Nick Willis, then running for Michigan, came to Minneapolis and won the 1,500 title at the Big Ten Conference track championships 10 years ago, almost to the day.
So there was some history here.
Willis won the ninth annual TC 1-mile race in downtown Minneapolis on Thursday in record time. He took the lead for good with a little more than 400 meters left and came home in 3 minutes, 56.2 seconds.
For Willis, the silver medalist for New Zealand in the 1,500 at the 2008 Olympics, it was his eighth consecutive victory. As he came down to the finish he knew he was in a good position to break the record, which gave him a $10,000 bonus on top of the $5,000 prize money.
“I saw I was comfortably under,” Willis said. “So I didn’t want to push it too hard, in case I want to come back in future years and try to get it again.”
In cool temperatures and with a significant tail wind — especially at the start of the race — the top three men in the race all beat the existing record. Garrett Heath, a Winona native, finished second in 3:57.3. Macklin Chaffee, from Boulder, Colo, finished third in 3:58.1.
Sarah Brown, from Atlanta, Ga., outdueled Canadian Nicole Sifuentes in the women’s race, surging at the end to win in a photo finish. Brown won in 4:33.3, a tenth of a second ahead of Sifuentes.
Brown, then Sarah Bowman, came to the race in 2010 and finished second. More importantly, she met her future husband, runner Darren Brown.
“Coming back here was very nostalgic for me,” Brown said. “It brings back such great memories because of that.”
Brown, who has been prepping for next week’s Oxy High Performance meet in Los Angeles, came here from San Diego, where she took part in an 800 race to get some speed work in. It paid off. As the runners came around the slight turn for the final 200 or so meters of the race Brown wasn’t sure she could catch Sifuentes. Indeed, Brown didn’t know whether or not she had until well after the race ended and the results came in.
Willis hung back for much of his race, letting training partner William Leer set the pace.
“I wanted to help him out a little bit and then slowly wind it up,” said Willis, who was the New Zealand flag bearer at the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics before finishing ninth in the 1,500. “There is a little bit of a slide uphill in the last 50 meters so I wanted to save something for that if I needed it.’’