Matthew Centrowitz Knows Where To Be
Middle Distance Specialist Is Unflappable
August 10th, 2014
Watching Matthew Centrowitz race will put a smile on your face. For middle distance athletes – like Centrowitz – competing in some of the quickest events that aren’t run in lanes the entire way, it is absolutely essential to possess a certain track awareness for successful racing. And when it comes to being in the best spot and out of trouble, the young Nike Oregon Project athlete is almost without peer. “The NCAA is a big reason for that. We race 20-30 times a year, including indoor, in different rounds and different races,” the young athlete explains. “I think a lot of practice during those four years I was at the University of Oregon really helped me be the type of racer that I am.” Running at sub-60 second pace just inches away from aggressive competitors can be unnerving. But Centro never sweats. He can coolly tuck in on the rail, run on the leader’s shoulder, or even chill behind the lead pack. Whatever cards are dealt as the race unfolds, this riverboat gambler can play the hand. “I’ve been in fast, slow, ridiculously slow races – where we’ve gone out in 2:12 for the first 800. I’ve had to come back from being dead last with 500 to go. I’ve been in the front with 500 to go. I’ve just been in every position in every type of race.” And when there are 300 meters to go, the 24 year old 1500/mile specialist invariably is in just the right unobstructed location to unleash his kick and give himself the best chance to perform at the highest level. “Being able to practice all these different ways have allowed me to be able to run in different ways in these tactical races,” states Centro. “I am confident running from the front; I’m confident running from the back; I’m confident running in the pack.”
After a dazzling career at Oregon, the 7-time All American and 2011 NCAA outdoor 1500m champion has been an impressive post-collegiate performer. Just before turning pro, Centrowitz captured the national outdoor 1500m title in Des Moines, disposing of a first rate domestic field with a scintillating kick and topping off the victory with a throat-slashing hand gesture as he crossed the finish line the clear winner. He was the first Oregon undergrad to win a USA outdoor title since Steve Prefontaine. As a professional, he won the crown again in 2013 – also on the Drake track – as he seized his second national outdoor 1500m title by prevailing in a tactical race which featured heavy traffic over the final circuit.
The 2012 Olympian has brought a different approach to the current outdoor season in a year without a global championship. “I think a lot of athletes have placed a lot emphasis on fast times this year. So it is all about just breaking PR’s, achieving records – whether it be your personal record or an American record. I know that’s what our team [the Nike Oregon Project] definitely put a lot of focus on this year. So it’s all about just running fast times,” explains Centro. “With this year especially, you just train just as hard as you can – week in and week out. And you race as many opportunities as you can. That’s what is great about this year because you are not peaking for any specific part of the season. You’re just training hard and racing a lot,” he offers.
Centro jumped at the opportunity to toe the starting line with the stacked field in the men’s 1500m in Monaco earlier this summer. “There was all this talk about a world record, that [Asbel] Kiprop was trying to go for the world record. Obviously, anytime someone is going for a world record, everyone is just thinking about tucking in there, knowing it is going to be a fast race,” he explains. “They allowed pretty much all the top guys in the world into the race. So it was a very deep race. And it obviously came through. I don’t know how many guys broke 3:30 [there were 7]. But I do know that my 9th place finish [in a PR 3:31.19 – 7th on the U.S. all-time list] was the fastest ever 9th place finish in any 1500 meter race. So it shows you the depth of the race.”
The 2011 world championship 1500 meter bronze medalist appreciates personal bests, but nonetheless wants to become more competitive. “I want to get in there and be as competitive as much as possible. In a race with a fast pace, you wouldn’t want to put yourself in a position that would prevent you from giving yourself the best shot at running something as fast as these guys,” offers Centro who knows how important blistering races against the best in the world – like Monaco – are for his continued advancement. “I finished 9th and I wasn’t happy with that place. But I PR’d so I can’t be too upset. But I tried to be as competitive as I could. I put myself in that position early on in the race. I fell back a little bit more than I like to in the middle part and that’s something I need to work on. It’s more than just hanging on. I have the mindset of wanting to be competitive.” Matthew, who will cap off his 2014 outdoor campaign with a mile race at the Birmingham DL meet later this month and a 1500m in the Bruss
els DL final in early September, knows now is the time to go for it. “When the opportunity presents itself, you have a good opportunity to run fast, so that is what you do.”
With many years of world class racing remaining for Matthew Centrowitz, it not yet clear what will lie ahead for one of America’s all-time best milers when his track & field career has concluded. But chances are the savvy race tactician will be in the right place at the right time.