As the final events of the day, the NYRR 5th Avenue Mile professional athlete races provided an exciting conclusion to a day of fast finishes on 5th Avenue. The event also served as a conclusion to the professional track and field season, bringing together a field that included 10 Olympians vying for a $5,000 first prize in the men’s and women’s races.
A steady headwind made both races more tactical in nature, leaving it until the last quarter-mile to prove who could close the quickest.
In the men’s race, Ford Palmer of the NJ/NY Track Club created a gap on the field over the first half-mile, leading in 2:04, but by the three-quarter mile mark, the main pack was in pursuit.
Over the final 200 meters, Nick Willis of New Zealand used his strong finishing kick to surge ahead and cross the finish line first, winning in 3:54.8. The victory was Willis’ third on 5th Avenue, having won in 2008 and 2013, and made him the third male athlete in event history with at least three wins. Great Britain’s Chris O’Hare took second in 3:55.9, with Henrik Ingebrigtsen of Norway following in 3:56.1.
Noting his disappointment at the 2015 IAAF World Championships—he was sixth in the 1500-meter final—Willis commented on the upside to finishing the year with a win: “It makes you get a much better head space going into the off-season and then back to the training.”
The women’s professional race came down to a final-sprint showdown as well, with the pack remaining mostly intact through three-quarters of a mile in 3:27.
Down the final five blocks, three-time champion Jenny Simpson of the United States followed a surge from fellow American Shannon Rowbury and Susan Kuijken of the Netherlands. With 150 meters left, Simpson took the lead and held it to the finish, breaking the tape in 4:29.0, with Rowbury second in 4:29.3 and Kuijken third in 4:29.9.
The win made Simpson the second athlete and first female in event history to earn four NYRR 5th Avenue Mile titles, having also won in 2011, 2013, and 2014.
“Winning here was really important to me,” Simpson said post-race, adding, “Anything less than winning here was going to be a disappointment for me personally.”
Whether Simpson chases an unprecedented fifth title in 2016 remains to be seen, but she reflected on today’s record-setting victory, commenting, “To feel like people here think I belong here and I’m a champion here, I’ll race for that kind of appreciation any day.”