The presence of Abdi Bile, Marcus O'Sullivan and Peter Elliott promises a memorable race tonight in the featured Wanamaker Mile at the 81st Millrose Games.
Bile, the George Mason University runner from Somalia, and O'Sullivan, the Irish veteran out of Villanova, are the world 1,500-meter champions outdoors and indoors, respectively. Elliott of Great Britain, the outdoor 800-meter runner-up, won the Fifth Avenue Mile by a stride over O'Sullivan.
"They're all in top form and if they go through the first half quickly enough, the last half could be a great one," said Howard Schmertz, director of the prestigious Madison Square Garden meet.
Schmertz is less certain of what to expect in the other events on the program. This is an Olympic year and, with track competition set for fall (Sept. 23-Oct. 2) in Seoul, many athletes have adjusted their normal schedules.
"An awful lot of people are injured this year," Schmertz said. "Whether there is more concern about a minor injury than usual because of the Olympics, I can't say. A lot of people are not in terrific shape and I don't know what the level of fitness will be.
"People are holding back and there is no way of knowing what the performances will be. But we have a representative group and it ought to be a fun meet. Certainly, it will be fun for track buffs to watch a Masters Mile that matches old favorite Jim Ryun against former Olympic champions Peter Snell and Frank Shorter."
There is no dearth of current stars, either, with double world champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee competing in the long jump, and outdoor hurdles king Greg Foster continuing his rivalry with Renaldo Nehemiah.
The foreign contingent is not restricted to the men's mile. The women's version includes three talented Romanians -- 1984 Olympic champions Maricica Puica and Doina Melinte, plus Mitica Junghiatu, whose recent 4:05 for 1,500 meters in Stuttgart was within four seconds of Mary Slaney's world indoor record.
Challenging the Romanians will be Kirsty Wade of Great Britain, winner of the Fifth Avenue Mile; Vicki Huber of Villanova, NCAA 3,000 champion indoors and out, and 1987 runner-up Alisa Harvey out of Tennessee and Jefferson High.
Gwen Torrence, the two-time defending champion who is unbeaten in her last 27 indoor sprints, faces tough opposition in the women's 60-yard dash. Evelyn Ashford tries again for her first Millrose victory, along with Diane Williams, Pam Marshall and Merlene Ottey.
While Bile runs in the mile, the two other medalists in the world championships' 1,500 will be competing in the 3,000. Runner-up Jose Luis Gonzalez of Spain and bronze medalist Jim Spivey will compete against Doug Padilla, Ireland's Frank O'Mara and James Farmer, The Athletics Congress cross-country runner-up.
The women's 400 meters is intriguing, because three-time winner Diane Dixon will be running under a new coach, Russ Rogers, after 11 years as a pupil of Fred Thompson. Dixon's principal opponent, and a very good one, is the triple Olympic champion from Los Angeles, Valerie Brisco.
Thierry Vigneron of France, silver medalist at Rome, heads a good pole vault field. Antonio McKay, the world indoor champion, battles Roddie Haley and Michael Franks in the men's 400. In the men's 60, Schmertz laughingly says that, "We have everybody except Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis."
The absence of those two apparently has not affected ticket sales. At last report, the top-priced $37 seats were being scalped for $125, the bottom-scale $20 seats for $75.