By Dave Hannigan and Pierce O’Reilly
Amid somewhat controversial circumstances, Mark Carroll finished a disappointing third in last Friday night’s Wanamaker Mile at the Millrose Games in Madison Square Garden.
Carroll entered the race bothered by a slight hamstring strain. Neither he nor the other Irish contender, James Nolan, who came home fifth, never threatened the Kenyan duo of winner Bernard Lagat (3:58.26) and runner-up Laban Rotich (3:58.40) once they had moved into first and second place with four laps to go on the 11-laps-to-the-mile track.
Carroll, the defending champ, ran 3:59:09, almost two seconds off his best Wanamaker performance. His poor showing in the Garden comes just four months after his Olympic nightmare, when he failed to qualify for the 5,000-meter final in Sydney.
After the prestigious Wanamaker Mile success in New York last year, Carroll’s crowning glory was expected to be the Olympics. Instead, he made a tactical error, which Carroll readily admits was his fault.
Last Friday night’s event attracted many top international track and field stars, with Lagat, the bronze medalist in the 1500 at Sydney, the favorite. Canadian Kevin Sullivan, who finished two places behind Lagat in Sydney, was also in the field.
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The Millrose Games have traditionally been a happy hunting ground for Irish athletes. Indeed, Ron Delany, Eamonn Coghlan, Marcus O’Sullivan, Niall Bruton and Carroll have all tasted moments of glory in the featured event. Coughlan holds the all-time record with seven Wanamaker victories, with Marcus O’Sullivan winning on five occasions.
On a track where the old boards of Coghlan fame have been replaced by synthetic Mondo, Carroll became embroiled in an unseemly incident with American runner Seneca Lassiter coming into the final turn. Annoyed at the way Lassiter had tried to cut inside him when there didn’t appear to be enough track to do so, the Corkman pushed his opponent and fellow Nike team member after they both crossed the finish line. Even during his press conference half an hour later, Carroll was still visibly angry at what happened.
Despite the nasty aftertaste left by his showdown with Lassiter, an episode that carried over into an animated exchange of words in the infield, Carroll said he was happy with the run and felt it would aid his preparation for the forthcoming world indoor championships, which begin in Lisbon on March 9. While that event is the immediate focus of his training, he confirmed that barring further injuries, he will take his place on the Irish team for the World Cross Country Championships in Dublin next month.
"I’m going to have to take a few days off from training to rest my leg now, but the federation have left a pre-selection spot on the short course open for me and unless I’m feeling really tired or am hurt after the world indoors, I intend to go to Dublin to be part of the team," Carroll said. "My personal ambitions are all on the track so I will be going purely as a team runner. I think I will be captain though and it will be a great honor to lead my country there."
Roscommon native and Westchester AC member Daniel Caulfield was the real Irish hero at the Millrose Games, finishing second to the 40-year-old veteran and former Olympic bronze medallist Johnny Gray in a thrilling 800 meters. With two laps of the five and a half remaining and Gray out in front, Caulfield didn’t have enough track to get past second-placed Kenyan David Kiptoo, and when the graduate of Adams State finally found a gap on the last lap, it was a little too late. Clocking 1:50:40, Gray held him off to win by two hundredths of a second, but more important, the 28-year-old New York-based Irishman’s quest for the qualification time required for entry to the World Indoors goes on.
"I thought I did well to actually find a way through on the last lap, but Johnny Gray has been running races like this all his life and he knew enough to be able to hold on," Caulfield said. "For me, it was just a pleasure to be on the same track as a legend. Really, I’m only finding out what I’m capable of myself, I’ve changed coaches this year and I’ve changed my training routine and it appears to be helping. I’ve got until two weeks before the competition to get the time required, so right now I’m just looking around for races. It’s a case of going where I can to see if I can get the run I need."
Of the other Irish competitors on a night when American pole vaulter Stacy Dragila set a world indoor record of 15 feet, 2 1/4 inches, Des English anchored the Westchester team to victory in the 4-by-800 relay and Martin Ryan finished ninth in the 3000.