Quite Another Race
LONDON — It was the gutsy race we’ve come to expect of Matthew Centrowitz.
He wasn’t running for the bronze. He wasn’t going for the silver. He had gold on his mind all the way.
The 22-year-old wound up fourth in the Olympic 1,500-meter final Tuesday night back of controversy-surrounded Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria (3:34.08), USA teammate Leonel Manzano (3:34.79) and Abdalaati Iguider of Morocco (3:35.13).
It wasn’t the fastest 1500 of Manzano’s life or Centrowitz’s. It was just one of their greatest.
Running great times in set-up races is one thing. Running great races with everything on the line and the whole world (along with 80,000 in the seats) watching is quite another.
This race surely fell in the category of “quite another.”
“Coming in here, I wanted to make moves that put me in medal position,” said Centrowitz. Implied: Not any position. Just gold position.
“I did all I could,” he said. “It was so close. I didn’t want to hang back and just try to pick people off from the back.”
Manzano was doubly delighted.
“I am so thrilled and so pumped,” he said. “ It was an insane race. It was probably the toughest race physically and mentally that I’ve ever been in.”
Elbows flew in profusion. No one was ready to concede a centimeter. Twelve men had their eyes on the prize and acted accordingly.
It’s been 16 years since one country (Kenya in 1996) put two men into the Olympic 1,500-meter top four, and 108 years since USA did it at St. Louis in 1904.
Portfolios of previous honors won and hot-shot stats meant nothing this night.
Perfect examples: Kenyan Asbel Kiprot was the 2008 Olympic champion but finished 12th. Kenya’s Nixon Chepseba had run 3:29.77 this year, but was 11th.
New Zealand’s (and Michigan’s) Nick Willis took the 2008 Olympic silver; he ran ninth in 2012.
“Man, I love London,” said Marzano. “I’ve worked so hard for this moment; I’m very proud, it’s like hysteria.”
But he’s five years older than Centrowitz. He was smart enough to find the running room down the last straightaway that Centrowitz couldn’t.
Somewhere, up in the Olympic Stadium seats, you know that Matt Centrowitz, his dad, was sceaming himself hoarse.
Matthew's mom, Beverly, was a fine 800-meter runner.
That lineage keeps showing through.
Dad Matt was a NYC track legend at Power Memorial Academy, He learned the running game the hard way, legging the streets and tracks of The Big City, Van Cortlandt Park and The Armory. He gained the reputation of a tough-guy runner unwilling to concede an inch.
In 1973, Matt trekked to Germany, Poland and Russia as a member of the USA Junior National Team that would include an array of future big-time record-breakers and world-beaters, the likes of Craig Virgin, Terry Albritton, Ben Plucknett, Herman Frazier and many more.
Many lessons were learned.
Dad Matt went on to run for Manhattan College and the University of Oregon Ducks.
He took the Pan American Games 5,000-meter gold in 1979. From 1979 through 1982, he ran off four straight USA 5,000-meter titles.
He made the 1976 (Montreal) and 1980 (Moscow no-go) Olympic teams. In 1982, he lowered the Amrican 5000-meter record to 13:12.91.
In recent years, he’s proven himself one of the nation’s top distance coaches and now plots future successes for his American University runners in D.C.
Matthew’s sister Lauren is a heck of a runner in her own right.
Less than a year ago, Matthew made a huge breakthrough by winning the bronze medal in the 1500 meters at the Daegu World Championships.
Well it was oh-so-so-so close, but there was no medal for Matthew this time in London.
But my-oh-my the guts he put on the line.
All the lessons learned.
All the dividends to be paid in races yet to come.
To state the totally obvious: this young man has one heck of a future in this sport.