SIMPSON, WIGHTMAN KICK TO NEW BALANCE FIFTH AVENUE MILE TITLES
By Rich Sands, @sands
(c) 2018 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
NEW YORK (09-Sep) — Despite cold, wet conditions here today, the New Balance Fifth Avenue Mile featured a pair of scorching finishes in the elite fields. Jenny Simpson of the United States won the women’s title for the sixth year in a row (and seventh time overall), while recently-crowned European Championships 1500m bronze medalist, Jake Wightman of Scotland, stole the men’s race with well-timed kick. It was the 38th running of the iconic New York Road Runners jaunt down the celebrated boulevard.
Simpson’s dominance in the event was immediately on full display when she took the lead and the entire field fanned out behind her, showing apparent deference to the Olympic bronze medalist. Under a light but steady rain and cool temperatures (60F/15C) Simpson pushed hard on the opening downhill segment and passed the quarter mile in a brisk 62 seconds. Portugal’s Marta Pen moved to Simpson’s right shoulder and Britain’s Laura Weightman, last year’s runner-up, was on her left.
“I wanted to be hard off the line,” Simpson told Race Results Weekly after the race. “I wanted to go straight to the center and say, ‘If you’re going to try to win you’re going to have to first keep up.’ If there’s an advantage to having won as many times as I have, it’s the experience and the fact that the field around you knows that you have the experience. And so if I eke an advantage of that it might be by trying to set the tone early.”
As the course turned uphill in the second quarter, American steeplechase specialist Colleen Quigley edged between Simpson and Pen, while Sarah McDonald of Britain briefly took the front as they hit the half mile in 2:11. Another American steeplechaser, reigning world champion Emma Coburn, also started to make a move towards the front as the clock ticked past three minutes, but Simpson maintained her perch at the front of the pack.
Melissa Courtney of Great Britain, moved up into contact with Simpson, but the three-time world championships 1500 meters medalist (including gold in 2011) seemed unfazed as she powered through three-quarters of a mile in 3:16.
In the closing stages Simpson still had plenty of company, including Quigley, Coburn, Courtney, McDonald and Alexa Efraimson of the U.S., who came surging by on the far right of the road. Just past the 1500 mark Quigley found another gear, but it was not enough to match Simpson, who hit the tape in 4:18.9. Quigley (4:19.2) was comfortably second, followed by Courtney (4:20.3), Coburn (4:20.5) and Efraimson (4:21.0). McDonald faded to 10th in 4:24.5, but earned a U.S. $1000 bonus for leading at the halfway point and finishing under 4:32.)
“I always say this finish line is a dual finish,” said Simpson, who had her string of four consecutive U.S. titles in the 1500-meters snapped this June by Shelby Houlihan. “It’s the end of a mile, but it’s also the end of my season. And so it means a lot to me to end with a win and I’m really willing to fight really hard for that.”
Quigley, who suffered a foot injury in the spring and missed several key races, capped an encouraging final stretch to the season, scoring a pair of track victories in Europe and setting PRs in the 1500 (4:03.02) and steeplechase (9:10.27). Given that momentum, she was frustrated with her tactics in New York.
“I kind of feel like I misjudged it a little bit,” she admitted. “I did that last year and told myself I wasn’t to do it this year, and it happened again. It’s a tough road mile. It’s hard to gauge how far you are from the finish. I was trying to follow Jenny and stick on her shoulder. By the time I realized how close we were to the finish it was too late.”
PHOTO: Nick Willis (second), Jake Wightman (first) and Neil Gourley (third) celebrate after the 38th New Balance Fifth Avenue Mile in New York (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
In the men’s race, Sam Parsons bolted to an immediate 5-meter lead, his mind clearly on the halfway leader’s bonus. He hit the first quarter in 57 seconds, while the pack, led by Johnny Gregorek, came through in about 59. Defending champion Nick Willis of New Zealand, seeking his fifth title in this event, was in the center of the chase group, patiently waiting for the real racing to begin.
Parsons reached the half mile in 2:00 with a 10-meter cushion on the field, but that gap quickly disintegrated. Just past three-quarters of a mile (3:00), the pack swallowed up the leader, with Chris O’Hare of Scotland making a bold surge to the front from the far right-hand side of the course. Wightman, Willis and Neil Gourley, yet another Scot, covered the move best.
Wightman seized the lead in the final 200 meters, and held off Willis for the win, 3:53.5 to 3:54.2. Gourley (3:55.3) took third, with American Eric Avila (3:55.5) and Aussie Sam McEntee (3:56.0) rounding out the top 5. Parsons was only 14th (3:57.7) but scored his early-leader payday by meeting the sub-4:00 finish requirement. Olympic 1500 gold medalist Matthew Centrowitz didn’t factor in the final sprint and placed 16th in 4:00.2.
“When someone like Chris goes he’s usually pretty decisive and spot on, so I just followed him, and then when I felt him tiring a little bit I started to go,” Wightman said of his strategy. “I knew people were probably going to come because the finish line didn’t feel like it was coming quite as quick as I thought it was going to be. So there was definitely time to get caught, which is not a nice feeling. I think 20 meters longer I probably would have been.”
The win capped an exceptional year for the 24-year-old runner who, like Simpson, represents New Balance. He bookended his season with bronze medals in the 1500 at the Commonwealth Games in April and the European Championships in August. He lowered his personal best in that event to 3:33.96 and also showed off his speed with a new 800 best of 1:44.61.
Willis, 35, seemed good-natured about the loss, and noted that the wet conditions probably dictated the conservative tempo. “No one wanted have the pace go,” the two-time Olympic medalist said. “I think they learned from my strategies in past years to wait and wait and wait. [Jake] got just a little bit of a jump on me and I thought he was coming back to me when I was trying to do my trademark last 100 on this course, but I ran out of power in my legs and I couldn’t make the difference. Foolish to think I could outkick a 1:44 guy from this season, perhaps.”
Both Simpson and Wightman earned U.S. $5000 for their victories, part of a $30,000 prize purse for the event.