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September 22, 2013 -- Jenny Simpson and Nick Willis were all smiles crossing the finish of the NYRR Fifth Avenue Mile presented by Nissan here today, winning handily under perfectly blue skies. Running away from the field at halfway, Simpson cruised to her victory in a very fast 4:19.3, while Willis waited until the final 600 meters to separate from the field. His winning time was 3:52.1.
SIMPSON CONTINUES AMERICAN WINNING STREAK, EARNS SECOND VICTORY
Jenny Simpson didn't waste any time asserting herself at the front of the women's contest. Soon after hearing the starter's gun, the 27-year-old found herself leading the pack of 15 alongside Australia's Zoe Buckman. Spread out across two lanes of Fifth Avenue yet still bunched close together, the group would reach the first quarter mile mark in 65 seconds, a step behind the 2013 World Championships silver medalist in Simpson.
It was in the second quarter mile, rising up a slight incline, that Simpson gritted her teeth and began to separate from the bunch. Passing halfway in 2:14, the 2011 IAAF World Champion was only getting started.
As she would tell New York Road Runners President and CEO Mary Wittenberg, "I didn't want it to be close. That's how a medalist runs."
"I kept telling myself to be relaxed at halfway," explained Simpson. "My thought was when we hit the descent at halfway, just run hard the rest of the way. I was pleasantly surprised how well it worked out for me."
From there on, it was the solo Simpson show. Gradually step by step the gap back to chasers Morgan Uceny and Violah Lagat lengthened from five to ten meters. Splitting 3:18 at three quarters of a mile, Simpson had a four second advantage on the group.
"I didn't know how much of a lead I had, I just kept focusing on the car ahead of me," she would say with a laugh.
With 200 meters remaining and the crowd noise growing, Simpson allowed a smile to come across her face, knowing she had a kick left in her to finish the job. Stopping the clock at 4:19.3, Simpson earned her second victory here in three years and extended America's winning streak to five. Hers was the fourth-fastest time in the history of the race.
"This is a good feeling. In some ways this is the simplest race of the season, a straight line you just run as hard as you can and see how everything shakes out," she said.
Second went to Uceny in 4:23.4, her second straight week with a podium finish at a road mile.
"I'm really happy with my finish," said Uceny, 28. "Jenny Simpson ran a great race. She was really aggressive and made a break early on. Just the way my season's been going, I wasn't ready to cover that move but I finished strong and was happy with the race. It's a great day and a great event."
Rounding out the top five were Dutchwoman Susan Kuijken (third, 4:24.2), Kenyan Violah Lagat (fourth, 4:25.1), and Italian Margherita Magnani (fifth, 4:26.5). American Olympian Shannon Rowbury placed tenth in 4:28.3.
In the end, the day belonged to Simpson, who was swarmed with autograph-seeking kids soon after the race. She won $6000 in prize and bonus money, including a $1000 prime for leading at halfway.
"When you can do well at the World Championships [silver medal], that's the most important thing of the season. But finishing off the season with a win in the United States and a city like New York, that's like food for your running soul. That leaves me going into my break with a really good feeling going into next year," said the champion.
The men's contest began similar to the women's in that the first quarter mile featured a group closely bunched together with a pair out front. Bernard Lagat, the 2011 Fifth Avenue Mile champion, and Olympic silver medalist Leo Manzano pulled the 20-man field along with Will Leer a step to their left.
As the group rose the hill culminating at East 75th Street, Leer, 28, made a move to be the first at halfway ($1000 bonus), taking the outright lead in a matter of seconds. The break served to wake the field up.
"When Will Leer took a lead after half, that is when I thought 'this is good, someone is making a break,'" said Lagat, noting that the field had began to bunch and slow.
Leer would be first across the halfway mark in 2:00 --earning the $1000 prime-- before the race really got interesting. In the third quarter mile, it was New Zealand's Willis moving up on the outside, escaping a brief period of being boxed in. Also making contact with the leaders was Australia's Collis Birmingham.
As the clock read 2:57 with a quarter mile remaining, Willis simply turned to another gear. The only one to respond immediately was Garrett Heath, though by the time he could begin his kick Willis was three steps ahead.
Urging the crowd to cheer with about 100 meters to go by waving his arm, Willis already knew he would break the tape with his second win here in five years.
"I found myself in the lead and my legs were rolling pretty good so [I said] I feel good I'll go all the way to the finish," said Willis, who also won the event in 2008 after winning his Olympic silver medal. "I wanted to enjoy the crowd the last 100 meters."
The battle for podium spots, however, was just heating up, with Heath trying to fend off a hard charging Lagat.
"When Nick took off I thought I have to go with him but he made a huge break and from there I wanted to see and chase the other guys," said Lagat.
After Willis crossed the line in 3:52.1, the next four finishers would all come in within two-tenths of a second of one another.
Lagat managed to overtake Heath for second, 3:52.9 to 3:53.0, with Ryan Hill sneaking in for fourth in the exact same time as Heath. A tenth of a second later came Leer in fifth.
But, topping them all was Willis, who said the win was a bright spot in his 2013 campaign. After being sidelined with a hamstring injury for most of the outdoor track season, Willis and coach Ron Warhurst agreed that the 30-year-old was at a different part of the training cycle than most of the field, the majority of whom ended their season here.
Where most are wrapping up their hard training, Willis is only getting started in his buildup for the IAAF World Indoor Championships.
"Next year is the World Indoor championships, maybe my last chance to do a World Indoors," he said. "I'm treating this little bit that I've done now as an indoor season, and I'll treat the indoor season as an outdoor season. So my goal is to kind of replicate the times I run outdoors on an indoor track."
In total, 16 men broke four minutes for the event, which is slightly downhill from start to finish. Interestingly, Willis's 70-year-old coach, Warhurst, ran the 70+ division and earned a net-time of 8:01.
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg