Matthew Centrowitz, Asbel Kiprop

Matthew Centrowitz’s chase for gold

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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

Meryl Davis, Charlie White, Kimmie Meissner, Casey entering skating Hall of Fame

Meryl Davis, Charlie White
AP
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GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — As they enter the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame, Meryl Davis and Charlie White ponder just who they are joining in receiving one of the highest honors in their sport.

“One of the things that makes it so special is we are friends with and respect so much so many previous people who have gone into the Hall of Fame,” Davis said before the induction ceremony Saturday. “Scott Hamilton, Kristi Yamguchi, Brian Boitano — people we look up to and now we are in their company.”

As are 2006 world champion Kimmie Meissner and the late Kathy Casey, one of American figure skating’s most successful coaches.

Davis and White, along with training partners and friends Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, were at the forefront of bringing ice dance to previously unreachable heights for Americans. Once the abyss of the sport, Americans now tend to populate podiums in international competitions.

In 2010 at the Vancouver Olympics, Davis and White followed Belbin and Agosto four years earlier as silver medalists. At the Sochi Games in 2014, they edged Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the 2010 champions, for the gold.

Davis and White won every U.S. title from 2009-14, plus two world crowns.

NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

But Davis and White were — and are — about so much more than their on-ice performances. He now coaches and she has been instrumental in the startup and development of Figure Skating in Detroit, an offshoot of the inner city Figure Skating in Harlem program that has been a rousing success in New York City.

“When we were young skaters and took the lay of the land of the sport,” White said, “we thought about becoming leaders of the sport. We recognized we would have a role as we were ascending and we felt it was a real responsibility. Be thoughtful and considerate with anyone you deal with. We tried to let our skating do the talking as competitors, but we wanted the way we conducted ourselves off the ice to be professional and helpful to the sport.

“We have felt the responsibility because of everything skating has given to us to give back responsibly and, in the end, to always be grateful.”

Meissner, still one of the few American women to master the triple Axel, also is one of those rare athletes to be a champion on all level. She won novice, junior and senior U.S. titles.

Her performance at age 16 at Calgary worlds soon after finishing sixth at the Turin Olympics as the youngest U.S. athlete not only was a highlight of her career but of any world championships.

“I was ready for that moment,” said Meissner, who also coaches and is in school to become a physician’s assistant. “I had been practicing that way pretty much before the Olympics. It was nerves at the Olympics and I was happy to salvage what I did.

“At worlds, I was not shocked at all that I skated clean at a time when it really needs to happen.”

Casey, who died in September, spent more than 50 years in the sport. She helped advance the biomechanical studies of jumps and was expert at helping skaters correct technical aspects of their performances. In 2005, she was the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Sports Science Coach of the Year.

The official U.S. coach at three Olympics, Casey coached two-time U.S. champion Scott Davis (1993-94). She was the Professional Skaters Association president from 1989 to 1994, was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2008.

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MORE: Nathan Chen leads men’s short program, followed by world team battle

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

Nathan Chen leads U.S. Figure Skating Championships, followed by world team battle

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Nathan Chen broke his own U.S. Figure Skating Championships short program scoring record, hitting two quadruple jumps en route to a whopping 13.14-point lead on Saturday.

Chen, trying to become the first man to win four straight national titles since Brian Boitano in 1988, tallied 114.13 points. Jason Brown, the 2015 U.S. champion, is in second after beating Chen in artistic marks but lacking a quad. Andrew Torgashev is the surprise third-place skater going into Sunday’s free skate.

Chen hit a quad flip, triple Axel and a quad toe-triple toe combination in Greensboro, N.C., on limited practice due to a recent flu.

“I’m thrilled with it,” Chen, a Yale sophomore, said on NBC. “This was probably the least prepared I’ve been, but I really made good use of the last week, the week that I was able to actually start getting training in.”

Nationals continue later Saturday with the pairs’ free skate and the free dance, live on NBC Sports. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

How substantial is Chen’s lead? No other skater, pair or dance couple has led a U.S. Championships by double digits after a short program since the Code of Points was instituted in 2006. Chen has now done it three times in the last four years.

Chen, undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, is all but assured to lead the three-man world championships team. Who will join him is what will be determined Sunday.

Brown is in strong position to go to a fourth world championships in Montreal in March. He was clean on his three jumping passes, though the only man in the top five without a quad. Brown is the second-ranked U.S. man overall this season, coming back from a late August concussion when his Uber ran a red light, T-boned another car, then swung sideways and hit the car a second time.

“The season has been such a struggle,” Brown said. “To work through each setback and to be able to put up a performance like that, that I’ve worked so hard to do, that’s where the emotion came from.”

Torgashev, who won the 2015 U.S. junior title at age 13, made his case with a clean short featuring a quad toe. Torgashev’s best senior nationals finish in three starts was seventh last year. He is the son of two world junior medalists from the Soviet Union.

Vincent Zhou, the 2019 World bronze medalist, has twice finished second to Chen at nationals. He was strong on Saturday considering his turbulent season, placing fourth with a quad Salchow.

Zhou attempted to match Chen last fall by balancing Ivy League classes with training. It didn’t work, and he went the entire autumn without committed skating. He decided to take a break from Brown University and move to Toronto to train under a new coach, Lee Barkell.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Adam Rippon takes pleasure in new role — coaching U.S. silver medalist

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.