The return of New York’s Magic Road Mile

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This Sunday, after being canceled for the first time in its 40-year history due to the pandemic, the Fifth Avenue Mile returns to New York. It’s a race that prides itself on a reassuring, idiot-proof course: a 20-block straight shot along the eastern edge of Central Park, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the finish near East 60th Street. For the professional and amateur athletes who will compete this weekend, the challenge will be to distribute their efforts well so that, to paraphrase Once a runner, they go bankrupt at the precise moment when they no longer need their part. That might be the goal of every race, but it’s especially acute in the Fifth Avenue Mile, where, thanks to an ever-so-light descent in the second half of the course, the finish line can feel incredibly close with several hundred meters. let it run. Short road races are their own kind of beast.

Just ask Paul Chelimo, a savvy track tactician who just won a bronze in the 5,000-meter Olympic Games in Tokyo, who will make his Fifth Avenue debut in Manhattan on Sunday. “On the track, it’s easier to gauge how much you have left to run,” Chelimo told me recently. “The roads are different. Sometimes you have about 400 yards to go and try to kick. You have about 50 yards to go and you feel, uh-oh, it’s supposed to be over now. “

Indeed. I have my own recollection of the last time I ran Fifth Avenue, in 2017. I felt extremely confident going over the hill halfway and I embarked on a heroic push to the finish, for being overtaken by more cautious riders when I ran out of gas ten seconds too early. For such a short run, the kilometer can seem very, very long.

Jenny Simpson and Nick Willis are two people who have managed to get it right at Fifth Avenue Mile time and time again. In 2019, Simpson won his seventh consecutive title (and eighth total) in a course record of four minutes and 16.1 seconds. That same year, Willis won the men’s professional race for the fifth time, making him the most decorated male athlete of all time. Both runners have repeatedly demonstrated an unearthly ability to close on this course, saving one last burst of energy so they can be half a meter ahead of their competitors just as they cross the road. line.

“The main advantage of running in a straight line is that you can adapt without worrying about positioning,” says Willis. “You can get to the places you want at any time without having to run wide around a bend. (For an example, watch Willis take the stage in the final meters of this 2019 race to claim the victory in a dramatic, plunging finish photo.)

While Simpson’s Fifth Avenue run record was set in the last iteration of the race, the men’s mark of 3: 47.52 dates back to the inaugural event in 1981, where Sydney Maree, an emigrant of 25 years old from South Africa, beat a group of international elites including New Zealander John Walker and Briton Steve Cram. The first women’s race was won in 4: 25.31 by University of Oregon star Leann Warren.

It was in the early eighties. A prelapse Alberto Salazar was in the middle of his New York marathon three times. Road racing was all the rage and milers wanted to be part of the action. As the New York Times reported at the time, the first edition of the Fifth Avenue Mile had drawn “an enthusiastic crowd estimated by the police to be between 100,000 and 150,000” which “formed a human funnel from 82nd Street to 62nd Street” – Wellesley College in the ‘Upper East Side.

At the time, the event was officially called the “Pepsi Challenge Fifth Avenue Mile”. According to another Times In this first year’s article, concerns over “excessive commercialism” have led to the removal of plans to feature two major Pepsi Cola brands on arrival, which, from a current perspective, seems endearing.

There have been other sponsors over the years. When she set a new course record of 4: 16.88 in 1990, American PattieSue Plummer won an all-new Mercedes Benz sedan, as did Briton Peter Elliott, who had already won a car the year before. . In 1997, the title sponsor of the Fifth Avenue Mile was none other than Donald J. Trump, who held the finishing strip with his daughter Ivanka, when Paula Radcliffe (who had yet to make her marathon debut) won. the race in 4: 22.96. (As Liam Boylan-Pett recounts in a 2018 article for Lope magazine, the future US president first requested that the finish line of Fifth Avenue be moved seven blocks south so that the race culminates in front of the Trump Tower, but the logistical nightmare of pushing the race past – beyond the south end of Central Park killed the dream. )

After signing a ten-year contract with the New York Road Runners in 2015, New Balance is the main sponsor of the race. It’s an arrangement that seems to have worked well for the brand, given that Simpson, the undisputed Queen of Fifth Avenue, is also a New Balance athlete.

Neither she nor Willis will defend their titles this year, however. (Simpson is 35. Willis is 38. Although neither runner has officially retired, both were already the oldest athletes in their respective professional fields when they triumphed in 2019.) Instead from that, Sunday’s professional races look like a potential showdown between the United States and Britain. Olympians Matthew Centrowitz and Jake Wightman, who have both previously won this race, will try to spoil Chelimo’s debut. On the women’s side, Scotland’s Jemma Reekie, whose personal best of 4:17 per mile is by far the fastest in the field, will look to fend off Americans Nikki Hiltz, Shannon Osika and Helen Schlachtenhaufen, among others. The Road Runners only released the professional grounds for this year’s race on Wednesday, as a precautionary measure in the event of a pandemic, as last-minute scrapes are more likely due to international travel restrictions and general mistrust. Indeed, several riders scheduled to compete this weekend, including Reekie, Schlachtenhaufen and Australia’s Ollie Hoare, will double the Diamond League final which took place in Zurich earlier this week.

For his part, Chelimo chose to skip the Diamond League final to focus solely on racing in New York City, where he will also compete in Dash to the Finish 5K in November.

“Every race in New York is great. It will be on NBC, so I’m asking Americans to support me live, which is better than me in Europe, ”Chelimo said. “It’s new territory for me. I don’t take it for granted, you know. I’m going to win, it’s not like I’m just going to run. I want to get the message across to the milers that I still have the speed.

Can Chelimo do it? Who will be the new women’s champion after seven consecutive years of domination of the Simpsons? The answer to both questions will depend on the race being completed at the exact right time, not a meter too early.


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