Matthew Centrowitz, Asbel Kiprop

Matthew Centrowitz’s chase for gold

Leave a comment

Bernard Lagat, the U.S. 1500m record holder and, at different points, a rival of icons Hicham El Guerrouj, Kenenisa Bekele and Mo Farah, recently chatted with the man chasing not only his own American records but also today’s great middle-distance runners from Lagat’s birth nation of Kenya.

That man is Matthew Centrowitz, who is 25 years old and 15 years younger than Lagat.

“I told him,” Lagat said, “You can actually pull this together. This year is yours.”

Centrowitz, the son of two-time Olympian Matt Centrowitz, in the 1500m finished third at the 2011 World Championships, fourth at the 2012 Olympics and second at the 2013 World Championships. He missed three gold medals by a combined 1.98 seconds.

There were no major championships in 2014, but Centrowitz is planning the new calendar around the World Championships in Beijing in August.

The man with CITIUS tattooed on his right shoulder blade has been quite fast on the track and quick-witted off of it this indoor season.

He clowns in press conferences. Three weeks ago, he debated Olympic medalist jumper Will Claye over who’s a better video-game player before the Armory Track Invitational in New York.

The next day, he ran the opening leg on a U.S. world record in the distance medley relay, a rarely contested event combining a 1200m, 400m, 800m and mile.

The week after that, Centrowitz prevailed in a 1000m at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston, clocking a meet-record 2:17.00, just off the American record of 2:16.76.

In a press conference for the NYRR Millrose Games last week, Centrowitz warned Olympic decathlon champion Ashton Eaton to worry about finding the right Valentine’s Day gift for his wife, the Canadian heptathlete Brianne Theisen-Eaton.

After a round of laughs, Centrowitz was asked if his girlfriend was in New York for the weekend.

“Let’s get back to racing,” he said.

Centrowitz did just that on Saturday night, holding off New Zealand’s Nick Willis to capture the Wanamaker Mile at the Armory, the Millrose Games’ showcase event.

“You can tell, right now, with the confidence he has, that guy is going to do wonderful things,” said Lagat, a record eight-time Wanamaker Mile winner who finished 3.56 seconds behind Centrowitz on Saturday. “My money’s for him in Beijing. I hope he has that quiet, silent confidence. Go with confidence and then unleash everything in Beijing. He’s going to win that gold.”

Centrowitz ran for the University of Oregon and has trained with Alberto Salazar‘s Nike Oregon Project for the last three years. The group includes Olympic 10,000m gold and silver medalists Farah and Galen Rupp, among others.

Lagat, who does not train in that group, has seen Centrowitz grow.

“He matured with them,” Lagat said. “His ambition is no longer just to be the best in the country. He wants to be the best in the world.”

To do that, Centrowitz must improve his final lap — his kick — and conquer the best from Kenya.

Centrowitz is known as a strong race tactician despite his youth. Here’s where he stood going into the final lap of the 2011 Worlds, 2012 Olympics and 2013 Worlds finals:

source:
Centrowitz in seventh place in 2011.
source:
Centrowitz in fourth place in 2012.
source:
Centrowitz in third place in 2013.

A runner ahead of Centrowitz in all three races won the gold — Kenya’s Asbel Kiprop in 2011 and 2013 and Algeria’s Taoufik Makhloufi in 2012.

Kiprop and countryman Silas Kiplagat were the most formidable 1500m runners last season. Kiprop is listed at 6 feet, 2 inches, five inches taller than Centrowitz. They are the same age. Kiprop won the 2008 Olympic 1500m at 19 years old but finished 12th in 2012, slowed by a hamstring injury.

“Kiprop is a guy that is unpredictable,” Lagat said. “He can be awesome in the semifinal, and then he crumbles under the pressure in the finals. … [Centrowitz] is slowly by slowly realizing that I need that speed to run with Kiprop in the major championships to get a chance to win.”

So Centrowitz has spent more time on shorter-distance work this indoor season, outside that Wanamaker Mile.

“The best way to beat Kiprop in a race is outkicking him,” Centrowitz said. “I don’t think anybody’s going to be running away from a 3:27, 3:26 guy. So this year is all about working on my bottom-end speed.”

Centrowitz faced Kiprop and Kiplagat in the premier 1500m last season in Monaco, when Kiprop aimed at El Guerrouj’s 16-year-old world record of 3:26.

Though Centrowitz finished ninth, 3.45 seconds behind the surprise winner Kiplagat, he still cut .87 off his personal best.

“It was a weird race for me,” said Centrowitz, who ran 3:31.09. “I walked away feeling like I was capable of much faster.”

And Centrowitz said what he learned from that experience can translate to the World Championships, where the final will surely be at a less blistering early pace.

“It allows for me to run a slower race feeling a lot better, for those championship-type of races,” he said.

Sanya-Richards Ross out for revenge in 2015

Amy Cragg to withdraw from U.S. Olympic marathon trials

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Defending champion Amy Cragg will miss the Feb. 29 U.S. Olympic marathon trials with an illness, according to her social media.

“The Trials are the reason I have shown up every day for the last four years, so this has been an extremely difficult decision,” was posted on her social media. Cragg later said she had Epstein-Barr virus, according to multiple reports.

Cragg, 36, was among the favorites to grab three Olympic spots at trials in Atlanta, despite not having competed over 26.2 miles since the February 2018 Tokyo Marathon.

She withdrew from the 2018 Chicago Marathon with a hamstring injury and also scratched a month before the 2019 Chicago Marathon, citing signs pointing to needing more time after the previous year’s injury.

Cragg, fourth at the 2012 Olympic trials, relegated Des Linden and Shalane Flanagan to second and third at the 2016 trials. Linden and Flanagan went on to win the Boston and New York City Marathons, respectively, ending long U.S. women’s victory droughts.

Cragg went on to finish ninth in Rio and earn a 2017 World bronze medal, the first world championships marathon podium finish for an American woman since the first worlds in 1983.

Cragg could still make the Tokyo Olympic team in the 10,000m if she races at track trials in June. She won the 2012 Olympic trials 10,000m but hasn’t raced the distance on the track since May 2017.

“Right now my only goal is to get healthy so that I can train at the level needed to be competitive,” Cragg said in an emailed message from her agent. “That being said, the reason I am still in this sport is because of the Olympic Trials and Olympics. It is what excites me more than anything, so it is something I would still love to do.”

With Cragg absent and Flanagan retired, Linden is the only woman in next week’s field with Olympic marathon experience.

Other favorites include Olympic 10,000m runner Molly Huddle, world championships 10,000m runner Emily Sisson and Jordan Hasay, the second-fastest U.S. female marathoner in history.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Nike: Eliud Kipchoge’s sub-2 shoes meet new rules

Galen Rupp, after tumult, finds familiarity before Olympic marathon trials

Galen Rupp
Getty Images
Leave a comment

As Galen Rupp bids for a fourth Olympics, and perhaps become the first man or woman to win the Olympic marathon trials twice outright, he found some rare familiarity these days on the roads Feb. 8.

“Feeling like my old self again,” Rupp said Wednesday of winning a low-key half marathon in Mesa, Ariz., his first completed race in 16 months and since parting from now-banned, career-long coach Alberto Salazar. “It’s obviously been a long year and a half.”

Rupp clocked 61 minutes, 19 seconds on a downhill course. It’s faster than any half marathon by an American recorded by World Athletics since the start of 2019. Granted the downhill, but Rupp also said he was instructed by new coach Mike Smith to make it a controlled effort.

“He didn’t want me to run all-out, didn’t want me to really push and put myself in a big hole,” Rupp said, noting he was still in heavy training. “You don’t want to break that [training] up and put yourself in a deficit by having a massive effort.”

Mesa answered questions about Rupp’s readiness for the Olympic trials in Atlanta on Feb. 29 (NBC, 12-3 p.m. ET). Even to the two-time Olympic medalist himself. Rupp said he started the half marathon with a little bit of doubt — given recent left ankle and calf injuries — but felt early on that everything would be fine.

“It really put my mind at ease,” he said. “I’m going to be good for the marathon.”

His last two marathons did not go well.

At the 2018 Chicago Marathon, Rupp dropped from the leaders around mile 19 and finished fifth in a title defense. An Achilles injury flared up near the end. He underwent surgery later that month for two tears. Doctors said the ankle had been “a ticking time bomb.”

“They said I was really lucky to have as good of health as I had and manage it as I did,” Rupp said.

He went a full year before racing again, at the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 13, 12 days after Salazar’s ban was announced. Even that was a rushed comeback, Rupp said after dropping out around mile 23 with a calf injury.

“I’m not going to say it was a wake-up call,” Rupp said, “but I think I was a little bit stubborn before Chicago.”

Rupp said he ran through pain in training to get to the start line four months ago. He had trouble walking for several days after the abbreviated race and focused on physical therapy for about two months. He resumed normal, pain-free training in December.

By early January, Runner’s World reported that Oregon-based Rupp found a new Flagstaff-based coach in Smith, who leads a Northern Arizona University program that won the last three NCAA men’s cross-country titles.

“The biggest thing to me was Mike’s philosophy in coaching was very similar to the program that I was under for so many years,” said Rupp, who was for more than a decade part of the Nike Oregon Project, which was shut down last fall after Salazar’s ban for doping violations (which he appealed). Rupp wasn’t implicated by USADA and has a clean drug-testing record. “What I love most about it was Mike’s honesty and how forthright he was about everything. You could tell he wasn’t just saying what I wanted to hear or say, ‘We’re just going to do whatever you’ve been doing and try and replicate that.’ You’ve got to keep evolving and trying new things.”

Smith declined an interview request through NAU until after trials. He agreed to coach Rupp after about a month of communication and hard questions, according to Runner’s World.

“Because of its timing and the headlines I was reading like everyone else at the time, this was not a road I wanted to go down,” Smith said, according to the report. “To be honest, it was just easiest to turn it down. I’m actually — as crazy as this sounds — really proud I did not.

“What I found out by getting to know Galen was that there was much more going on than the picture portrayed of him, and I wish the world knew that. I have never seen someone more all-in in my life.”

Rupp, asked his toughest moment of the last two years, said he moves forward.

“Throughout any hardships and setbacks, I felt a lot of gratitude that I had as good of a run as I did with my health and everything going well for as long as I did,” he said. “It can be easy to get angry and get down, like why me, but I do believe that things always work out. There’s a reason behind all this stuff.”

Which brings Rupp to Atlanta next week for the first time in his life, aside from airport layovers. The race is unlike any other he has contested. The course is unusually hilly. The format — Americans only, top three make the Olympic team — makes for different tactics than the World Marathon Majors that Rupp is used to.

In 2016, Rupp entered as a favorite but without any marathon experience. He won convincingly, pulling away from now-retired Meb Keflezighi by 68 seconds.

The field is deeper this year. Seven Americans broke 2:11 in 2019. Only one did in 2015. But Rupp, at his best, is in his own class.

His personal best 2:06:07, from his last healthy marathon in 2018, is 1:49 faster than the second-fastest in the trials field in this Olympic cycle (Leonard Korir). The next-fastest, Scott Fauble, is more than three minutes behind by personal bests.

“I can confidently go in and say that I’ve put in the work for this, just like I know that I put in the work in 2016,” Rupp said. “Of course, you want to go in and have good races, feeling confident and being on a roll like I was several years ago. But I think that’s why that race in Mesa was so important to show, more to myself, that hey, you’re ready to go. You can still run well. You haven’t lost everything. Surgery didn’t wipe you out.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Nike: Eliud Kipchoge’s sub-2 shoes meet new rules