Passing the baton. It's a natural metaphor for transition in track and field, and one that many people were using last week to describe the Millrose Games' move from Madison Square Garden, its home for 98 years, to the Armory Track and Field Center, some 130 blocks north. To judge by last Saturday's rousing event, the pass was a smooth one—and could well serve as a model for other so-called minor sports seeking to remain relevant.
In its heyday Millrose—the premier U.S. indoor meet—was a major event. Sellout crowds of more than 18,000 watched such stars as Glenn Cunningham, Bob Richards, Mary Decker and Eamonn Coghlan sprint and jump and race around the Garden's clattery 11-laps-to-the-mile board track under the eyes of tuxedo-clad officials. In recent years, though, attendance had dwindled (to about 5,000 in 2011), and the top athletes had stayed away, choosing to chase better marks at more modern venues. "It was on life support," says Norbert Sander, the founder of the Armory track program, who took over as Games president in '09. "There was great sentiment to keep Millrose in the Garden, but the trend has to be to smaller arenas and to giving athletes the best facilities."
On Saturday the tuxedos were gone, but a strong lineup of athletes took to the Armory's state-of-the-art 200-meter track with gusto, treating the crowd of 5,000 (a sellout, and thus a very different vibe than in the nearly empty Garden), as well as fans watching live on YouTube, to sparkling performances in nearly every event, topped by an Armory-record 3:53.92 by American Matt Centrowitz in the showcase Wanamaker Mile and a U.S.-record 13:07.15 in the 5,000 meters by Bernard Lagat. Asked about the new setting, Lagat, an eight-time Wanamaker winner in the Garden, said, "I love it. I could hear 'Go, Bernard' and 'Go, Lagat' during the whole race."