March 12, 2016
PORTLAND, Ore. — At the start of the 2016 USATF Indoor Championships, Matthew Centrowitz was America’s top 1500-meter runner. And at the end of the 2016 USATF Indoor Championships, Centrowitz is still America’s top 1500-meter runner. Barely.
In a scintillating final-lap showdown, Robby Andrews almost earned that honor, and in an ordinary year, his 1:50.17 final 800 likely would have been enough to earn the national title. But nothing about Centrowitz’s 2016 season has been ordinary, and he prevailed once again tonight to defend his U.S. title. Centrowitz’s final 800 of 1:50.34 wasn’t too shabby either and was far more impressive than the 3:44.33 winning time.
Andrews actually passed Centrowitz on the final lap — no one else has come close to doing so this year late in a race — but Centrowitz had enough in the tank to overhaul Andrews in the home straight. After a day of largely uneventful distance races, with the favorites coming through in dominant fashion, Centrowitz and Andrews’ action-packed duel provided some much-needed excitement for the 5,244 fans on hand.
With Andrews and Centrowitz both in terrific form, the U.S. has two medal contenders in the men’s 1500 at next week’s World Indoor Championships on this same Oregon Convention Center track.
Race recap, results, interviews and analysis below.
The race began slowly but things picked up earlier than usual when Centrowitz went to the lead just after the halfway point, covering 700 to 900 in 28.95 seconds. The race was on. Centrowitz began to grind down the pace, stringing out the field, after running 54.50 for his next 400, he was at the head of a four-man pack at the bell, with 2015 runner-up Ben Blankenship, 2015 U.S. 1k champ Robby Andrews and Cory Leslie close behind him. It was Centro, Blankenship and Andrews in that order on the backstretch when Andrews launched into his kick, moving past Blankenship just before the final turn and drawing level with Centrowitz as they entered the home stretch. The two men were shoulder-to-shoulder for a few strides, with Andrews even eking ahead for a couple of steps, but Centrowitz had one final move to make and was able to barely hold off his rival for a repeat title. Centro crossed first in 3:44.33, .07 ahead of Andrews, while Blankenship finished a distant third in 3:45.40.
|1||Matthew Centrowitz||Nike / Nike O P||3:44.33|
|4||Garrett Heath||Brooks / BBeasts||3:46.67|
|5||Johnny Gregorek||ASICS / NJNY||3:47.28|
|6||Colby Alexander||N J N Y||3:47.81|
|8||Adam Godwin||Team Green R||3:48.72|
|11||Daniel Winn||Boston A A||3:52.13|
Quick Take #1: Matthew Centrowitz was extremely happy to keep his undefeated season alive and is “really really happy with my strength right now”
This was the most Centrowitz has been challenged in a race this season, but he said if anything, it gives him more confidence heading into Worlds as he was able to respond and fight back when he was passed late in the race. Centrowitz said that having Andrews pushing him at the end of the race gave him “a good feeling; that’s what you want in racing, you know, bring out the best in each other.”
Centrowitz said he wasn’t sure he had a response in him when Andrews passed him, but was glad he did. Centro said that he believes his strength is what enabled him to hold off Andrews at the end of the race.
“It was literally the last 20m, so I don’t think any of us had any moves at that point. We pretty much showed all our cards. I didn’t even know necessarily if I had another move until I did it, I was giving myself all I had. But once he went by me it was like, ‘Dude, come on man. I gotta keep this undefeated streak going into World Indoors.’ So I just dug in again and it’s just a testament to my strength right now. I’m very very strong.
“I was happy with the way I responded … It doesn’t really show how sharp I am, but how strong I am.”
With that said, Centrowitz is still a 1500 runner at heart. He had considered running the 3,000 at USAs/Worlds, but even if he made the team (a tough task against last night’s field), it would have meant two 3ks in three days at Worlds (and three in 10 days including USAs) and he felt that favored 5k guys more than it favored him.
Now it’s on to Worlds, where Centrowitz is among the medal favorites. It should be a terrific competition as defending champ Ayanleh Souleiman (who broke the world 1k record earlier this year) will be there, as will 2015 World Championship finalists Andrews, Nick Willis and Charlie Grice (’15 Worlds bronze medalist Abdelaati Iguider of Morocco may also be in the field). The way Centrowitz is running this winter, he just might beat them all in Portland.
Quick Take #2: Robby Andrews came up just short but still ran tremendously well — “[I thought] he didn’t save anything. Joke’s on me.”
Andrews had to cut his interview short due to a coughing fit, but it was clear that, while pleased to be on the team, he was disappointed not to have crossed the line first tonight. He said that he keyed off Centrowitz in this race, and that allowed him to be in better position when the kicking started (usually Andrews is closer to the back). Andrews debated about whether, in retrospect, he should have waited until the final 50 meters to make his move, but he knew he had to get around Blankenship at some point and for that reason started kicking on the backstretch. That gave Centrowitz a little extra time to respond once he realized Andrews was coming, but Andrews admitted that Centro’s kick was better tonight. Still, Andrews did allow himself to dream for a moment after passing Centro on the home stretch.
“I’m in front of him, I’m like, ‘Oh, he messed up, you know, he didn’t save anything.’ Joke’s on me,” Andrews said.
Andrews has nothing to be ashamed of. Three weeks ago at Millrose, the gap between Centrowitz and Andrews — 2.53 seconds — was enormous. Tonight, it shrunk to just .07. Part of that had to do with the slower pace in the early going — a fast race throughout favors Centro — but Andrews’ performance tonight was fantastic. Centrowitz has been on a different level than the rest of the U.S.’s 1500 runners the last couple of years, but Andrews showed that the U.S. has more than one medal threat at Worlds next week.
Centrowitz is the better medal bet as he is stronger than Andrews and can thus navigate the rounds better. Additionally, Centrowitz can medal in a fast final, which doesn’t favor Andrews. But in a race that comes down to the final few laps (as championship finals often do), Andrews is extremely dangerous, and the fact that he could run not just a fast final 200, but a fast final 800 tonight definitely boosts his chances. Don’t sleep on him next week.
Quick Take #3: Ben Blankenship, 10k runner?
Blankenship wasn’t happy with third, especially because the two guys who kept him off the team tonight were two of the same guys who beat him out for a World Championships spot last year. But rather than hopping the fence to avoid the media, as he did after missing out on Worlds in 2015, Blankenship handled his defeat with grace, accepting that he just needed to be sharper heading into the race. Blankenship and his coach Mark Rowland didn’t put a ton of emphasis on this indoor season and thus his closing ability wasn’t on the same level as it was last year, but it’s something that should improve as the year goes on.
The question is, will Blankenship use that ability in the 1500 or the 10,000? When Blankenship first mentioned debuting in the 10k this spring in the interview, we thought he may have been kidding, but he’s 100% serious.
“It will be 10k or 1500, it won’t be anything in between … Why not? I think Hassan has a really good kick, I think Chris Derrick probably has a good kick, but I know I have a pretty good kick. If they want to jog 8k, please do.”
Blankenship did actually run a 10,000 last year, as he was entered at the Pacific Pursuit in Sacramento in December, but he wound up DNFing. Moving up to the event this year would be a challenge, but there’s no doubt that pound-for-pound, the 10,000 will be an easier team to make than the 1500 or 5,000 this year. However, given that Blankenship was just .02 from making the 1500 team last year and has never completed a track 10,000, it would still be an odd choice for him to move up in distance so drastically.
Discuss: Blankenship May Move up to 10k
Quick Take #4 A Successful Winter Campaign Ends for Garrett Heath
Heath was 5th in the 3000m Friday night and 4th in the 1500m tonight. Both performances left him close but short of making the Worlds team. They came at the end of a winter season that saw him beat Mo Farah in cross country. All-in-all Heath was pleased with how things went rating his performance last night slightly ahead of this one tonight. Now he turns to trying to make the US Olympic team at 5000m where he just missed making the Worlds team last year.