This is the fifth part in a six-part WTOP series, Beltway to Brazil, featuring local athletes headed to the Olympics.
WASHINGTON — For some athletes, earning an Olympic berth is a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. Many times, the family and friends celebrating the resilience and good fortune of such competitors don’t fully understand what goes into such a rare feat.
This is not the case in the Centrowitz family.
Matthew Centrowitz is once again following in his father’s footsteps. Matt Sr. was an All-American track and field runner at the University of Oregon, and a two-time Olympian. Now, 36 years after the elder Centrowitz sat out the 1980 Olympics because of the United States’ boycott, Matthew is headed to his second Olympic Games to run the 1,500 meters as a decorated Duck.
Dear old dad wasn’t Matthew’s only role model in running — his mother Beverly’s running career in the 800 meters landed her a spot in the Hunter College Hall of Fame, and his sister Lauren is still the school record holder for the 4 x 1,500 meter relay at Stanford (she also set an American record at Penn Relays).
“As parents, I think we secretly lead by example,” said Matt Sr., currently the cross country and track coach at American University. “[Matthew’s] mother and I ran in college and after college, and our friends were involved in running, so we had a network of people and support system that enjoyed running.”
Matt Sr. did more than just introduce his children to running — he had a strong hand in their development. In fact, Matt Sr. has coached three medal-winning Olympians, and may soon add his son to the list.
“He loves to win; he’s very competitive,” said Matt Sr. “Even as a child, he was more competitive than my two daughters…and it could be ugly at the card table or whatever game we were playing.”
Fun facts: Men’s 1500m Track and FieldUSA rank in the event: 13 total medals all-time ties Great Britain for the most of any country (2 gold). Great Britain has the most gold medals (5).Last USA medal: Leonel Manzano — silver in 2012Fun fact: If Centrowitz medals in these Olympics, it will mark the first time since 1920 the U.S. has medaled in the men’s 1500m in back-to-back Games.
That competitive streak has certainly served the younger Centrowitz well over the years. He was a five-time All-Met at Broadneck High School. In 2007, he won gold in the Pan American Junior Championships at the age 17. He also won bronze in 2011 World Championships, and silver in 2013 WCIA.
However, he’s got unfinished business in the Olympics. Four years ago in London, he came within 0.04 seconds of a bronze medal. But this time around, location could give Matthew a unique edge. At a time when many Olympic athletes are at best uncertain about competing in Rio, the conditions there could actually be an asset for Matthew.
“Since his mother’s South American, he’s a very, very good heat runner. So I think genetically, that’s going to work for him,” said Matt Sr.
Matthew may have genes and a rare work ethic working for him, but Matt Sr. says there’s one more component every runner relies upon.
“You also need the third factor: luck, to stay healthy. Runners are very fragile.”
Matthew heads to Brazil healthy and on a roll. He’s undefeated indoors this year, capped off by a World Indoor Championship in March. He recovered from a leg injury in time to win the Stumptown Twilight meet in June, and three weeks ago, he set an Olympic Trials record in the men’s 1,500 (3:34.09) to punch his ticket to Rio.
“He’s playing all the tunes correctly in his head that spells ‘positive’ and ‘win,’” added Matt Sr. “He’s lined up things pretty well; he’s timed things now. Being older — 26 now — he’s able to handle certain variables better.”
If Matthew wins the family’s first Olympic medal, he’ll have the ultimate trump card at the infamous Centrowitz card table.
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