By RACHEL COHEN, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — The bright lights of the big city bring out the best in Bernard Lagat.
With the crowd at its feet, Lagat glided down the track toward the record he came here to break. The 37-year-old regained his American record in the indoor 5,000 meters Saturday, finding a new way to make history at the Millrose Games.
Afterward he slapped hands with fans leaning over the railings as he slowly made his victory lap. At a meet that features top high school and college runners along with the pros, Lagat relishes his role as track ambassador.
"They might want to emulate what we have done. I like that. I give them a show," he said. "I told them, 'You know what? You can keep doing this as long as possible if you keep yourself in good training and being healthy and being disciplined.'"
Lagat has won a record eight titles in the meet's signature event, the Wanamaker Mile. This time, he raced the 5,000 to try to break the mark Galen Rupp set last year. Lagat did so convincingly, winning in 13 minutes, 7.15 seconds to lower the standard by more than 4 seconds.
He and Rupp traded American indoor records Saturday, in fact, with Rupp breaking Lagat's 2-mile mark in Arkansas. Lagat was proud of the 25-year-old Rupp — not that he plans to let him keep the record.
"Then I will be able to do it again in the future," Lagat said, smiling.
On a cross-country flight to New York, Lagat's coach, James Li, couldn't sleep, so he wrote down the splits his pupil would need to run, predicting a 13:07 finish.
"It really worked to the T," Li said.
Li's tutelage also worked for another of his runners, Lawi Lalang, who he coaches at Arizona. Lalang, who trains with Lagat, came in second and shattered the college record, also held by Rupp.
Millrose moved uptown to the Armory this year after nearly a century at Madison Square Garden. With Lagat out of the Wanamaker, Matthew Centrowitz, the world bronze medalist in the 1,500, won in 3:53.92. At age 22, the American is young enough to perhaps break Lagat's record of eight titles someday.
Sanya Richards-Ross had some long-distance traveling of her own this past week. The five-time world outdoor gold medalist was in Indianapolis last Sunday for the Super Bowl to cheer on her husband, New York Giants cornerback Aaron Ross. From there she flew to San Diego for a sponsor's event, then on to New York, where she won the 400 in 50.89.
Ross had hoped to root for his wife at Millrose but was attending his grandfather's funeral in Texas on Saturday.
"It was a long week, kind of a roller coaster," Richards-Ross said.
World champion Jenny Simpson held off Shannon Rowbury in the Wanamaker Women's Metric Mile in a show of strength for American middle distance running. Simpson took the lead early and won in 4:07.27 to beat Rowbury, the 2009 world bronze medalist, by 0.39 seconds.
"It was definitely a hard way to run," Simpson said of racing at the front of the pack. "It was tough the last 800 meters."
LaShawn Merritt, the reigning Olympic gold medalist in the 400, felt a little out of sorts in racing — and winning — the 500. The course setup and the start were different than he expected, so he fell short of his goal of breaking the indoor world record in the unusual distance. His time of 1:01.39 was more than a second off the mark.
But Merritt was pleased with how good his legs felt after he finished the longer-than-normal race.