Broadneck grad Matthew Centrowitz races to gold in 1,500-meter run

Matthew Centrowitz kept gliding and gliding, staying in the lead and away from the clashing bodies behind him, waiting for the brilliant champions who would surely attack from behind.

And challenge they did — first three-time defending world champion Asbel Kiprop, then 2012 gold medalist Taoufik Makhloufi.


"Okay," he thought. "I can't let anyone around me at this point."

As he felt each man pull near, Centrowitz roused another dose of energy and held his advantage. They never did catch the second-generation Olympian from Arnold.

Centrowitz won the 1,500-meter Olympic final on Saturday evening, making good on the promise he first demonstrated as one of the greatest high school distance runners ever in the Baltimore area.

He looked up at the scoreboard after crossing the finish line with dead legs, just to make sure he'd actually won.

He became the first American in 108 years to win gold at 1,500 meters. But he also honored a more personal legacy, begun when his father, Matt Centrowitz Sr., ran the 1,500 at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.

He saw his father in the crowd as he took his victory lap and bellowed, "Are you kidding me?"

"Are you [bleeping] kidding me?" Matt Sr. shouted back.

From now on, Centrowitz will have bragging rights on the man who shaped him with hard expectations and who believed he could be the best in the world.

He came oh so close to winning an Olympic medal four years ago, when he finished .04 seconds out of third place. What others saw as a triumph he saw as a wrenching disappointment and a reason to continue working himself to the bone.

Centrowitz improvised his strategy as the race unfolded, opting to control the final from the front, where he could avoid trouble. With no one to push the pace, he held his lead comfortably and ultimately won in 3 minutes, 50 seconds, almost 15 seconds slower than he ran in finishing fourth in 2012. It was one of the slowest finals in Olympic history.

But the 1,500 is about tactics as much as pure speed, and Centrowitz chose the right strategy.

"He kind of stole my plan," said his American teammate, Ben Blankenship. "Running from front and kicking on, but he ran really well. So give it up to him."

"The alphas in the race, the ones who had the credentials, are people who traditionally aren't front runners," said bronze medalist Nicholas Willis of New Zealand. "There wasn't anyone out there who was likely to go out and push the race."

Centrowitz expected a silver medal, at best, coming in. "I'm a confident guy," he said, laughing in disbelief. "But I don't know if I'm this confident."


The race Centrowitz has built to for the last four years fell on the last night of track and field competition at Joao Havelange Olympic Stadium. The nine days of running, jumping and throwing featured numerous stellar performances by Americans and the final Olympic coronation of Usain Bolt, the greatest sprinter of all time.

The 1,500 lacks the surface sizzle of say, the 100 meters, but it's a fascinating blend of endurance and abrupt bursts of speed, of tactics and athletic nerve. Over roughly 210 seconds, the runners jostle for position and make rapid calculations about when and how hard to attack.

Centrowitz is a smooth, intelligent runner, perhaps not as fast as his leading competitors but not prone to steer himself into trouble, either.

He made his name on the international stage in 2011 with a bronze-medal finish at World Championships, finished fourth in the 2012 Olympic final and then won a silver medal at the 2013 World Championships.

At 26, he entered these Olympics confident he was peaking after four years training with Alberto Salazar, one of the most successful coaches in the sport. Last month, he ran the fastest 1,500 in the history of U.S. Olympic Trials. And recent workouts suggested he was as strong and fit as he'd ever been.

"He's 10 times stronger and smarter than he was four years ago," Matt Sr. said Friday. "Everything is in place."

Centrowitz's bond with his father is perhaps the defining trait of his biography.

Matt Sr. was one of the great American distance runners of his time, learning from iconoclastic Oregon coach Bill Bowerman and qualifying for the 1976 Olympics at 1,500 meters. He then won the 5,000 meters at Olympic Trials in 1980 only to stay home because of the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Games.

Centrowitz grew up in Arnold amid tales of Bowerman and the distance-running stars who happened to be his father's college buddies.

His sister, Lauren, followed in Matt Sr.'s footsteps, winning the Sun's 2004 High School Athlete of the Year award for her exploits at Broadneck and evolving into an All-American at Stanford.

With his slight build and efficient stride, Centrowitz picked up where she left off, becoming the fastest high-school miler in the country and the Sun's High School Athlete of the Year in 2007.

He learned to balance his father's input with coaching from Dana Dobbs at Broadneck and Andy Powell at Oregon, where he won an NCAA championship.

Matt Sr., who's entering his 12th season as the track coach at American University, was a demanding mentor.

"I'm not going to lie. There are a lot of times I feared the man more than I loved him," Centrowitz said recently. "But I wouldn't be where I am now if it weren't for him being so tough on me."

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