March 20, 2016
PORTLAND, Ore. — Matthew Centrowitz now owns a medal of every color, but he may want to save some room in his trophy case. Because if his performance today in the men’s 1500-meter final at the 2016 World Indoor Championships was any indication, he’s going to be very tough to beat at this summer’s Olympics in Rio.
On Sunday afternoon, in front of a roaring crowd in his adopted hometown of Portland, the 26-year-old became the first American to win the men’s 1500 at World Indoors — and the first American-born male to win a global 1500 gold in 108 years (Mel Sheppard was the last to turn the trick at the 1908 Olympics).
Centrowitz’ gold was the fitting finale to a meet that brought forth an avalanche of American medals in the distance/mid-distance events — six in six races, including gold in the first (men’s 800) and last (men’s 1500) distance finals of the weekend.
Centrowitz sat near the front of the pack for the entire race. New Zealand’s Nick Willis made a huge move with two laps to go but Centro was able to hang on and with 100 meters to go, he was right behind the Kiwi. As they entered the home stretch, Centrowitz swung into lane 2 and made his bid for gold. He pulled ahead of Willis and the two battled to the line. But Willis could not get back the ground he lost, and a late bid from the Czech Republic’s European indoor champion Jakub Holusa was good enough for second, but not enough to pass the golden boy Centrowitz, who won it in 3:44.22. Willis wound up third, his first global medal since his 2008 Olympic silver, while Robby Andrews used his trademark kick to move up from way back for fourth. Defending champion Ayanleh Souleiman of Djibouti led early but slowed considerably over the final lap and had to be carted through the mixed zone in a wheelchair patting his chest.
As he did in this race two years ago, Souleiman went to the lead immediately, towing the field through a 29.35 opening 200. He stepped off the gas for the next few laps, however, and came through 800 in 2:07.88. Ethiopia’s Dawit Wolde moved into the lead by 1000, picking it up slightly, but the racing really got going when Willis made a huge move just before the 1100-meter mark. In the span of 100 meters, Willis went from last to first, sprinting around the outside of the pack and gaining a gap on the field just after passing the two-laps-to-go mark.
Once Willis was in the lead, he took off as if shot from a cannon. A month ago, Willis made a hard move with 400 to go at the Wanamaker Mile, but this one was even more aggressive and his rapid acceleration allowed him to gain a gap of a few meters on the rest of the field. Wolde and Centrowitz began to fight back, however, and by the bell, Centro was second, right behind Willis. Willis continued to press around the turn and down the back stretch, but he could do nothing to shake Centrowitz, who patiently bided his time. Centrowitz finally shifted to his highest gear coming off the final turn and with about 35 meters to go, he took the lead. Willis, who had spent all of his energy stringing the field out over the past lap and a half, was powerless to respond.
But one man was moving even faster than Centrowitz, and that was the Czech Republic’s Jakub Holusa. Holusa was seventh at the bell, about 12 meters behind Willis, but came on like a freight train over the final 100. Holusa had just passed Wolde for fourth entering the home stretch and was only gaining steam. For a second, it looked as if Holusa would steal Centrowitz’s moment in the sun. But the U.S. champ held firm. Though it was Holusa who threw his hand up as he crossed the finish line, it was Centrowitz who earned victory, folding his arms in satisfaction before slapping five with Robby Andrews. Andrews was even further back than Holusa at the bell (so much so that he wasn’t even in the picture on the TV broadcast) but passed three men in the final straightaway to get up for fourth.
Centrowitz’ final 400 was run in about 52.5 seconds, with a final 200 of 26.71 leader to leader (26.6 for Centro since he was in second at the bell).
Results, quick takes and interviews below. A full race replay appears at the botton of this page.
Quick Take #1: A Perfect Way For Centro To Cap Off A Perfect Indoor Season
Centrowitz has had a brilliant indoor campaign, winning all six of his races in style as he’s set indoor pbs at 1500 (3:35.93 en route at Millrose), mile (3:50.63) and 3k (7:40.74) this year. Given that Morocco’s Abdelaati Iguider opted for the 3k and world 1000 record holder Ayanleh Souleiman was a total non-factor over the final 500, anything less than gold in this one would have been a disappointment for Centrowitz.
As good as Centrowitz has looked indoors, people need to realize how tough of a task he faces outdoors. None of the top 5 finishers from the 2015 World Championships were in this race:
2015 World Championship 1500 Top 5
1 Asbel Kiprop KEN 3:34.40
2 Elijah Manangoi KEN 3:34.63
3 Abdelaati Iguider MAR 3:34.67
4 Taoufik Makhloufi ALG 3:34.76
5 Silas Kiplagat KEN 3:34.81
Quick Take #2: This was almost identical to Millrose, and that was just fine with Centrowitz
Just like Millrose, Willis took off with two laps to go but that wasn’t good enough to shake Centrowitz.
“I just kind of replayed [the Millrose Games],” Centrowitz said. “I just said to myself, look I’ve been in this position before, just stay relaxed, Nick’s going pretty hard and just use the crowd to my advantage that last lap.”
Centrowitz said he thought Willis was looking pretty good on the last lap, but once they entered the final stretch his thoughts turned to the people who came out to support him today.
“I found myself level with him 50 to go and I just thought how bad I really wanted it,” Centrowitz. “Didn’t want to disappoint everyone here, the American fans and my family and friends.”
Quick Take #3: The Czech Republic’s Jakub Holuša Was The Ryan Hill Of This Race
Holuša earned his second World silver medal (he took silver in the 800 in 2012) with a furious last lap. The man with the best last 200 wasn’t Centrowitz, whom we timed in 26.6, it was Holuša, who ran a 25.5.
Like Hill in the 3k, when the big move was made for gold, Holuša didn’t go with it and let himself be gapped but he came on really strong at the end. It proved to be a brilliant strategy as just like in the 3000, the leaders mistimed their kicks a little bit as the 200 from 1300 to 1500 was slower than the 200 from 1200 to 1400.
The final 200 of American Robby Andrews was actually probably nearly identical of that to Holuša, Andrews was just 3-4 meters behind Holuša at the start of the last lap.
We only got 30 seconds with Holusa post-race as he had to go to a press conference, but he said that he knew he had a lot of speed and was happy to beat as many good guys in the field as he did.
Quick Take #4: Nick Willis Didn’t Want To Have Anything Left The Last 100m – “This was the event to take a risk.”
Willis revealed that his strategy today was to go all out with 350m to go, but saw an opportunity to go earlier, so he said to himself, “Screw it, let’s just go now.” He thought that was “going to be the end of me”, but explains that the “beauty of indoor” is that it’s hard to pass people on the last lap so everyone behind him was fighting each other for position and it was harder to react to his big move.
Willis knew that “this was the event to take a risk” (opposed to the Olympics) and said:
“My wife and I said that even if I finished third, we didn’t want the fastest part of my race to be the last 100. So often in my career I’ve saved it, wondering ‘What if?'” And today I was like, there wasn’t going to be a ‘what if’. It was going to be, “Put it out there and if they pass me in the last 50, so be it.'”
Talking about the two men who beat him, Willis said, “[Centrowitz] ran a very, very sound race both tactically and a performance as well. I’m disappointed to have Holusa come and get me right at the line. He didn’t do any of the work, but that’s all right, I’m proud of my effort.”
QT #5: Tactics May Have Cost Robby Andrews A Medal
Andrews closed incredibly fast, but he started it too late or from too far behind, depending on how you look at it, to end with a medal. Andrews and Nick Willis had been last and second to last with 420m to go and Willis made a huge move that resulted in him taking the lead. Andrews had a do-or-die decision to make: go with Willis or wait. He decided to wait and Willis ended up hanging on for the bronze while Andrews finished just out of the medals.
Andrews said of the move, “I thought about moving with him (Willis), but I thought it was a bit too much too early, but he hung on for third. But dang I wish had been closer to the front (when I started kicking).”
Andrews had high praise for Team USA teammate Matt Centrowitz saying, “I’m so happy for him. You want to see USA on top of the podium right now. He’s clearly the best in the world right now. We’re one team right now, in a couple of months it’s a different story,” said Andrews in reference to the Olympic Trials.
Overall this indoor season, Andrews raised his game and showed he could compete well with Centrowitz. Andrews was not completely satisfied saying he’d give his an indoor season a “B” grade as he wanted it to end with a medal.
He accepted the blame for not medaling saying, “That’s my fault. [Coach Jason] Vig[ilante] is going to yell at me. He said ‘Get out hard, and stay there. Don’t let guys bump you around’ and that’s exactly what happened.”
Andrews ran the type of race he’s used to running, kicking late from off the lead. At this level, it’s hard to get a medal that way, but he came close.
Quick Take #6: LetsRun.com’s efforts to speak to Alberto Salazar after the race were rebuffed
After Centrowitz won gold, his coach Alberto Salazar entered the mixed zone area (in the portion where the journalists were congregating, not the part where the athletes came through). The Oregonian’s Ken Goe began conducting an interview with Salazar and LetsRun’s Jonathan Gault turned on the recording feature on his cell phone and tried to join it. Immediately, Nike Oregon Project sports psychologist Darren Treasure snatched Gault’s phone, telling him “Don’t do that.” He then informed Salazar that Gault was with LetsRun.
Treasure handed Gault his phone back and demanded that Gault ask permission to join the interview. Gault told Salazar he was with LetsRun, asked if Salazar would permit him to join the interview, and Salazar declined.
Treasure then apologized to Gault for how he handled the incident and also apologized to LetsRun.com’s Weldon Johnson.
Quick Take #7: Chris O’Hare Was Disappointed With His 8th Place Finish
Once he made the final O’Hare’s goal was to get a medal, but said he “just didn’t have it today.” He said that he knows he can compete with guys like Centro and Willis even if he still loses in the end, but what hurts is that he wasn’t able to put up more of a fight.
Full race video