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

U.S. women’s basketball team, statistically greatest ever, rolls to FIBA World Cup title

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The revamped U.S. women’s basketball team may have been the greatest of all time.

The Americans completed, statistically, their most dominant global championship ever by routing China 83-61 in the FIBA World Cup final on Saturday in Sydney — giving them 60 consecutive wins between the Olympics and worlds dating to 2006.

It marked the largest margin of victory in a World Cup final since the event converted from a fully round-robin format in 1983.

For the tournament, the U.S. drubbed its opponents by an average of 40.75 points per game, beating its previous record between the Olympics and worlds of 37.625 points from the 2008 Beijing Games. It was just off the 1992 U.S. Olympic men’s Dream Team’s legendary margin 43.8 points per game. This U.S. team scored 98.75 points per game, its largest at worlds since 1994.

“We came here on a mission, a business trip,” tournament MVP A’ja Wilson said in a post-game press conference before turning to coach Cheryl Reeve. “We played pretty good, I think, coach.”

Since the U.S. won a seventh consecutive Olympic title in Tokyo, Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles retired. Tina Charles ceded her national team spot to younger players. Brittney Griner was detained in Russia (and still is). Diana Taurasi suffered a WNBA season-ending quad injury that ruled her out of World Cup participation (who knows if the 40-year-old Taurasi will play for the U.S. again).

Not only that, but Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, implementing a new up-tempo system.

“There was probably great concern, and maybe around the world they kind of looked at it and said, ‘Hey, now is the time to get the USA,'” Reeve said Saturday.

The U.S. response was encapsulated by power forward Alyssa Thomas, the oldest player on the roster at age 30 who made the U.S. team for the first time in her career, started every game and was called the team’s glue and MVP going into the final.

Wilson and Tokyo Olympic MVP Breanna Stewart were the leaders. Guard Kelsey Plum, a Tokyo Olympic 3×3 player, blossomed this past WNBA season and was third in the league’s MVP voting. She averaged the most minutes on the team, scored 15.8 points per game and had 17 in the final.

“The depth of talent that we have was on display,” Reeve said. “What I am most pleased about was the trust and buy-in.”

For the first time since 1994, no player on the U.S. roster was over the age of 30, creating a scary thought for the 2024 Paris Olympics: the Americans could get even better.

“When you say best-ever, I’m always really cautious with that, because, obviously, there are great teams,” Reeve said when asked specifically about the team’s defense. “This group was really hard to play against.”

Earlier Saturday, 41-year-old Australian legend Lauren Jackson turned back the clock with a 30-point performance off the bench in her final game as an Opal, a 95-65 victory over Canada for the bronze. Jackson, who came out of a six-year retirement and played her first major tournament since the 2012 Olympics, had her best scoring performance since the 2008 Olympics.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

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The U.S. women’s basketball team won its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headlined a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, included neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team had nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 60 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The U.S. beat China in the final, while host Australia took bronze to send 41-year-old Lauren Jackson into retirement.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), wasn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule, Results

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium 85, Bosnia and Herzegovina 55 Group A
11:30 p.m. Serbia 81, Mali 68 Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA 145, South Korea 69 Group A
2 a.m. France 67, Japan 53 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 95, Puerto Rico 60 Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia 75, Canada 72 Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 92, South Korea 73 Group A
11:30 p.m. China 81, Belgium 55 Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA 121, Bosnia and Herzegovina 59 Group A
2 a.m. Canada 88, Mali 65 Group B
3:30 a.m. Serbia 68, France 62 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 71, Japan 54 Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. USA 88, Serbia 55 Quarterfinals
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Canada 79, Puerto Rico 60 Quarterfinals
4 a.m. China 85, France 71 Quarterfinals
6:30 a.m. Australia 86, Belgium 69 Quarterfinals
Fri., Sept. 30 3 a.m. USA 83, Canada 43 Semifinals
5:30 a.m. China 61, Australia 59 Semifinals
11 p.m. Australia 95, Canada 65 Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. USA 83, China 61 Gold-Medal Game