Like many of the other 1,500-meter races during his outdoor track season at Oregon this spring, rising senior Matthew Centrowitz felt someone pull up on his shoulder shortly after the final turn.
And like all the other races, the 21-year-old Centrowitz had a response — an explosive kick that wasn't matched.
But this time, it was two-time Olympic medalist Bernard Lagat providing the push. And this time, it was at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
That's the kind of company the former Broadneck standout is thriving against in his breakthrough year. Centrowitz won that June 27 race comfortably in the end, crossing in 3 minutes, 47.63 seconds.
In the spring, Centrowitz captured his third straight Pac-10 championship, then went on to claim his first NCAA title.
Next up for Centrowitz is the IAAF World Championships, which begin Saturday in Daegu, South Korea.
"Just to compete at the highest level is a tremendous honor, and I think it will give me valuable experience heading into my final year at Oregon," Centrowitz said in a recent phone interview. "Just meeting and being around all the professional athletes, Olympic champions, world champions — it's definitely going to be an incredible experience."
During his days at Broadneck, Centrowitz enjoyed the most prolific high school distance running career in the area — and arguably the state. He set the high school mile record at the prestigious Penn Relays, won three state cross country titles and a number of track titles, and he was named The Baltimore Sun's Male Athlete of the Year as a senior in 2007.
In his first two years at Oregon, he enjoyed success in cross country and both indoor and outdoor track, overcoming injuries and the transition to college 3,000 miles from home. But this year, it has all come together.
To qualify for the upcoming World Championships, he set a new school record in the 1,500 meters (3:34.69) at the Diamond League meet in Paris in early July and broke that mark (3:34.46) two weeks later in Monaco.
The Oregon school record once belonged to his father, Matthew, Sr. In 1976, the two-time Olympian set the mark in 3:36.70.
"It's awesome to have the same name as my dad, so when you look down the all-time list, you kind of do a double take because one shows the mark in the '70s and the second one is 2011," Centrowitz said. "So it's been great to share that with my dad, and it's great to be mentioned with the other guys like Joaquim Cruz and Alberto Salazar. It's an honor, and I'm taking it all in."
Oregon assistant coach Andy Powell described Centrowitz's outdoor season in the 1,500 meters as "pretty much perfect," and he wasn't exaggerating. Centrowitz, who will be one of the youngest members representing the U.S. at the World Championships, won every race he entered, including preliminaries.
"He had a lot of consistency, and it wasn't any one particular thing that was done dramatically different. He just put in good week after good week after good week," said Powell, who's in charge of the program's distance runners. "Every time he got out there, all spring, he just kept winning and gaining more and more confidence and it was one of those things — there's not much more you can ask for."
Centrowitz's success begins with extensive training and preparation. His running log is detailed. His early morning run is followed by stretching and flexibility work. He maintains a strict diet, makes sure to keep hydrated and sees a massage therapist, all while maintaining his academics and finding time to still be a college kid.
Simply put, he takes no days off.
"Matthew sets a great example on how to use your training to better yourself, rather than just go through the motions, and the guys on the team all respect him for that," said senior teammate and roommate Chris Kwiatkowski."He's always ready to go — each and every day — and there's no wasted day of training with him."
On race day, knowing he's put in the time to be at his best, Centrowitz's instincts take over.
"He's very efficient and, most importantly, I think his biggest quality is strategically. He's always very, very well prepared," said Oregon coach Vin Lananna, who also will coach the U.S. team at the world championships. "When you get in a race, sometimes you think you're in the wrong position, and Matthew can always get himself out of trouble. When the time comes to go with the afterburners, he's very good at getting where he's supposed to be at the right time."
The passion Centrowitz has for running has been fueled by his family. In addition to his father, who is currently the coach at American University, his mother, Beverly, was a college runner and his older sister, Lauren, also enjoyed a standout career at both Broadneck and Stanford.
"Kids get bedtime stories, but I always got running stories," Centrowitz said. "So it was one of those things where I embraced it at a young age and have been enjoying it ever since." "Having my dad, mom and older sister set me up and share their experiences in the sport, it's been great for me to learn from them and see all their successes and how they've handled the ups and downs."
And now, Centrowitz is making his own stories, the endings featuring that winning kick.
"Running means a lot to me," he said. "It's something I put a lot of energy into, a lot of focus and dedication into. And it's definitely something I'll have forever, along with all the relationships I have made along the way that have been very important to me as well."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times