National Press Club

Olympic Gold Medalist Centrowitz: Father kept him focused

November 22, 2016 | By Bob Weiner and Ben Lasky | weinerpublic@comcast.net

Matthew Centrowitz, who in Rio this summer became the first U.S. Gold Medalist in the 1500 meter run (the metric mile), told a Newsmaker event at the National Press Club that his father, a two-time Olympian, kept him “focused.” Matt, the father, added: “The Rockefellers probably talked about money, the Kennedys holding office. In our house, we talked about racing splits.”

Matthew, 27, born in Beltsville, Maryland, said he is “humbled” by the attention for his gold medal. He was recently honored by Broadneck High School in Annapolis where he graduated, and during games of the Ravens and the Orioles.

He said he picked the University of Oregon in Eugene for college because he did not see widespread use of alcohol there, unlike other major schools that recruited him, and he wanted a “serious atmosphere” where he could train to pursue his “dream of an Olympic Gold.”

He said he runs 105 miles a week and includes intense repeats of 400 meters with the fastest one at the end to simulate the sprint finish to win. That’s exactly what he said he did in the final 400 of the gold medal race, having to elbow through on the inside to the front, and running a 50.5 second final 400 meters to beat the defending and prior Olympic champions.

Centrowitz also explained what was a mystery to media and the world watching on TV -- what he called the "pedestrian slow" fist half mile of the race, at a 66.5 second 400 meter pace versus the 50.5 second last 400. Organizers forced all the 1500 meter finalists into a tiny holding pen with no warmup area, with "no stride out" space, for the fifteen minutes immediately prior to the start. Centrowitz said runners are at the peak of their warmup then and were blocked from doing it, apparently for runner control and for media sharpness going to the start. However, this is easily fixable by the local organizing committee and the games committee by arranging a field area for warmup, a significantly larger pen. Because it did not exist, runners essentially all agreed to stay in a slow group to use the first half of the race as their warmup, causing major changes in strategy for some and a much slower non-record finish time.

Centrowitz actually started out playing soccer and thinking he’d become the “next Pele,” he said. But at age 10, in his first road race, a 5K, he learned that he had both stamina and pace, running all three miles in around 6 minutes. He said his dad knew then that he had “a future.” He said the rest of his family, including not only his Olympian dad but his All-American running sister, also motivated him.

Matthew trains in Oregon under former Olympian Al Salazar with an elite group of Olympic medalists including quadruple gold medalist Mo Farah and Galen Rupp, who won bronze in the marathon in Rio. He said in addition to track and road training, he pointedly works to “mix surfaces,” including softer turf, "minimizing injuries.”

He said he is looking forward to the next two Olympics including Tokyo in 2020 and may train to compete in the 5000 meters.

When asked about reports of widespread performance-enhancing drug use in the Olympics, he said he is glad that the USA tests widely and hopes he is a “model of clean sport." He said he wished other countries "tested as extensively as the USA" but they are hampered by lack of funding. He believes the Olympics are “testing more than ever before” and supports widespread testing.

Matthew now weighs 135 pounds and says his pulse is 45-50.