Matthew Centrowitz’s chase for gold

Matthew Centrowitz, Asbel Kiprop
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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:

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Centrowitz in seventh place in 2011.
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Centrowitz in fourth place in 2012.
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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

Svetlana Romashina, seven-time Olympic champion artistic swimmer, retires

Svetlana Romashina
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Russian Svetlana Romashina, the most decorated artistic swimmer in Olympic history with seven gold medals, announced her retirement at age 33.

Romashina entered seven Olympic artistic swimming events and won all of them, starting in 2008. She won four Olympic titles in the team event and three in the duet (two with Nataliya Ishchenko and one with Svetlana Kolesnichenko).

The Tokyo Games marked her last major competition.

Romashina is the only woman to go undefeated in her Olympic career while entering seven or more events. The only man to do so was American track and field athlete Ray Ewry, who won all eight of his Olympic starts from 1900-08, according to Olympedia.org.

Romashina also won 21 world championships medals — all gold, second in aquatics history behind Michael Phelps‘ 26.

She took nearly two years off after giving birth to daughter Alexandra in November 2017, then came back to win three golds at her last world championships in 2019 and two golds at her last Olympics in 2021.

Romashina is now an artistic swimming coach, according to Russian media.

Russian swimmers swept the Olympic duet and team titles at each of the last six Olympics.

Russians have been banned from international competition since March due to the war in Ukraine.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, three gates from gold, skis out of world championships combined

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Mikaela Shiffrin was three gates from a record-tying seventh world championships gold medal when she lost her balance and straddled a gate, skiing out of the first race of worlds on Monday.

Italian Federica Brignone won the women’s combined instead, prevailing by 1.62 seconds over Swiss Wendy Holdener, the largest Olympic or world championships men’s or women’s margin of victory in the event since it switched from three runs to two in 2007.

Austrian Ricarda Haaser took bronze in an event that is one run of super-G followed by one run of slalom.

At 32, Brignone, the 2020 World Cup overall champion, won her first global title and became the oldest female world champion in any event.

“What was missing in my career was a gold medal,” she said. “So I’m old. No, I’m just kidding.”

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Shiffrin was sixth fastest in the opening super-G run, 96 hundredths behind Brignone. She skied aggressively in the slalom in a bid to beat Brignone. Shiffrin cut the gap to eight hundredths by the last intermediate split with about 10 seconds left on the course in Meribel, France.

Shiffrin looked set to overtake Brignone until tripping up slightly with five gates left. It compounded, and Shiffrin couldn’t save the run, losing control, straddling the third-to-last gate and skiing out. The timing system still registered her finish — 34 hundredths faster than Brignone — but it was quickly corrected to the obvious disqualification.

Asked on French TV if she lost focus, Shiffrin said, “People are going to say that no matter what.”

“The surface changed a little bit on these last gates, so [on pre-race] inspection I saw it’s a bit more unstable on the snow,” she added. “I tried to be aware of that, but I knew that if I had a chance to make up nine tenths on Federica, or more than that, like one second, I had to push like crazy. So I did, and I had a very good run. I’m really happy with my skiing.”

It marked Shiffrin’s first time skiing out since she did so in three races at last February’s Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth in five races. At the Olympics, she skied out within the first 13 seconds in each instance. On Monday, she was more than 40 seconds into her run.

“I was thinking, now I’m going to go through the mixed zone. and everyone’s going to ask, ‘Oh, is this Beijing again?'” Shiffrin said. “I didn’t really think about that for myself, but more for the people asking. But I also said before, coming into this world champs multiple times, I’m not afraid if it happens again. What if I don’t finish every run? What happened last year, and I survived. And then I’ve had some pretty amazing races this season. So I would take the season that I’ve had with no medals at the world championships. If it’s either/or, then I would take that. I’m happy with it. But I’m going to be pushing for medals, because that’s what you do at world champs. You wear your heart on your sleeve, and you go for it. I’m not afraid of the consequences, as long as I have that mentality, which I had today.”

NBC Sports analyst Steve Porino said what happened Monday was “completely different” from the Olympics, calling it “an error of aggression.”

“It certainly wasn’t nerves that sent her out,” Porino said on the Peacock broadcast. “This was Shiffrin knowing that she had to have a huge run to get the gold medal.

“The way she went out this time, I think she can brush that one off.”

Shiffrin was bidding to tie the modern-era records for individual world championships gold medals (seven) and total medals (12). Coming into Monday, she earned a medal in her last 10 world championships races dating to 2015.

Her next chance to match those records comes in Wednesday’s super-G, where she is a medal contender. Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel is the world’s top-ranked super-G skier through five races on the World Cup this season, though she was 71 hundredths behind Brignone in Monday’s super-G run.

Shiffrin has raced two super-Gs this season with a win and a seventh place.

She is expected to race three more times over the two-week worlds, which is separate from the World Cup circuit that she has torn up this season.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup wins in 23 starts across all disciplines since November, moving her one shy of the career victories record of 86 accumulated by Swede Ingemar Stenmark in the 1970s and ’80s. Again, world championships races do not count toward the World Cup, which picks back up after worlds end in late February.

Worlds continue Tuesday with the men’s combined.

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