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Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha just misses world record in mile at Millrose Games

Yomif Kejelcha of Ethiopia holding his Wanamaker Trophy

Yomif Kejelcha of Ethiopia holding his Wanamaker Trophy after winning the NYRR men's wanamaker mile race in a time of 3:48.46, just missing the indoor world record by 1/10 of a second at the 112th in the Millrose Games held at The New Balance Track and Field Center on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019.  Photo Credit: Errol Anderson

Not even the rabbit could keep pace with Yomif Kejelcha. Then again, almost no one has run at the pace kept by Kejelcha Saturday afternoon. The Ethiopian won the Wanamaker Mile in 3 minutes, 48.46 seconds at the 112th Millrose Games at The Armory in Manhattan.

The time was the fastest in the world this year and one tick — literally — off the indoor world record of 3:48.45 set by Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj in 1997.

“As soon as I crossed the line, I looked up at the screen and I understood I had not broken it,” Kejelcha said through an interpreter.

Colloquially, a ‘rabbit’ is a lead runner who sets a pre-determined quick pace in a distance race and drops off about halfway through as top echelon competitors battle it out.

Saturday’s Wanamaker rabbit, American Rob Napolitano, was too slow for Kejelcha. Toward the end of Napolitano’s pace setting, Kejelcha passed him.

“Because [Napolitano] went the first 400 meters really fast, I felt that at the 800 meters he was struggling a little bit,” Kejelcha said. “I sensed that, so I thought I should pass him. I think if I had stayed with him, I would have slowed even more.”

Kejelcha said that the world record was his goal entering the event and he’s confident that he will break it this year.

Despite outpacing the pacer, Kejelcha could feel how fast he was going.

“I think the beginning was a little bit too fast,” he said. “The first lap or so was a little fast . . . I think I felt that at the end.”

Germany’s Konstanze Klosterhalfen won the women’s Wanamaker Mile in 4:19.98, the fastest time in the world this season and Germany's indoor record. After the halfway mark and the race not that close, Klosterhalfen made her final loops around the famous track to a chorus of cheers.

“I had no time in mind,” she said. “I just wanted to run fast and I was glad that the pace-maker did a good job . . . When the pace got slower, I just started my run and the crowd pushed me forward.”

Klosterhalfen, who moved from Germany to Oregon in November, said she’d never been to New York before this weekend. She’ll leave with one of the city’s most prestigious running trophies in hand.

“I was very overwhelmed because it’s such a big city, with all the lights and everything,” she said. “But coming [to the Armory] gave me confidence again. It was so loud. It was amazing.”

Upon her move to the United States, Klosterhalfen began training with ‘the Oregon Project’ — a gold-standard professional running group with a roster that includes Shannon Rowbury, Galen Rupp, and Kejelcha.

“It brings all the world-class athletes together. I’m very thankful to be able to train on this level,” Klosterhalfen said. “The sessions are more intense and it’s a different structure.”

Roslyn-native Emily Lipari finished her first Wanamaker 10th in 4:33.97.

Lake Grove’s Maria Michta placed sixth in the mile walk in 7:18.87. Ohio high-schooler Taylor Ewert won in 6:28.21, breaking her own national high-school record. Michta, a two-time Olympian, revealed last week that she was pregnant.

“It’s pretty invigorating to know that your body is growing a baby, and it’s a girl, so I can show her that you can do anything,” Michta said. “Even if you’re pregnant, it’ll be slower, but it’s all about what you can do. It’s an inner strength thing.”

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