Sunday, May 15, 2011

Remembering the Millrose Games and the Armory

When I was in high school I witnessed two records set.  The first was at the Wanamaker Millrose Games at the old Garden on 8th Avenue and 50th Street.  John Uelses vaulted 16 feet - the first man to break the barrier.  The packed garden shook.    The second was on the splintered 220 yard floor of the old 168th Street Armory.  My Brooklyn Prep teammates set a national schoolboy 220 yard flat track record in the two mile relay.  Kevin Lanigan, Bob Bartolini, Dave Long, and Bob Clark ran 8:02.  Only Long, at 2:06, was over two minutes.


Track was thrilling then, as this highlight clip from the 1962 Millrose games demonstrates.  So Tom Connelly's wistful essay about the Millrose Games departure from Madison Square Garden resonates for me.  It is sad that track doesn't matter to Americans anymore.  A few years ago I turned on EuroSport while in Gothenberg, Sweden where the track and field world championships were about to be held.  A name flashed on the screen behind the anchor reporter "Michael" it said.  That would be Michael Johnson, the great American runner, who was going to try a unique double - 200 and 400 meters.  Not since Carl Lewis has an American track and field star been truly famous.

Tom Connelly: 

On May 16, 1971, Marty Liquori and Jim Ryun went head to head at Franklin Field in Philadelphia in what was billed as the Dream Mile. Maybe it did not generate the overheated water-cooler conversation that anticipated Ali-Frazier two months earlier, but in an era of unusually outsize sports personalities, when malevolence of thought and deed were imputed on the slimmest evidence, the Dream Mile fueled a rousing simmer. Like Ali-Frazier, Liquori-Ryun lived up to its hype.
The contestants were a promoter’s dream. It was easy to pick a side. Ryun was from the Midwest heartland, quiet and self-effacing, with a devastating kick. Liquori was from the urban Northeast, cocky and brash, a front-runner who lived to push the pace. Together with Kip Keino of Kenya, who was invited but declined, they were the pre-eminent milers of their day.
Forty Years Ago, a Dream Mile Captivated Like a Track Ali-Frazier -