“Loyal to the Sport”, Jeff Benjamin writes on Matt Centrowitz (father of Matthew Centrowitz)

This is a nice piece on father Matt Centrowitz and his son, Matthew. On October 13, at Van Cortlandt Park, Matthew Centrowitz, the 2016 winner of the Olympic 1,500m and his father, Matt Centrowtiz, will be speaking to runners and signing their book, LIke Father, Like Son from 3 pm Eastern time. On Saturday, October 14, the Manhattan Invitational, sponsored by HOKA ONE ONE.


2015 NYRR 5th Avenue Mile–
L-R- Matthew Centrowitz, Jeff Benjamin, NYC Marathon Champion Gary Muhrke, Coach Matt Centrowitz

“Loyal to the Sport”–Matt Centrowitz

By Jeff Benjamin

How many of us can say that they have been rewarded a thousand times over for their work, sacrifice, dedication and perseverance to our Sport? If one were to count the ways for Matt Centrowitz, we’d be here a very long time. Without a doubt an extrovert (to say the least), the Bronx native’s influence from his days as an athlete to his current reign as a coach has left a big impact upon people for many decades.

NYC’s greatest high school miler out of Power Memorial high school, Centrowitz would also be the first Prep from the state to break 9 minutes for 2-miles. After a stay of one year at Manhattan College, Centrowitz would go on to a stellar collegiate career at the University of Oregon breaking Steve Prefontaine’s 1500 school record (3:36.7) and helping the Ducks to the 1977 NCAA XC Championship.

Centrowitz was a member of the US Olympic 1500 meter team in 1976 and was also on the boycotting 1980 team as well. He won a gold medal in the 5000 at the 1979 Pan-American Games in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Centrowitz also won four U.S. national outdoor 5K championships in a row from 1979-82. In 1982, he set the American record in the 5K with a time of 13:12.91, defeating the front-running Alberto Salazar. He also defeated a top field on the roads at the 1982 NYRR Trevira Twosome 10-mile race through Central Park, besting the likes of Olympic Marathon Champion Frank Shorter.

It’s sometimes not easy for a great runner to become a great coach, but for Centrowitz, the transition was very successful. Beginning at St. John’s University, Centrowitz then went on to join his former Manhattan College coach Gagliano in forming the elite Reebok Enclave in the Washington, DC area. From that team came John Trautman, Steve Holman, David Strang and Jen Rhines, who all made Olympic teams. Then in 1999 he became coach of the dormant XC/ Track teams at American University. Over the last 17 years, his American teams have enjoyed great success both team-wise and individually. Centrowitz has not only produced All- Americans and League Championships, but his fire, energy and unique tough-love approach has produced new generations of great athletes, coaches and people who are just as devoted to the Sport as he is. Like mentioned before, Centrowitz has certainly been rewarded.

But without a doubt the greatest reward of all had to have taken place the summer of 2016 in Rio, as Centrowitz watched his son Matthew lead an incredibly suspenseful race from start to finish against the world’s best milers , winning that coveted gold medal that has eluded so many of America’s greatest milers dating back to the last Champion Mel Sheppard in 1908.

In a stadium of screaming thousands, only one person could be feeling that special unique euphoria that comes not only from a screaming proud parent, but also from a screaming proud devotee of the Sport, who, like his son, “Gets It!”

Here are what some of Matt Centrowitz’s friends, peers and athletes say about him- Warning for the uninitiated – Matt Centrowitz is the Father – Matthew Centrowitz is the Son & Olympic Champion!

Peter Julian- Asst. Coach of the Nike Oregon Project–

“I remember sitting in the Hayward Field (1982) stands as an 11 year old kid, watching a stacked men’s 5000 at Hayward Field. Some guy named Matt Centrowitz, who I had never heard of, blazed the last 400 meters, winning the race and breaking the American record. Alberto was in the same race and he was one of my favorite athletes, so I was completely distraught that he lost. It’s so strange and wonderful that here we are some 35 years later and I’ve been blessed to have gotten to know Matt Sr. and his family as a coach for Alberto’s Nike Oregon Project. That family is one of a kind and I love them for it. No matter where I am in the world with the Nike Oregon Project, anytime a Centrowitz enters the room, my spirit can’t help but be lifted.”

Link – 1982 Race


Tom Nohilly- Nationally Ranked and World Championship Team Steeplechaser – Currently a Coach for the NJ-NY Track Club

“Matt is an old school NY guy. He was my coach when I was running with the Reebok Enclave. His background in the running world is unmatchable, from the Bronx to the University of Oregon. Because of his background and experience his coaching is very simple, and he’s able to get to what is essential. As a person he’s a fun guy. As a coach he is honest with you. (telling you like it is, when you are not doing what is expected as an Athlete. He usually goes on with a few NY adjectives). He knows running in its purest form, hard work and grit over the long term.”

Craig Masback- World-Class Miler, Former USATF President, currently Vice President of Sports Marketing for Greater China, Japan & Global Business Affairs at NIKE

“I’ve known Matt Centrowitz since high school, when I first saw him circling the Armory track and later met him at the Golden West competition. What I value most about Matt as an athlete, coach, and person is his honesty and enthusiasm. As an athlete, he did something few would have done at the time — he left the environment where he had great success, the New York area, and transplanted himself to Oregon. This never surprised me as he was always a front-runner as an athlete, taking on all comers and literally taking the lead and pushing the pace if that’s what would result in his best race and chance of success. His athletic success speaks for itself, including two Olympic teams, the American record at 5000 meters, and many other accomplishments.
As a coach, I love his enthusiasm for his athletes. He always sees the best in them and promotes them endlessly, sometimes seeming to will them to success. Finally, as a person he’s always fun to be around. You always get the “real”Matt, unvarnished, self-deprecating, and full of interesting observations. Nothing gave me more joy and pleasure in 2016 than watching Matt celebrate the success of his son, Matthew, in Rio. Beverly and Matt did a great job raising Matthew and helping form him into the outstanding person that he is and they should be proud of what he has achieved.”

Craig Virgin- One of America’s all-time great distance runners- 3-time Olympian and the only American to win the World XC Championships – which he did twice in 1980 & 1981!!

“Matt was 2nd to me in the 2-mile at Prospect HS when I broke Prefontaine’s national 2-mile record (8:40.9). It was his first loss of the season and he had not been beaten that badly in 2 years. He was pissed at me but then we went to Europe together that summer on the US Junior national team. We went through a lot of special experiences together.
I saw him much more in those final three years of college and in the next 6-8 years of pro running. I am proud to say that he was a teammate of mine on my first 2 Olympic teams. I know he makes fun of me and probably says disparaging things about me behind my back that are often very funny-I guess that’s the “Bronx Humor” in him! But, he came a long way from kind of a rough background or childhood. I have always admired and respected him for what he accomplished and for his passion and devotion to the sport. He can be a lot of fun. Like all Coaches I’m sure he’s not for every type of athlete but the ones that he does connect with I am sure have benefitted greatly from his experience, leadership, & direction.
Matt deserves credit for what he accomplished both as an athlete, a father, and a coach. None of us are perfect and he certainly accomplished way more than most. The father-son dynamic that has been exposed on TV it’s remarkable. I remember the first time I saw Matthew race as a freshman and he showed maturity beyond his years! I’m sure that he was a big part of his sons’ success and Matthew seems to be openly appreciative of the help his dad has given him. Even going to the point of Matthew having a tattoo done… :-)”


Matthew Centrowitz photo of his tattoo, photo courtesy of Nike

John Trautman- The Monroe-Woodbury HS star and All-American at Georgetown went on to a World-Class career. Trautman would go on to make the 1992 Olympic 5000 team and would later go on to set track records as a Masters athlete. The NYU Coach also coaches at the NJ-NY Track Club.

“I first got to know Matt after my second year at Georgetown. After a bit of a sophomore slump on the track, Gags summoned Matt to help get me back on track (pun). Being from New York, I had known about Matt as a runner, but never envisioned the personality that he was. Matt would show up at my apartment at 6:30 am to run and motivate me. There was one day when Matt had me run 10 miles around a 150 meter grass field so he could “motivate” me without having to actually go on the run. I credit Matt, along with Gags, on my winning the National championship and making the Olympic team. Matt had the unique ability to know exactly what was going on in my head during races.”

Kerri Gallagher- Head coach of Manhattan College men’s & women’s XC, Middle & Long Distance teams. Former Asst Coach at American University. Member of the 1500 Meters World Championship team.

“Working with Coach Centrowitz has been one of the most challenging and most rewarding experiences of my life. He is one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met. Track to him is personal and if you are fortunate enough to spend time with him in that context you won’t see it the same way again. He’s quick to credit my previous coaches with their role in my running career and has helped me appreciate their impact. I’ve learned so much from him and I owe a great deal of who I am as a competitor and coach to him.”

Coach Francis “Gags” Gagliano- Legendary Coach on the collegiate, national and international level. Currently Coach at the NJ-NY Track Club.

“I met Matt in his Senior year at Power and Coach Dwyer and I recruited him at Manhattan College. It was a good year for him but he wanted to get out of NYC and he transferred to Oregon. For the kid at that age if that’s what they wanted to do you let them. You never close the door on an athlete or a person.
We stayed in touch and he joined me in coaching the Enclave in DC where we really got together. Then he got the job at American.
Matt’s knowledge of the Sport is fantastic. He was also well-coached throughout his career. All the knowledge he picked up helped the Enclave and his career continues successfully at American. Without a doubt he’s passed it in to his son and the way he races shows he’s listened to his dad who has been there! Matt has an awful lot of knowledge. He’s Big-Time!”

Big Time indeed- Big Runner, Big Coach, Big Father & a Big Person!

To purchase the book!




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