B.A.A. Men’s Mile, Scholastic Mile, Middle School 1000m
Could you bet against Great Britain’s Andy Baddeley to take the win in this year’s BAA Invitational men’s mile? An Olympic and World Championships 1500m finalist, a PR of 3:49.38, the defending champion in this race. Even with a loaded field, who in Boston could take him down? Certainly not a high school kid with a Justin Beiber haircut, no matter how talented he might be. Funny how things don’t always evolve the way you anticipate.
With 100m remaining in this event, Lukas Verzbicas, an 18 year old high school senior from New Lenox, IL, who immigrated to the US from Lithuania when he was nine years old, had Baddeley right where the Briton didn’t want to be. Namely, with a two stride deficit. “I was determined not to make this a close race,” Baddeley smiled ruefully, moments later. Very soon after the gun, though, it was clear that a close race was precisely what this was going to be.
After the first of three 522m laps and a pedestrian elapsed split of 1:36, Baddeley fronted a field that comprised Verzbicas, Craig Miller, Kyle Miller and Brian Cagnon. It was small, but it was loaded - and it was close. “I didn’t know what to do,” Verzbicas shrugged.
Even with two laps completed (3:01, Craig Miller leading), you could still have thrown a blanket over the whole pack. From that point on, therefore, it could only be a waiting game; and, in those situations it’s always the guy with the experience who controls and who prevails. The trouble was that, while everybody was watching the man with all of that - Baddeley - Verzbicas was wondering what do to - and then doing it.
Along the loop’s de facto back stretch, with 200 or so meters remaining, the Oregon-bound senior, injected the first real move of the race. “Down the back stretch, when he made the move, I thought, ‘This is good,’ ” revealed Baddeley. “ ‘This will stretch it out a bit.’ ” Before he knew it, Verzbicas had stretched it out to such a degree that he had all but stolen the victory. Swinging into the short home stretch, Verzbicas held the inside and charged for line.
“I wasn’t being disrespectful by giving Lucas that gap,” explained Baddeley. “He got it by right. I had to work to get it back.” But nor was an Olympic finalist about to let a high schooler depose him, at least not without one heck of a fight. With just meters remaining, Baddeley clawed his way ever closer; but, Verzbicas appeared to still have it, even with as little as five meters remaining. Verzbicas, too, thought he’d prevailed, effecting the beginnings of a celebratory air-punch - one that caught Baddeley as he blasted past with mere inches remaining.
“This was a good race to see what kind of shape I was in after doing some high mileage in Kenya,” the winner stated. “I’ve been running close to 100 miles per week for about four weeks, training with some 5K guys. They made me work.”
Asked how he felt about losing out in such a close finish, Verzbicas shrugged, “It was a close finish. I can’t complain.” Though he clearly has huge potential in the middle distances, Verzbicas has already made his mark as one of the top junior triathletes in the world.
Though nobody was watching the clock, for the record the finishing times were 4:16.7 and 4:16.8. Third place went to Craig Miller, who edged Kyle Miller, 4:17.4 to 4:17.6.
The elites were the marquee names of the morning, but the middle school and high school races produced plenty of fireworks of their own. In the middle school race, held over 1000m, 13 year old Alcy Torres - second here last year - charged to the forefront after a 1:18 opening lap and simply dominated all the way to the line. By the finish line, reached in 3:09.4, he had opened the best part of a 10 second lead. Truth be told, he looked a little disappointed that the race was over so soon.
“It was a short race,” he said afterwards. Of the finish line, the same that runners in the Marathon will cross on Monday, Torres proffered, “It’s like the actual, so it’s good.” Obviously, he’s a young man of few words who lets his legs do the talking. Taking the win, Torres coupled with his Wellesley Middle School team mate, Jason Canaday (fourth in 3:29.4) to claim the team title.
The Scholastic Invitational Mile saw sparks fly almost as violently as had those in the elite mile. This time, it was Newton team mates David Melly and Ezra Lichtman who were the foremost combatants. Defending champion, Ben Groleau, a 1:58 800m performer indoors this year, charged into the lead from the gun and led through the first lap in a time of 1:38. Hard on his heels, though, was Romey Sklar from Brookline, plus the Newton duo. By the end of the second lap (3:09), it was evident that Groleau was not going to be a repeat performer, having conceded five meters to the hard charging trio of Sklar, Melly and Lightman.
With 300m remaining, Melly heard the exhortations of his coach on the sidelines and decided that it was time to go. Injecting a surge along the back straight, a la Verzbicas, he succeeded in jetissoning Sklar; but, Lichtman wasn’t going anywhere. Into the home straight, Melly held the advantage; but, it was by no means locked up.
“Coming off that last turn, I was pretty scared,” he revealed. “Ezra has a great kick, and he’s beaten me before.”
Sometimes a little fear is all it takes. Looking at the tape, Melly charged hard. He didn’t gain any ground, but he didn’t lose any, either. At the line, he held a 0.8 advantage, taking the win, 4:34.0 to 4:34.8, a new course record. For Lichtman, it was his second successive year of a second place finish. The Melly-Lichtman one-two combination made the team outcome a foregone conclusion. “It feels great to bring home the team title for the second year in a row,” smiled the silver medalist.
At the conclusion of the morning’s events - the 5K, the men’s and women’s miles, boys’ and girls’ 1000s - it may have been Melly who best encapsulated the spirit of the event. Looking at the packed bleachers, he observed, “It’s so much fun. This hyped up atmosphere - it really gets you in the mood to race.”
B.A.A. Women’s Mile, Scholastic Mile, Middle School 1000m
At the end of the first 522-meter Boylston-Dartmouth-Newbury-Exeter loop, the tight pack of six professional women in the BAA Invitational Mile was led by two-time NCAA champion Charlotte Browning of Great Britain. No one seemed in a hurry.
At the end of the second loop, the tall Browning was still taking the brunt of the wind as she continued to front the close-knit group, but if the pace had picked up it was indiscernible.
The third lap was another story – and a thrilling one. Coming off the last turn for the third and final time, it was Anna Pierce, she of the magenta (or is it fuchia?) hair, in the lead. As the 2009 Invitational Mile champion came blazing around the corner, she had a step on Treniere Moser, a three-time national champion at 1500 meters. Then, suddenly, that step evaporated.
“She came roaring back,” said Pierce, “and Marina just came out of nowhere.”
That would be Marina Muncan, the Serbian national record-holder at 1500 meters and the mile. With the finish line drawing closer, the trio of Pierce, Moser and Muncan did, as well, covering the last furious 20 meters shoulder-to-shoulder-to-shoulder, no one gaining ground, no one losing it. They hit the tape three abreast. And the winner was …
“Even when we finished, we didn’t know the order,” said Muncan, who would soon emerge as the victor with a time of 4:58.7. Both Pierce and Moser, who were awarded second and third, respectively, clocked in at 4:58.8.
Muncan, a two-time World Championships team member for her native Serbia who was named Villanova Female Runner of the Decade for 2000-2009, was a six-time Big East Champion and four-time All-American in cross country. This was not her first trip to Boston, by any means: she won the women’s mile at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix last winter, and paced Meseret Defar to a 2-mile world best at the same meet in 2008. It wasn’t even her first time on the course. To the contrary, Muncan finished third in the Invitational Mile last year, and fourth in 2009. She is the only woman to compete in this race all three years.
Other than Scholastic Mile athlete Margo Gillis, that is. In 2009, Gillis, a Massachusetts state champion at 800 and 1000 meters, won the race in its inaugural year. Last year, she was runner-up. This year: top two again, finishing second.
“This race has been a huge part of my season,” said Gillis yesterday, saying that she will miss being able to participate after graduating from Newton North High School this spring and heading off to Georgetown University. “Maybe I’ll come back and run the 5K next year.”
Winning by a runaway was Kathy O’Keefe, whose mile personal best of 4:52, set at the 2011 indoor national championships, is the fastest of the 16-athlete field. The Newton South High School senior teamed up with Gillis to give Newton its third consecutive scholastic team title here, with two athletes running for each of the eight cities and towns along the Boston Marathon course: Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Brookline and Boston.
O’Keefe’s winning time was 5:10.6, just off the course record. Gillis was runner-up in 5:26.5, with Hopkinton’s Kellie Lodge third in 5:29.0. Lodge and teammate Kim Bolick joined to put Hopkinton on the podium as the second-place team, while the bronze went to Eva Lauer and Jessie Kalinski of Wellesley.
“Margo got out really fast, so we had a good start,” said O’Keefe. “We talked earlier about working together so we would get 1-2.”
Making it a Newton sweep were Sonya Jampel and Leah Metzger in the middle school 1000-meter run, with the ebullient Jampel defending her individual title in 3:33.
“It feels amazing because you know all these really famous people have crossed the finish line, and you want to be a part of it,” she said.