The 22-year-old will run the Fifth Avenue Mile on Sunday.
(c) 2012 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
NEW YORK – When Matthew Centrowitz walked into drug testing following the Olympic final, he saw U.S. teammate Lolo Jones sitting in the room dejected after her fourth-place finish in the 100m hurdles. Although he could commiserate, having just finished in the same dreaded position in the men’s 1500m, he didn’t say anything to Jones.
“I saw Lolo back there and I know we were probably feeling the same thing,” he said in an interview here today. “There really isn’t much to say in that kind of situation. No one wants to hear one of those things like, ‘Hey, you were so close,’ or, ‘Hey, you did a good job.’”
Centrowitz said that he was so distraught after missing out his second consecutive global bronze medal that he couldn’t bear to watch replays of the race for a while.
“It was probably a week or so before I watched it, which is long for me,” he said. “Usually, I will watch a race later that night or the next day. I’ll be the first to admit that I shed some tears after that race. It was definitely a tough one to swallow.”
Centrowitz is hoping to erase the taste of that bitter pill in the final race of his first professional season on Saturday in the NYRR Fifth Avenue Mile, where he will face among others U.S. Olympic teammates Leo Manzano, the 1500m silver medalist in London, and defending champion Bernard Lagat, who finished fourth in the Olympic 5000m.
The 22-year-old Maryland native has a unique opportunity to finish off his season in the same city in which he kicked it off with a victory in the Wanamaker Mile at the Millrose Games. The only other person to win both the Wannamaker Mile and the Fifth Avenue Mile in the same year is Isaac Viciosa of Spain, who pulled off the feat in 1997 when he won the third of his four consecutive Fifth Avenue titles.
“This is my first time doing Fifth Ave and this is my first race on the roads,” Centrowitz said. “I love New York. My mom went to Hunter. My dad went to Manhattan for a year before transferring to Oregon and grew up in the Bronx. New York has always been a second home to me.”
In just a short period of time, Centrowitz has found himself at home among the leading international contenders in the 1500m. In 2011, he burst onto the scene with a resounding victory over seasoned veteran Lagat in the 1500m at the USA Outdoor Championships in Eugene before earning a surprise bronze medal in the event at the World Championships in Daegu.
Despite having to cut back his mileage before the Olympic Trials following knee surgery in April, winning another medal did not seem to be out of the question. He was just edged at the finish at the Trials by Manzano and his time of 3:35.84 was consistent with what tends to contend in tactical championship races.
But unlike Daegu, where Centrowitz was able to surge down the stretch to find the podium, there were other runners, Manzano included, who turned the table on him at the Games. His time of 3:35.17 left him four-hundredths out of bronze-medal position.
Centrowitz recently commentated on the race during a kid’s clinic and while it still stings, he has gained perspective on what transpired.
“I was in the position that I wanted to be in pretty much for the entire race until the last lap when I fell back a little bit,” he explained. “But, again, that is looking for perfection. The last straightaway, my legs were coming underneath me so I knew I gave everything I had. I ran up to my full potential on that day. There were just three guys who were better than me.
“Everything happens for a reason. Last year, I was fortunate enough to get that third spot coming down on people. The opposite happened to me in London. I’ve had my ups and I’ve had my downs and I think a lot of times you learn more from your struggles. This doesn’t leave me content but it’s a good enough place to leave me confident. It wasn’t like I finished dead last but it wasn’t like I won and I can walk around like I’m the (man).”
Centrowitz said he feels fortunate to have experienced both the high of a podium finish and the low of falling just short so early in his career.
“I know there are a lot of years ahead of me. I know they say a miler’s peak is between ages 26 and 30,” he said. “Hearing those things gives me so much confidence that I could actually be at this level more than most people. Seeing that I am only 22 shows that I am ahead of the curve.”
Centrowitz is already looking ahead to next season, where he will attempt to get back in the medals at Worlds in Moscow. One of the big changes he expects to make once he begins working in earnest with coach Alberto Salazar is strength training, something he has not been able to incorporate much into his regimen due to persistent injuries.
“Last year was the first year that I had a full year of consistent training and didn’t get hurt,” he said. “The way I looked at it at the time was that I didn’t want to add too many more things when I couldn’t even get healthy for 365 days. I didn’t want to add this, this and this and then get hurt and not know which thing set me off. I took more of a conservative approach.”
Centrowitz also said he sees himself racing up and down in distance more in the future. He cited runners like Lagat, Kenenisa Bekele and Hicham El Guerrouj as runners he wants to model himself after as being able to excel at different distances and disciplines to strengthen their main event.
“They all ran other distances as well,” he said. “I think you have to be good at others to be great at one.”
But before then, he wants to sprint to a season-ending victory in front of family and friends and then take a break to go about the business of acting his age.
“Right now, I am looking forward to staying up late, eating junk food, and playing video games,” Centrowitz said. “You know, being a normal 22-year-old.”