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Lagat sets Millrose mark with eighth Wanamaker win

United States' Bernard Lagat salutes the crowd after

United States' Bernard Lagat salutes the crowd after winning the Wanamaker Mile for a record eighth time at the Millrose Games track and field event in Madison Square Garden. (Jan. 29, 2010) Credit: AP

One of Madison Square Garden's grander records, the seven career Wanamaker Mile victories by "chairman of the boards'' Eamonn Coghlan, finally was dashed against the rocks as miler Bernard Lagat noisily brought down the curtain on Friday night's 103rd running of the Millrose Games.

Lagat, the 35-year-old Kenyan-born American who had shared the mark with Coghlan, blew past reigning Olympic 1500- meter champion Asbel Kiprop of Kenya with the last of 11 laps to go and sailed home in 3:56.34, his eighth Wanamaker title.

Hugged by Howard Schmertz, the meet's eminence grise, and praised by Coghlan at the finish line, Lagat pronounced both the accomplishment and the scene "amazing.'' Kiprop ran 3:58.03.

It was a celebratory ending at track and field's tuxedo junction, where meet officials still wear formal attire and elite athletes stage their annual party of intense running, jumping and throwing, providing a level of competition that J.D. Salinger would have appreciated. There were no phonies here, even among the 9,100 witnesses.

That included Coghlan himself, the forever amiable Irish star who virtually owned the indoor mile in the 1970s and '80s. Asked shortly before Lagat ran if he were ready to see his record broken, Coghlan deadpanned, "No!'' Then he quickly added, "It's just a phenomenal achievement. He has the talent, he has the class . . . And I'm glad to be alive to witness it.''

All around him, relay runners dived head-first at the finish line, pole vaulters hurled themselves three stories high and shot putters muscled steel balls across the room. The full evening of energetic striving included North Babylon High School grad Tim Seaman, a two-time Olympian, adding to his voluminous collection of national race walking titles with a 5:52.43 victory in the mile, designated as the 2010 U.S. indoor championship race at that distance.

Now 37, Seaman has won U.S. titles 42 times in his career at varying distances, second on the all-time list for race walkers. Seaman's wife of three months, Rachel, also was a winner Friday night in the women's one-mile race walk (6:49.20).

The massive shot putters - like bears in ballet slippers, big and shaggy but surprisingly graceful - were led by reigning world outdoor champion Christian Cantwell, who put all four of his throws over 70 feet, the last a mighty 72 feet, one-half inch to defeat former world indoor champ Reese Hoffa (68-2¼) and defending Millrose champ Adam Nelson (67-3 ¾).

The women's pole vault was won at 14-9½ by Chelsea Johnson, daughter of 1972 Olympic vault bronze medalist Jan Johnson, who nevertheless didn't take up vaulting herself until her senior year in high school.

"I finally gave in to my dad,'' she said. "He basically bribed me with $5 every time I showed up for practice.''

Once at the Millrose, no one appeared to need additional inducements, including participants in the gimmicky Super LX (that's "60'' as in meters) featuring five refugees from past Super Bowls. Anthony Dorsett Jr. won, barely, in 7.01, with 49-year-old Willie Gault a fast-closing third in 7.07.

Four men went over 18 feet in the pole vault, won by Mark Hollis (at 18-4 ½), and two-time Olympic silver medalist Terrence Trammell took the men's 60-meter hurdles (7.49).

"Madison Square Garden and the Millrose Games are both historical places in the sport,'' Trammell said. "The equivalent to indoor track and field's Rose Bowl.''

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