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Matthew Centrowitz eyes American record after bounce-back year

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Olympic 1500m champion Matthew Centrowitz sat down for a Q&A last month at the end of a season in which he reclaimed the U.S. title (his fifth career) and grabbed his first Diamond League win. Centrowitz, after a 2017 plagued by health setbacks, is looking forward to chasing the American record in the 1500m, a repeat Olympic title in Tokyo and, possibly, moving up in distance …

OlympicTalk: Your overall thoughts on the year. A lot was made last year of the health setbacks. You came back, won the U.S. title, got your first Diamond League win. How do you feel?

Centrowitz: It’s definitely been an up-and-down year, to say the least. Kind of a slow start, just from me having the big setback I had in November/December [coming back too early from an early August hamstring strain] then not running an indoor season [after returning to training in January]. I can only remember one time where I hadn’t run an indoor season in the past decade. The second half went really well starting with the USA Championships. That was the first goal I had for the year, going back and reclaiming the title. Once I did that, the pressure was kind of off and I really wanted to mix it up with some of these guys in these Diamond League races. I knew I probably wasn’t in shape to run an American record, or even a PR, but I was pleasantly surprised to run 3:31 [in Monaco], which is my third-fastest time.

OlympicTalk: What’s your best race since Rio?

Centrowitz: I would probably say Oxy 2017 (video here). I was pretty excited about that race, ran 3:33 domestically. I haven’t really run that fast in the U.S. And obviously getting a chance to compete against Mo [Farah], one of my teammates, and a great caliber of field. I was excited to come out with the win.

OlympicTalk: How big is the American 1500m record for you? [Bernard Lagat’s 3:29.30, 1.1 seconds faster than Centrowitz’s PR from 2015] Is it bigger than repeating as Olympic champion?

Centrowitz: It’s probably No. 2 behind repeating Olympic gold, but since the Olympics aren’t for two years, it’s, right now, in my rear-view mirror. Especially after this year, running 3:31 with the year I’ve had, I think I can probably knock a half-second off the American record. Somewhere between 3:28-3:29 flat.

Luckily, the men’s 1500m is so deep these days that there’s at least one or two races a year that go around that fast. If I just get back into shape that I know I’m capable of being in, stay healthy, mix it up with those guys, who knows how fast I’m capable of going.

OlympicTalk: When did the American record first seem possible to you?

Centrowitz: Around 2014, 2015. Once I had my PR down to 3:30. I’m still third-fastest on the list [behind Lagat and Sydney Maree]. Where do you go but No. 1? No one’s like, “I want to be No. 2.”

OlympicTalk: Do you think you need the American record to be considered by a lot of people as the greatest American miler ever, or do you think you’ve done enough?

Centrowitz: That’s up to the people to decide, but in my eyes, I’m biased. I don’t think I need to. For sure, if I do get it, it will be undisputed. In my eyes, I don’t think I would need that to be considered the best.

OlympicTalk: Do you see yourself moving up in distance after 2020 or 2024?

Centrowitz: I don’t know. Certainly, I thought I’d be in the 5K by now for sure. I was primarily a two-miler in high school, so to drop back down to the mile in college was definitely a surprise to me and to continue to have this kind of success. I train primarily like a 3K/5K guy anyways, so definitely running 5Ks in the near future [starting with the USATF 5K Championships in New York’s Central Park on Nov. 3]. See what kinds of times I put up.

The day I don’t think I can PR anymore in the 1500m, and the day I stop medaling and feel like I’m in medal contention is the day I’ll probably move up.

OlympicTalk: What do you think about Jakob Ingebrigtsen? [The Norwegian born in 2000 is the youngest sub-4-minute miler in history and swept the 1500m and 5000m at the European Championships in August.]

Centrowitz: He’s continued to surprise me throughout the whole year. At Stanford [the Payton Jordan Invitational 1500m won by Ingebrigtsen in May], I wasn’t too surprised with his time, but I was surprised about how well he put away the field. Not just me, but Paul Chelimo is no slouch. My teammates Eric [Jenkins] and Craig [Engels] are very good as well. I was kind of surprised by how easy he put us away the last 200m. From there, he continued to get better and better.

He’s a world-record holder in his age group. Any kind of world record in itself is an amazing feat, so what we’re witnessing is greatness. How well he’s run and continued throughout the year, he’s progressing with each week and each race. I had a chance to see him in St. Moritz, Switzerland, where I was training. And some of his brothers. The kid obviously works tremendously hard, and he’s mentioned it interviews, too, that he’s been training like a professional for years. So I guess that doesn’t come to me as quite a surprise since he’s had older brothers get him into the sport. But at the end of the day, nonetheless, he’s a 17-year-old kid running and beating the world’s best. So it is surprising, but also the way he works, how hard he works, I’m sure he’s not quite as surprised and his brothers aren’t surprised as well.

OlympicTalk: You played an April Fool’s joke in 2105 that you were moving up to the marathon. If you had to say right now, will you ever run a marathon?

Centrowitz: Probably not, if I had to make a guess. But you never know. I’m not opposed to it. I have teammates now doing it, and the training that they say it takes for it, you’re just constantly tired. I want to end this sport on a positive note. I want to continue running when I’m retired. Marathon training might put me in that mode where I’m not really enjoying the training or want to run another step when I’m done.

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Mikaela Shiffrin races for another reindeer

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Mikaela Shiffrin already has three Olympic medals. She can win her third reindeer on Saturday.

Shiffrin headlines the first slalom of the World Cup season in Levi, Finland, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming via NBC Sports Gold’s Snow Pass.

The first run is at 4:15 a.m. ET. The second is at 7.

The traditional (and unconventional) winner’s prize in Finland is a reindeer. Shiffrin captured the Levi slalom in 2013 and 2016, naming her furry friends Rudolph and Sven.

The reindeer stay in Finland while Shiffrin criss-crosses Europe and North America on the World Cup tour.

Shiffrin lost in her trademark discipline in Levi last fall to a new rival, Petra Vlhova of Slovakia.

Motivated, Shiffrin won the next six slaloms before skiing out of the last slalom before the Olympics. Then in PyeongChang, Shiffrin shockingly finished fourth in defense of her Sochi Olympic title (after a giant slalom gold and before a super combined silver).

She bounced back, winning the last two World Cup slaloms of the 2017-18 season.

In the past, Shiffrin voiced a goal of winning every slalom in a season. She won all but three each of the last two years. Levi is the first of 12 World Cup slaloms this season.

Shiffrin must overcome the three women who made the PyeongChang podium ahead of her — Swede Frida Hansdotter, Swiss Wendy Holdener and Austrian Katharina Gallhuber.

She has already shown strong form, taking third in the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, three weeks ago.

Nothing but a third reindeer will suffice in Saturday’s slalom, though.

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Gracie Gold wants to be new skater in comeback event; TV/stream schedule

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When Gracie Gold was in treatment for anxiety, depression and an eating disorder last year, she received a message from two-time Olympian Jeremy Abbott.

“If you ever want to come back to skating, I want to do an exhibition piece for you as a gift,” Abbott, who has taken up choreography in retirement, told his friend. Gold said it was a sweet offer and thanked him.

“At that point I don’t think that she had thought about coming back at all,” Abbott said last week.

Several months later, Gold had thought it over. She contacted Abbott in the spring.

“I’m going to make a go at this. Would you be willing to do my programs?” Abbott recalled Gold telling him. “I was shocked,” Abbott continued, “but also, at the same time, I was not.”

Gold, a two-time U.S. champ who finished fourth at the 2014 Olympics, competes this week for the first time since the January 2017 U.S. Championships. NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage of Rostelecom Cup from Moscow.

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Friday 6 a.m. Men’s Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
8 a.m. Rhythm Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
10:30 a.m. Pairs’ Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
12 p.m. Women’s Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Saturday 5:30 a.m. Men’s Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
7:30 a.m. Free Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
9:30 a.m. Pairs’ Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
11:30 a.m. Women’s Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Sunday 12 p.m. Highlights NBC | STREAM LINK

Gold, who detailed her last two years in a video published a month ago, is refraining from more interviews until after she skates. Abbott choreographed both her short and long programs, making a few trips to her Pennsylvania training base in the last six months. Gold is coached by former French skater Vincent Restencourt.

“She told me that she wanted to be a new skater and a new Gracie,” Abbott said. “She said that she always admired the artistry that I had and that she really wanted to bring something new to her skating.”

Abbott said her program music choices — “I Put a Spell On You” and “She Used to Be Mine,” the latter from the Broadway musical “Waitress” — reflect the new Gold. The former is “a little more mature and a little more sexy and playful than anything she’s done in the past.” The latter speaks to how she got from there to here in the last two years.

“At one point, she was on top of the world and had everything at her feet,” Abbott said. (Gold has said she spiraled psychologically after squandering a short-program lead at the 2016 Worlds and missing the podium altogether.) “Then she had some really big struggles and had to really step back from the life that she knew. Now she’s having to rebuild herself. It’s kind of looking back at who she was and who she used to be and now where she is and who she wants to become.”

Gold made it clear to Abbott whom she wanted to become.

“She was like, ‘I always was viewed as a jumper and not a skater. I always wanted to be an artist, but everyone told me stick to what you’re best at,'” Abbott said. “Working with her, she is an artist. She is sensitive. She understands the music. She gets it.”

Abbott visited Gold once this fall for choreography touch-ups and will not be in Moscow with her and Restencourt. Rather, he will be performing in 1984 Olympic champion Scott Hamilton‘s show in Nashville on Sunday.

Abbott doesn’t know how Gold is handling the comeback nerves or what to expect of her jumps.

“This isn’t like a big massive coming-out party for her,” he said. “This is really just the first step to get her feet back under her, get her going again because the plan isn’t about this competition. The plan isn’t about this season. The plan is really about building for her future and the next four years.”

The field is led by Olympic champion Alina Zagitova, fellow Russian Sofia Samodurova and Japanese Yuna Shiraiwa, all 16-year-olds with a chance to make December’s exclusive, six-skater Grand Prix Final.

This is Gold’s lone competition until the new year. Many will watch and wonder how she stacks up among Americans heading into January’s national championships. (Two U.S. women are ranked in the top 30 in the world this season, with many big names sitting out the fall.)

“From where her life was, I think it takes some major balls to even put herself back into this situation,” said Abbott, who noted that when he first visited Gold in the spring, she had her double jumps back. “For where she came from, she’s made huge strides. It’s really been impressive to watch her growth.”

In the men’s field, double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu is a heavy favorite given the absence of his top rivals, Nathan Chen and Shoma Uno. Canadian Keegan Messing and Russian Mikhail Kolyada are also in the mix to qualify for the Grand Prix Final.

In pairs, Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov are the clear favorites on home ice, but Americans Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc carry the intrigue.

They have a great chance at the Grand Prix Final if they can finish second, after taking third at Skate America four weeks ago. Cain and LeDuc rank fourth in the Rostelecom field by best scores this season but are only 4.21 points behind the second-ranked pair.

Russians Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin headline the ice dance. They’re ranked second in the world behind Americans Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, who clinched their Grand Prix Final spot three weeks ago.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE 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.

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