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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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Rewind: Australia’s Steven Bradbury gains gold and lasting fame after pileup takes out Apolo Ohno

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Heading into the 2002 Winter Olympics, young American Apolo Ohno was a phenom with a legitimate shot at multiple medals in short-track speedskating.

The 1999 world junior champion and future “Dancing with the Stars” champion had finished first in the World Cup season standings in all three individual disciplines in the 2000-01 season. In the 2001 world championships, he took gold in the relay and the 3,000m (a non-Olympic event), silver in the 1,000m and fourth in the 1,500m.

Australia’s Steven Bradbury was at the other end of his career, enduring all sorts of misfortune in the years that followed — a 1995 accident in which he needed more than 100 stitches after a skate blade sliced his thigh, then a 2000 accident in which he broke two vertebra in his neck. 

The highlights of Bradbury’s career were relay world championships medals — gold in 1991, bronze in 1993, silver in 1994. He and his relay teammates also took Olympic bronze in 1994.

Bradbury barely advanced to one individual final, the 1,000m in 2002. He advanced from the quarterfinal when Canadian favorite Marc Gagnon was disqualified. He advanced from the semifinal when multiple skaters fell.

In the final, Bradbury was matched up against three outstanding skaters, including Ohno and Li Jiajun of China, who won this event and the overall title at the 2001 world championships. Ohno and Li had finished 1-2 in the 1,000m World Cup standings in 2001.

Bradbury couldn’t keep up. The other four skaters were in a pack, making dangerous passes among each other, while Bradbury fell further and further behind.

Those dangerous passes finally caught up to the rest of the field in the final turn. Li bumped into Ohno, which would lead to Li’s disqualification. After the lead pack jockeyed for position through the entire race, all four tumbled to the ice.

Bradbury, the last man standing, crossed the finish line first.

 

From the tangled pile-up, Ohno managed to fling himself, skate-first, across the finish line to take silver. Canada’s Mathieu Turcotte made it across for bronze.

Ohno wasn’t done in Salt Lake City. He won the 1,500m gold after the disqualification of Kim Dong-Sung, a controversial decision that made Ohno the object of South Korean derision.

Less controversially, Ohno won three more individual world championship events from 2005 to 2009, plus two relay golds, and the overall world title in 2008. In the Olympics, he took six more medals, including gold in the 500m in 2006 and silver in the 1,500m in 2010.

Bradbury missed the finals in the other two events in Salt Lake City, but his name lives on in the Urban Dictionary and elsewhere as a synonym for an improbable and even accidental victory. He embraced his unique place in history to carve out a career as a motivational speaker delivering more than 1,000 speeches in 19 countries, according to the International Skating Union and has even seen his win commemorated in Legos.

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Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier form new figure skating pair

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A few weeks after her husband and skating partner, Chris Knierim, stepped away from competitive figure skating, Alexa Scimeca Knierim has a new partner.

Brandon Frazier, who was also looking for someone to form a new pair after longtime partner Haven Denney stepped away from competition, at least temporarily, will join Scimeca Knierim on the ice whenever they’re able to train and compete again.

Frazier is a longtime friend of Chris Knierem. Scimeca Knierim told U.S. Figure Skating’s FanZone that Frazier had played a pivotal role in kindling the Knierem’s off-ice romance.

Denney and Frazier won the U.S. championship in 2017 and finished 20th in the world championships that year. They finished third in their two Grand Prix assignments last fall — Skate America and the Internationaux de France. They were runners-up in the 2019 U.S. championships and fifth this year, when they revived their “Lion King” free skate.

The Denney-Frazier pair took an unusual path to figure skating, starting as roller skaters.

The Knierims won their third U.S. championship in January but handed their slot in the world championships to Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson when Chris Knierim, struggling with his form and depression, decided he was unable to continue beyond the Four Continents Championship. The world championships were later canceled due to the spread of the coronavirus.

READ: Resilient Knierims withdraw from world championships

The couple had earned attention for their romance and for their inspirational returns from illness and injury. Their U.S. championship win earlier this year was their third.

Skate America, the first event on the Grand Prix circuit, is scheduled to start Oct. 23 in Las Vegas.

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