Stacy Dragila took center stage at the Millrose Games Friday night, and performed like the star of the show should, breaking her world indoor pole vault record.
Dragila, winner of the first women's Olympic pole vault title, soared 15 feet, 2 1/4 inches on her second try, breaking the mark of 15-1 3/4 she set last year in the USA Championships in Atlanta.
The record performance also matched the outdoor mark she set last year, when she shattered the world mark a total of five times, indoors and outdoors.
Not many of the 15,125 fans were left when Dragila soared majestically over the bar, but those who stayed were enthusiastic, and Dragila was grateful.
"They're awesome for staying," she said. "They are diehard fans. I wish they would travel with us everywhere."
The men's 15-foot barrier also was broken at the Garden by Cornelius Warmerdam in 1942. Warmerdam used a bamboo pole, Dragila a fiberglass pole.
Dragila, 29, had difficulty early in the competition, not clearing 14-5 1/4 until her third attempt. But she wasted no time at the next height, soaring 14-9 on her first try, shattering the Garden record of 14-8 3/4 by Melissa Mueller in 1999.
For the first time in the Millrose Games, the women vaulters competed after the men, putting the women in the spotlight - just where Dragila belonged.
Meanwhile, life could begin anew at 40 for Merlene Ottey and Johnny Gray.
Ottey, winner of eight Olympic medals and 14 World Championship medals, sped to a scintillating victory in the women's 60 meters Friday night in the Millrose Games.
The remarkable Gray, a four-time Olympian, showed that he's still among the best 800-meter runners in the world, winning his fifth Millrose title in a stirring finish with unheralded Daniel Caulfield of Ireland.
Ottey, who had to fight her way onto the Jamaican Olympic team last year after being suspended for allegedly using drugs, burst out front quickly in the 60 and won in 7.20 seconds, leaving five other Olympic relay medalists in her wake.
This was Ottey's first Millrose victory and her first appearance since finishing third in 1986.
"It's never too late," she said, referring to her age. "I love what I'm doing.
"I got off to a bad start, then I broke loose."
Gray, the 1992 Olympic bronze medalist, led all the way in his first major comeback race. He announced his retirement last year after finishing last in a preliminary heat in the U.S. Olympic trials.
He finished in 1:50.4, smashing the Masters - over 40 - record by four seconds. Caulfield, the 800 winner at Boston last weekend, was only one-hundreth of a second behind.
"It's a pleasure to come out and perform well at 40," Gray said. "When I run, I'm 21.
"The future looks bright. I'm here for the rest of the year."
The men's pole vault became a series of comical mishaps.
First the officials had trouble setting the standards, delaying the start of the event. Then when they finally thought they had it corrected, it turned out they were about a foot off. At last, the problem was fixed, but too late for some vaulters.
Olympic silver medalist Lawrence Johnson won the event at 18-8 1/4, but wasn't happy - and neither were the other vaulters, including Olympic gold medalist Nick Hysong, who failed to clear a height.
"We had to make adjustments before and after, and adding insult to injury, we had to adjust again," Johnson said. "It all added to taking more jumps and that sent off my rhythm."
Hysong said, "Peripherally, it messed up my jumps and they didn't give me a chance to have another jump. It probably affected me the most."
Two-time Olympian Amy Acuff won the women's high jump, beating Sweden's Kajsa Bergqvist, ranked No. 1 in the world. Both cleared 6-5, but Acuff won on fewer misses. It was her best jump indoors or outdoors since 1997.
"I had a lot of problems last year, so it's nice to come out of the ashes," Acuff said.
Acuff was injured in a car accident, and has used acupuncture snd power training in her rehabilitation program.
Charles Austin, the 1996 men's Olympic high jump champion, cleared only one height 7-5 1/4 but that was good enough to win the event. Henry Patterson and Nathan Leeper also cleared 7-5 1/4, but lost on more misses.
Regina Jacobs won the women's mile for the third straight year, but her time of 4:42.15 was the slowest in the race's 26-year history and elicited boos from the crowd.
Olympic bronze medalist Bernard Lagat led a 1-2 Kenyan finish in the men's mile in 3:58.26 as the top four broke four minutes. Laban Rotich, the 1998 winner, was runner-up at 3:58.40, and defending champion Mark Carroll of Ireland was third at 3:59.09.
Olympic silver medalist Terrence Trammell set the other meet record, winning the men's 60 hurdles at 7.47, 0.01 seconds faster than Greg Foster's previous mark in 1991.
©2001 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed
© 2001 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.