Shortly following the men’s 1,500-meter final at the recent IAAF World Outdoor Championships in Daegu, South Korea, Matthew Centrowitz returned to his hometown of Arnold, Md., to spend some time with his family. It was a mini vacation for the University of Oregon senior, who had some time off before classes would begin for the fall semester.
He returned to the United States stricken with jet-lag and at the end of a long, competitive season. It was there he finally had a moment to reflect and take everything in.
“It was very exciting,” he said. “I couldn’t have written it any better. Everything went according to plan.”
His plan turned out to be a good one. His finals time of three minutes, 36.08 seconds in the 1,500m to win a bronze medal shocked much of the track and field world. It was the first World Championships medal in the event by an American not named “Bernard Lagat” since Jim Spivey took bronze in 1987.
In what Centrowitz described as a “perfect race,” it was indeed a perfect ending to an exciting year. As he progressed through the rounds and into the eventual final, he surprised everyone but himself and those closest to him.
“It didn’t surprise me too much,” he said. “Once I made the final I had the goal of winning a medal and that was what I had dreamed about. My coaches and I knew I was capable of winning a medal.”
For Centrowitz, it was an exclamation point on a track season that placed his name on the international map.
This spring he picked up his seventh All-America honor after winning the 1,500m at the NCAA Outdoor Championships. That jump-started his momentum into the 1,500m final of the USA Outdoor Championships when he became the first Oregon Duck undergrad to win a national title since Steve Prefontaine in 1971. However, he still needed to reach the “A” standard to secure his place on Team USA for the World Championships. He headed for the Paris Diamond League meet and set a big personal best of 3:34.69 to establish a new Oregon school record and lock down his spot in Daegu.
At the World Championships, he faced an obstacle he hadn’t yet at the international level – running the rounds.
“I went into that meet thinking about one round at a time and being sure I was ready to go,” he said. “The World Championships are very different from an NCAA meet or a PAC-10 meet. I didn’t want to go in there thinking it was just another race.”
Centrowitz progressed his way through the opening round and semi-final round with times of 3:39.46 and 3:46.66, respectively, and into his first World Championships finals of his young career. With teammates Leo Manzano and Andrew Wheating failing to make the final, the outlook for a Team USA medal in the event may have looked bleak to most.
“It surprised some people,” Centrowitz admitted.
For Centrowitz, it was all part of a process. When the year began he set a pair of goals for himself – to win an NCAA championship and to make Team USA for the World Championships. With his bronze medal and his USA Outdoor title, it is safe to say he far exceeded those expectations.
Centrowitz now begins his final year at Oregon. He has exhausted his eligibility to compete in cross country this fall, which will serve as a much-needed break from an outdoor track and field season that ran into September. A full season of indoor and outdoor track still remains.
“That worked out really well,” he said of the time off. “I will get this season as a break and there is no pressure to come back for any races. I am going to miss competing and helping those guys out since cross country is a season I have been running for the last eight years. Maybe I will compete one race unattached (in cross country).”
Shortly after Centrowitz returned from Daegu his focus shifted to the 2012 season. He won’t have the luxury of being an underdog when the Olympic Team Trials find their way onto his home track of Hayward Field and running to fulfill the dream of making his first Olympic team in London.
But that now becomes the mindset.
“I think the main thing is to keep progressing,” he said when asked about his approach for the 2012 season. “I gained a lot of momentum this year. I know I’m confident and I know I am going to be well prepared.
“I’m looking forward to hopefully representing the United States once again and I would like to get back up on that podium.”