden.

Months after winning the 1500 and 5,000 meters within two hours at the 1924 Paris Olympics, Nurmi was scheduled to compete in the mile and 5,000 meters—both inside an hour—at Millrose on January 6, 1925. Prior to his arrival in New York City, Nurmi traveled for two and a half weeks across the Atlantic Ocean and trained while onboard the ship, according to World Athletics.

In the meet’s opening night, Nurmi won both events and set indoor world bests of 4:13.5 and 14:44.6. After the Millrose Games, Nurmi went on to dominate a U.S. tour in which he won 51 of his 55 races and set 12 world indoor bests.

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Mary Decker shatters world indoor record in the 1500 meters

As The New York Times reported on February 8, 1980, Mary Decker was “the hero of the 73rd annual Wanamaker Millrose Games” after she beat her opponents by half a lap to win the women’s 1500 meters in 4:00.8, a world indoor record. The performance took place 12 days after Decker broke the world record for the outdoor mile by running 4:21.7 in Auckland, New Zealand. Her time at Millrose translated to 4:19 for the mile.

Just 21 years old at the time, Decker broke the records in her return to the sport after undergoing surgery on her calves, a procedure which gave Decker her health back after a slew of stress fractures and launched a career that included two world championship titles in 1983.

Eamonn Coghlan becomes “Chairman of the Boards”

For almost a decade, Coghlan was unbeatable in the Wanamaker Mile. From 1977 to 1987, he won the marquee race seven times, earning him the nickname “Chairman of the Boards” because of the wooden boarded track in Madison Square Garden.

Coghlan’s 1985 win, which also includes meet director Ray Flynn (he finished second):

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During the 2020 Millrose Games, the Wanamaker Mile was awarded the World Athletics Heritage Plaque and Coghlan donated one of the Wanamaker Mile trophies he received to commemorate his seven victories. He also donated the green spikes he wore when setting the world indoor mile best of 3:52.6 in San Diego in 1979.

Carl Lewis sets world indoor record with back to the wall

As reported in the February 1984 issue of Sports Illustrated, a shaky wooden jump runway couldn’t stop Lewis from achieving the best jump of all time indoors. On his final attempt in Madison Square Garden, the nine-time Olympic champion came from behind to win the men’s long jump in a world indoor record of 8.79 meters (28.84 feet), which still stands today.

“The 6’2″, 176-pound Lewis flew out over the sand, a churning, self-propelled windmill of arms and legs, rising, soaring, straining toward the island of photographers beyond the pit,” Sports Illustrated’s Craig Neff wrote. “The crowd sat in hushed awe. Lewis floated downward. He hit the sand, easily a foot past [Larry] Myrick’s best, and the Garden rocked with noise.”

Six months later, Lewis won gold in the 100 meters, 200 meters, long jump, and 4×100-meter relay at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee kicks off breakthrough season at Millrose

In her first competition of the 1988 season, Joyner-Kersee made history in the women’s long jump. In her final attempt of the night, the multi-event specialist leapt 6.92 meters (22.7 feet) and broke the meet record in the event.

In the same year, Joyner-Kersee went on to break the world record in the heptathlon twice and win a pair of Olympic gold medals in the long jump and the heptathlon in Seoul, South Korea.

Bernard Lagat eclipses Coghlan’s winning streak

At 35 years old, Lagat secured his place in the Millrose record books by winning his eighth Wanamaker Mile title in 2010, beating the previous record of seven that Coghlan achieved 23 years earlier. The two-time world champion finished in 3:56.34, less than two seconds ahead of runner-up Asbel Kiprop at the 2010 Millrose Games.

Five years later, Lagat returned to New York City and broke another record set by Coghlan. Then 40 years old, Lagat finished the 2015 Wanamaker Mile in 3:54.91, shattering the previous world masters mile record of 3:58.15 run by the Irish Olympian. In the same race, Lagat finished three seconds behind an exciting battle up front between Olympic champion Matt Centrowitz (3:51.35) and silver medalist Nick Willis (3:51.46).

Three American records were broken in 2020

Last year, track fans saw Elinor Purrier, Ajeé Wilson, and Donavan Brazier shatter national records in the women’s mile, women’s 800 meters, and men’s 800 meters, respectively.

With a kick on the final stretch, Purrier beat defending champion Konstanze Klosterhalfen to win the women’s Wanamaker Mile in 4:16.85, the second fastest indoor mile in history. Her performance improved on the previous American record of 4:20.5 set by Decker in 1982.

For the second year in a row, Wilson won the women’s 800 meters and broke her own American record by running 1:58.29. She set the previous record in 2019 when she won in 1:58.60.

World champion Brazier also broke his own American record by winning the men’s 800 meters in 1:44.22, beating runner-up Bryce Hoppel by more than a second.

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