Nike Oregon Project Stars Matthew Centrowitz & Shannon Rowbury Reflect on Their 2015 Seasons & Look Ahead to 2016; Plus a Nick Symmonds Update

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By Jonathan Gault
January 29, 2016

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — On Friday, I had the chance to sit down for one-on-one interviews with two of U.S. middle-distance running’s biggest stars: three-time U.S. outdoor champion Matthew Centrowitz and American 1500 record holder Shannon Rowbury. Both opened up their seasons with low-key 3,000-meter victories in Portland two weeks ago (7:55.25 for Centrowitz, 8:53.52 for Rowbury) but will face stiffer competition as both are entered in the mile in tomorrow’s Camel City Elite meet. I also caught up with Brooks Beasts coach Danny Mackey, who gave me an update on Nick Symmonds.

Below, a few takeaways from what I learned speaking to them, beginning with Centro.

12 Minutes with Centro: Reflections on 2015, Whether to Run the 1500 or 3,000 at USA Indoors and Dabbing

(video may still be processing but you can eventually watch it above)

1. Centrowitz felt the two-month gap between USAs and Worlds last year was too long and may have led him to become fatigued by the time he reached Beijing

Centro’s win at USA Outdoors last year was a work of art as he decimated the field over the final lap; his 1.50-second margin of victory was the largest in 11 years.

“I felt a little more tired [at Worlds this year than in years past],” Centrowitz said. “At the end of Beijing, I only raced Fifth Ave. I didn’t go and run any more track races. I was happy for the season to be done. Whereas in the previous World Championships and Olympics, I’ve always raced a few races after. I think I was a little burned out mentally and physically. I might have been — I don’t want to say too ready too soon — but I think the way I was peaked [last year[, with the Olympics being a little bit earlier than Beijing, I think that will help a lot this year (Editor’s note: Last year there were 9 weeks between the final of the US 1500 and the Worlds final, this year the gap is just 6 weeks).

Centro won big at USAs in 2015 but couldn't hold that form until Worlds

Centro won big at USAs in 2015 but couldn’t hold that form until Worlds

“Certainly I wasn’t on my A+ game [in Beijing], but nonetheless I still competed very hard and ran the way I wanted to and it’s good to know I was able to come out of that finishing 8th when I might not have been firing on all cylinders.”

Despite his resounding win last year, Centrowitz knows he has to be ready to roll at USAs — he pointed out that all three American men’s 1500 guys made the final at Worlds in ’15 — and that last year it almost felt as if he was “peaking twice” because of the two+ month gap. This time, the gap is only six weeks  (U.S. 1500 final is July 10, Olympics final is August 10) which should suit Centrowitz — and everyone else — much better.

Centrowitz also added that before the last Olympics he missed six weeks of training due to knee surgery that spring and finished fourth. By replacing those days of zero miles with actual running, Centrowitz figured that on its own should make him a medal contender.

2. Centrowitz knows the “odds are against him” in his quest to take down Asbel Kiprop in 2016, but he’s not dwelling on the challenge the Kenyan presents

In his career, Centrowitz had a head to head record of 3 – 13 against the best 1500 man on the planet, Asbel Kiprop, and two of those wins came n 2012 when Kiprop wasn’t 100% healthy. Centro did beat the four-time global champ at the Pre Classic in May last year — the only 1500/mile Kiprop lost all year. Given those stats, Centrowitz knows that defeating Kiprop will be difficult, but said that he’s not focusing on beating one specific runner this year but rather trying to do what he can to be the best that he can be.

“I mean with his PRs, obviously the odds are against you, but that’s why you race the race,” Centrowitz said. “The 15 is such an exciting event because you just don’t know. If you look back throughout the years, there are so many guys in the top three that have been interchangeable throughout all the World Championships and Olympics. Yeah he’s run 3:26, but he could get hurt. There’s all these different variables.”

3. Centrowitz didn’t rule out running the 3,000 at USA Indoors

From now until USA Indoors, Centrowitz will run the mile tomorrow, followed by a 3,000 next weekend in Portland and the Millrose Games on February 20. After Millrose, Centrowitz will sit down with coach Alberto Salazar and decide which event to pursue at USA Indoors.

The 1500 seems the obvious choice given Centrowitz’s credentials (reigning U.S. indoor champ, three-time U.S. outdoor champ, two-time World Championship medalist) but he did not rule out the longer event. Centro said that several Oregon Track Club athletes will be in the 3,000 next weekend and he expects a fast race; if he performs well, it could tilt the balance in favor of the longer distance. Still, it would be a surprise to see Centro in the 3k at USAs given that is the preferred event of teammates Galen Rupp and Eric Jenkins (not to mention Bowerman Track Club’s Ryan Hill and Evan Jager) and there are only two spots to Worlds per event.

4. Centrowitz had a hunch that teammate Galen Rupp would run the Olympic Marathon Trials but didn’t find out until a week ago

Centrowitz said that he found out after a workout last week that Rupp would be making his marathon debut in two weeks at the US Olympic Marathon Trials. Centro expects Rupp to run well in Los Angeles given his half marathon success. In general, the two work out together semi-frequently but that may change in the weeks to come.

“If it works out well that I have a strength session and he’s got one within a couple days of me, we’ll put it together on the schedule but I don’t think we do every single workout together,” Centrowitz said. “Maybe one every 10 days. I mean his tempos…Psh, I’m not going to be doing any of that.”

5. Centro has hopped on the Cam Newton bandwagon and promised to dab if he wins on Saturday

Centrowitz gave his Super Bowl pick at the end of the interview and strongly favors the Panthers. “If they (lose) to the Broncos, I (will) say that the best team didn’t win. I think the Panthers are the best team…I feel like Cam Newton is kind of like this young, exciting dynamic player that the NFL really hasn’t seen ever.”

Centro added that if he wins tomorrow, he’ll replicate Cam Newton’s signature celebration by “dabbing” after the race.

Shannon Rowbury Talks About Upping Her Mileage and Her “Rivals” – Genzebe Dibaba, Jenny Simpson

1. Rowbury was extremely pleased with her 2015 season (apart from Worlds) and expects to be even better in 2016 as she continues to grow stronger

Rowbury turned 31 years old in September, but she feels that she’s still improving — and it’s hard to argue given that she’s PR’d in the 1500 each of the past two years, including a monster 3:56.29 American record in Monaco (a 3+ second PR). Despite those big gains, she believes she will be even better in Year 3 under Salazar as she’s built up the strength to handle more of his program. When she first switched to Salazar two years ago, Rowbury did not run as much mileage as he does now and she also had to take more time to recover between hard sessions.

“I was in the 70s pretty consistently before,” Rowbury said. “I’m in the 80s, 75-80s pretty consistently now. When I started out with the group, because the workout intensity was so high, my mileage was in the 70s, but my recovery days, I would have to take them easy because I was feeling really beat up. Now I can run 75-80 with the easy days being faster.”

Rowbury and U.S. teammate Jenny Simpson leading the World Championship final in Beijing

Rowbury and U.S. teammate Jenny Simpson leading the World Championship final in Beijing

2. Rowbury on Genzebe Dibaba’s reported 4×1500 workout (4:06, 4:04, 4:03, 4:02): “To pretend that any single person is Superman or Superwoman, I just don’t buy it.”

Rowbury admitted that Dibaba’s workout times were “very impressive” but gave a thoughtful response, explaining that every athlete — even Dibaba — has good and bad days.

“If that’s what she’s doing, more power to her,” Rowbury said. “I haven’t ever done a workout like that; I haven’t even attempted a workout like that.

“I take everything that’s reported in the media or that people try to share about themselves on Instagram with a grain of salt. I think everyone tries to present the best version of themselves in an interview or when they’re making a video or when they’re doing anything. But I know from experience that I have phenomenal workout days and days when I’m just crawling along, trying to get through it. And to pretend that any sinlge person is Superman or Superwoman, I just don’t buy it.”

Rowbury also said that while Worlds closed exceptionally fast last year (it took a 1:57.6 final 800 to get a medal), that doesn’t mean that she’s out of contention for a medal, even though she’s more of a 1500/5k runner than 800/1500.

“I don’t think anyone would have thought the other women (Faith Kipyegon and Sifan Hassan) would have been able to close in 1:57, but they did,” Rowbury said. “I don’t think it would be easy but I don’t think I can’t [do it]. I know I’m as good as those women, I’ve beaten them before in races. Was I prepared to run 1:57 in Beijing? No. Can I win a medal in the future? Yes.”

3. Though Rowbury vs. Jenny Simpson is one of the most exciting matchups for fans to U.S. watch, Rowbury

“I don’t feel it is much of a rivalry,” Rowbury said. “I think it’s a good story, so however people want to portray it … To me I think of her as a very talented athlete who sets a high standard and I feel that I’m in that same category. I think that the two of us competing against one another has brought out some really great performances on both sides.

“Truthfully, I don’t think of anyone as my rival. I feel like it’s a waste of my energy to be saying “Oh I have to beat this person.” I just want to be better than I’ve ever been before. For me it’s a matter of every day and every season being better than I’ve been in the past.”

***

Nick Symmonds tweaked his calf; will not run USA Indoors

Symmonds’ coach Danny Mackey told me that Symmond’s calf is bothering him, likely a result of putting on spikes for their first track workout of the season last week. The injury caused Symmonds to scratch from the 800 at Camel City tomorrow. Mackey was not concerned, saying that if a national championship was on the line, Symmonds would be okay to race, but given how early they are in the season, he and Symmonds did not want to risk anything by having him run tomorrow.

He also confirmed that Symmonds does not have plans to run at USA Indoors but that they would like to get in a strong mile (goal: 3:55) at the Dempsey facility in Seattle this winter, should Symmonds’ calf cooperate.

Mackey has several other athletes entered tomorrow — Cas LoxsomGarrett Heath and Katie Mackey among them — and though he expects them to perform well (they wouldn’t race otherwise) he said they are still building fitness and will be in much better shape come USAs in March. Usually Mackey has his athletes attempt a time trial prior to their first race of the season, but none of the athletes racing tomorrow have done one so this is his first look at them running at top effort this year (save Heath, who has run a couple of cross country races).


Editor’s note: The meet organizers have paid for most of Jonathan Gault’s travel and housing to the Camel City Elite meet in North Carolina.