Armory Vets Own 5th Ave.
"Hey Matt, what's the time?"
That's the simple question that, to the Centrowitz clan, of New York, Maryland and an array of other locales, is the longest-running of family jokes.
Sure Matt, patriarch of the renowned Centrowitz runners — a two-time USA Olympian (1976 and 1980) and the former U.S. recordholder in the 5,000 meters, now the head coach of Washington, D.C.'s American University — had traveled the world, collecting major honors virtually everywhere he'd journeyed.
But amid all his expeditions, he never, ever did collect a Penn Relays champion's watch, the golden reward three other Centrowitz runners actually did earn.
Matt's brother, Gerry Centrowitz, won his P-E-N-N-S-Y-L-V-A-N-I-A timepiece as an 800-meter runner on a Power Memorial Academy (of Manhattan) distance medley team.
Matt's daughter, Lauren, reached the gold standard at Penn as a Stanford relayist, and son Matthew as a Broadneck (Md.) High School miler and Oregon relayman.
Matt may still hold the family record in the 5,000 meters (his 13:12.91 dating back to 1982, when it was the American record) but that's his only major family mark remaining unscathed.
It's son Matthew, 22, making all the big noise in the sport these days, speeding along from major achievement to major achievement to major achievement.
If Matthew's 2011 season (topped by his bronze-medal finish in the 1500-meter final at the Daegu World Championships) was eye-opening, his 2012 campaign has been even more spectacular.
His 3:53.92 Wanamaker Mile triumph was an indoor season feature; he overcame a knee injury that slowed his Olympic Trials buildup to not only make the team but go on to a fourth-place in the London Olympic 1500 final. And he capped his huge 2012 campaign by spurting to a 3:52.4 triumph in the 32nd edition of the New York Road Runners-staged Fifth Avenue Mile on Saturday.
Once again, the Fifth Avenue Mile — the top mile event on a still-growing world road mile circuit — drew la creme de la creme, which responded to the 20-block straightaway and straight-south challenge with a dazzling display of speed and depth.
The 17-race, 4 1/2-hour NYRR spectacular, presented by Nissan, attracted a total of 5,469 runners, 2,655 men and 2,814 women.
Centrowitz wasn't quite Usain Bolt but he still needed closing 100-meter dash speed to win the men's race by perhaps two strides over USA Olympic teammates Bernard Lagat (3:52.9) and Leonel Manzano (3:53.1), Australians Craig Huffer (3:53.5) and Ryan Gregson (3:53.7) and 10 more. Amazingly, 14 of the 15 starters got to 61st Street under four minutes. Only man over four was ex-Columbia star Liam Boylan-Pett at 4:04.8. And they were running into a headwind.
Centrowitz's 3:52.4 was the 10th-fastest winning time in Fifth Avenue annals, but no threat to the event record of 3:47.52 set by Sydney Maree in the first of these races, back in 1981.
The women's Fifth Avenue Mile saw a similar last-block rush to the finish line, as Brenda Martinez (4:24.2) outdueled Anna Pierce (4:24.9), British Olympian Hannah England (4:26.0), Gabriele Anderson (4:26.5) and Shannon Rowbury (4:27.0) and all 13 finishers went under 4:35. The 4:24.2 was the 14th fastest Fifth Avenue winning time; Pattisue Plumer’s 4:16.68 in 1990 remains the event record.
Uncle Gerry Centrowitz strolled over to Fifth Avenue from his Manhattan residence, at 79th Street and First Avenue, to check out nephew Matthew's warmups.
"He looked really ready," said Uncle Gerry. "That young man keeps getting better and better and makes everybody in the family so very proud."
Gerry Centrowitz soon made his way south to the finish line area to join the appropriately-clad family assemblage (most wearing 'Centro Nation' shirts) cheering Matthew to victory.
"I think we had 30 of us here," said Matt C., whose own best days in the sport preceded the establishment of the Fifth Avenue Mile in 1981.
"What do you want me to tell you about my son?" asked Matt, who soon supplied the answers.
"He had a great race today; he was very, very excited, this was one he really, really wanted to win. He's been training really hard for this one.
"I'm from New York (the Centrowitzes' first home was at Walton Avenue and 165th Street in the Bronx; they later moved to 231st Street and Broadway, opposite Van Cortlandt Park.) So since Matthew won the Wanamaker Mile in the Millrose Games (at The Armory in February), he really wanted to make sure he won this one, too."
(Just one other runner, Isaac Viciosa of Spain in 1997, had ever won the Wanamaker and Fifth Avenue Mile titles in the same year.)
"Matthew's pretty much lived in Maryland most of his life, but we come up here on summer vacations all the time; he's run races in Rockaway," said Matt C. "We certainly have a lot of New York friends. There were at least of 30 of us (family) here today and I think I had about 10 of my own Power Memorial teammates here, too, plus their own families.
"Obviously, Matthew has the talent and the desire to be great… so off we go. With the caliber of the field we had today, we all knew it was going to go down to the wire, for sure and that’s exactly what happened," said Matthew.
"This was my first time in this race, so I was just keying off Bernard (Lagat) and all the veterans who'd been here before.
"I just tucked in behind him (Lagat) and covered any move he'd make. With 100 to go, I just went for it.
“It’s been definitely been an up-and-down year for me. I had some lows with that knee injury — the strangest thing, I just ran into a chair. Anyway, things happen, so we'll never know what else might have happened. That's just he way life is.
"Now, I'm just going to take some time off. I'm going back out to Eugene to finish up there, I've got just six classes to go (toward a degree in sociology.)
“After that, I'm just going to take it one thing at a time. I'm still very young. There's still a lot ahead of me. Hopefully, I'll be in this sport a long time."
Ronville Gravesande, Joel Haynes, Vic Heckler, Ino Cantu, Bert Robbins, Sab Koide and Bill Benson may be senior citizens but the finish-line clocks weren’t on delay for them, either.
Shore AC member Gravesande, of Union, NJ, won the 60-64 division of the George Sheehan Masters Mile, for the third straight year, clocking a 5:13. Haynes, of Brooklyn, took 65-69 honors in 5:25. Los Angeles resident and former New Yorker Heckler, many times a past Fifth Avenue champion, led the 70-74 parade in 6:03. Tops in 75-79 was Texan Cantu in 6:26.
Pacing the 80-84s — by nearly 2 1/2 minutes — was Rockaway Park resident Robbins in 7:41. At 88, Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.'s Koide led the 85-89 bracket in 11:55. And the only nonagenarian in the pack, 93-year-old Benson of Valley Stream, N.Y., got to 61st Street in 14:19.
This is one event where the ladies are proud to reveal their ages — most certainly Jeanne Daprano of Fayetteville, Ga. (75-79 winner in 7:09); New Yorker Marjorie Kagan (80-84 titlist in 10:53), and 86-year-old Pearl Jones of Brooklyn (85-89 leader in 16:14.)
NYRR CEO Mary Wittenberg clocked a 5:59 for seventh in 50-54. Michael Frankfurt, Armory Track Foundation board of directors chairman, ran 13:07 for 10th in 75-79. At 93, Benson even outruns the NYRR’s computers.
"They keep putting my age down at 35 and I cannot tell you why," he said. "I ran in my days back at Ohio University, around 1941, then again (after World War II) in 1946-47. But then I didn't run at all for 32 years. I started up again when I was 60 and now I’ve been running for the last 33 years.
"There are no secrets to staying in shape all these years," said the former insurance executive. "I do everything wrong. I don’t eat right. I don’t train right. I just keep running. This was my 13th time running Fifth Avenue. Before today, I'd won it eight times and placed second in four of them."
Like the other 5,468 "On The Avenue, Fifth Avenue," he finds the race magnetic. No wonder he’s already plotting his 2013 strategy.
By the time all the post-race festivities — including many “Centro Nation” photo-ops — had ended, it was past 2 p.m.
But Matt C., his left wrist bereft of any Penn Relays timepiece, was blissfully unaware of any of this. The afternoon was young and a round of further family celebrations awaited.