Matt Centrowicz Completes Family Ambition, Medals in South Korea
After capping off one of the best years a college junior has ever had in the world of distance running, Arlington resident Matt Centrowicz Jr. shrugs off the expectations as he returns for his senior season with the University of Oregon’s cross-country and track program.
“I just wanted to take it one race at a time,” said Centrowicz Jr.
After winning the NCAA championship in the 1500, Matt Centrowicz Jr. upset Olympic medalist and racing icon Bernard Lagat to win the national title in the event and qualify for the world championships in Daegu, South Korea where he became the first American-born miler to medal since 1987.
"When he qualified for the final, I originally thought we'd be very happy if he finished in the top 3 [at the national championships]," said father Matt Centrowicz Sr. "But that's the thing about when you're a young runner. You can explode literally overnight."
His father, Matt Centrowicz Sr., knows a little bit about competing in the Olympics as well. In the 1970’s, he was a two-time Olympian and former American record holder at the event. For one of those American records, he beat storied running legend Steve Prefontaine (the subject of not one but two Hollywood movies) to reset the mark in the 5K.
Matt Sr. is currently devoted to coaching in his 17th year at Coach of American University. In addition, he is in his 5th year as coach of the Pacer's Running Team in Clarendon where his presence has helped turn Pacers into a prime destination for post-collegiate athletes looking to take their running to a professional level.
More importantly, Matt Sr. is a cheerleader and supporter for his two kids as son and daughter Lauren (an All-American runner at Stanford University) have grown in their running careers. He flew out and watched his kids at the NCAA championships and the national championships although he was unable to make it to South Korea to see his son compete.
"Once his son got to Korea, he wasn't sleeping at night," recalls American University Assistant Coach Bridget Bower.
Although he concedes nervousness during the race, Matt Sr. added that he didn't have too much time to process the results because for the first couple of weeks, he was busy giving interviews on his son's victory.
"It was only when he got back and we had time to talk," said Matt Sr.
While Matt Jr. credits the elder Matt for being a big inspiration but both father and son concede that Matt Jr. gets his coaching from his collegiate coach.
“I guide him as a father. Things off the track,” said Matt Sr. “He already has a coach so I don’t interfere with that. There can only be one chef.”
Ironically, the dad didn’t push his son into running at all.
"He did a lot of reverse psychology," said Matt Jr. "He told me running was too tough and that kept me hungry."
Matt Jr.’s success is not just a victory for the Centrowicz clan but for American runners in general. When Matt Sr. competed in 1976 in the metric mile (1500 meters), only two of the top ten milers in the world were from Africa. Since then, the rest of the world has been playing catch-up in the distance events to runners from Africa and the Middle East.
When describing his son’s race, he remarked that it was nice to not watch the American fade out at the finish line for once.
“I think as Americans we can all be happy with that,” he said..
“There are a lot of messages of people saying how proud they are of me representing them,” said Matt Jr. “[It’s] overwhelming a little bit, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
In addition to being the home of Matt Centrowicz’s Pacers Running Team, Pacer’s walking and running store caters to runners of all levels with generous coaching advice, biweekly fun runs, and race sponsorships. They can be found on the internet at runpacers.com and by phone at 703-248-6893.