Centro Looking For PRs, ARs In ’18
by Jon Hendershott
It can happen to the finest of athletes, even an Olympic champion: an all-conquering season can be followed by a less-than-satisfying year. Especially when injuries enter the equation, it can make for a frustrating, challenging scenario.
Just ask Matthew Centrowitz. The 27-year-old American kicked off his 2016 campaign by winning the World Indoor 1500 title in Portland. Then outdoors, he took the Olympic Trials victory before scoring the ultimate win: the Games title in Rio.
But the ’17 season was a different story: three leg muscle injuries hampered the Maryland-born/Oregon-trained Centrowitz, the dismal year ending as he placed 14th and last in his heat at the London World Championships.
But Centrowitz now is basically healthy and completely eagerly looking forward to ’18’s action. He shared his thoughts with T&FN after spectating at a rain-swept Dellinger Invitational cross country meet:
T&FN: So, how are you feeling overall?
Centrowitz: Things are going well. I’m excited about this fall more than I’ve been in the last several years. Finishing school this fall; getting that burden off is a big thing. And working out with the U of O cross country team and helping coach there with [Oregon distance head] Andy Powell has been great.
That’s a new thing for me and just the energy I feel at practice is tremendous. Just being around the young kids—here I call them “young”; I’m an old man now. [laughs] They just bring a different kind of energy to practice every day and it’s contagious. It’s rubbing off on me, so I’m just having a lot of fun with it.
T&FN: And all healthy now?
Centrowitz: Yes, getting there. Close to 100%. Last season, we just kept running into one thing after another. I strained both my adductors. I strained the adductor magnus. It’s in the groin area, between the adductor and the hamstring, but it feels like a hamstring problem.
It felt like it was on the back of my leg but it actually was more toward the groin. Not quite hamstring—which was a good thing since the adductor probably was a little “better.” But it still was painful and hard to sprint and hard to get after it.
T&FN: When did the strains happen?
Centrowitz: I strained both of them within about six weeks. The first one was in April and the second was in late May/early June; a couple of weeks before USAs. Then after USAs, I got on a little bit of a roll [including a pair of 3:34s in Lausanne and Monaco]. Then I strained a hamstring less than two weeks before the World Championships.
So it was a frustrating year. But injuries are part of the sport. But I looked at it that those happening to me were better in 2017 than in ’16.
T&FN: It must have been difficult not being able to perform like the Olympic champion you are always introduced and known as being.
Centrowitz: It absolutely was. I also think the biggest thing was that I felt like I was letting the fans down more than myself. The sport should never feel like that. I should be most disappointed in myself for not being able to compete at my best.
But I felt like I was going to all these meets and obviously I wanted to win and run fast times and compete at my best. So it was tough when I couldn’t. It definitely humbled me a lot to go through the motions and get smoked by many athletes that I knew I could beat.
Kids would come up like today, asking for a picture and an autograph. So just keeping a positive outlook on the situation was hard. Staying upbeat and fulfilling those kids’ requests by talking with them.
So, yeah, it was a tough pill to swallow but I think it’s going to help make me a lot stronger and tougher for the future.
T&FN: Knowing that you could beat the guys who were beating you had to have been tough—or was it, since you knew why?
Centrowitz: I think it was both. I got my seasonal best [3:33.41 at the Oxy Distance Classic] in my first race and then those 3:34s later in Europe. And there were only a couple of sub-3:30 times in the world all season. So it wasn’t a year of really super-fast times.
I think that played into it as well; being frustrated by that. I had about a month of really good workouts early and then ran 3:33 off that, which I think got me into the top 15 or 20 times of the year [actually No. 14]. Normally, 3:33 wouldn’t crack the top 50 list.
So just knowing that last year I could have taken advantage of being one of the top guys in the world just by running a low-3:30 time, I think it was a little bit of both.
But I also feel that the post-Olympic slump affected a lot of athletes in general. You put all your eggs in that one big basket the year before, so I think a lot of athletes—especially the ones who medaled—gave themselves a nice little break.
Like myself, and I know [1500 bronze medalist] Nick Willis went through some injuries too. [Silver winner Taoufik] Makhloufi didn’t even race last season. So none of the three Rio medalists were at that level. But I think that all was just a reflection on the mentality and approach of the athletes in the year after the Olympics.
T&FN: So now can you wipe the slate clean of ’17 and approach ’18 as a build-up year for the coming championship cycle? What will ’18 be for you, in fact?
Centrowitz: I’ll just take it one year at a time. Well, certainly not overlooking 2020. But 2019 is going to be an interesting year with the Doha World Champs being so late. But as I said, I’ll take it one year at a time.
I think next year will be about chasing fast times, because there is no Olympics or World Champs. You don’t have to worry about peaking. If you run the fastest time of the year in June, who cares? I just think it’s about getting after it this next year. No excuses.
Last year, even before my injuries, I could sit there and dwell on “I got hurt here and I got hurt there.” But the fact is I didn’t have a good fall; I took a nice break and traveled a lot. I really didn’t get the base and put in the work that I needed to do to set me up for a great year. So, that starts now and that’s what I’m doing.
T&FN: Not putting words in your mouth, but presumably you will then go into at least a two-year cycle for the ’19 Worlds and ’20 Olympics—and then maybe the ’21 Worlds with the chance to run here in the USA and at home?
Centrowitz: Absolutely, yes. To be honest, I wanted LA to get the ’24 Games. 2028 might be a reach. But look at today: there are a lot more guys running well into their 30s. Look at Nick Willis again. He’s 34. He went through the college system like me and still trains here in the U.S.
I think that if I take care of my body and build on things every year, there’s no reason why I can’t be running into my 30s. So yes, 2021 will definitely be exciting with the Worlds here in Eugene.
Like I said, I’ve always approached things as one year at a time. I know you’re supposed to have a four-year plan, but I feel that you take care of the coming year and the others will take care of themselves. So for me, this next year is just about getting back there and having a healthy year and being more consistent on the world stage.
Really, at this point it’s not a secret: I’m going after PRs—so that means American Records. That’s the next career box I want to tick off before winning another World Championships medal. That’s where I’m looking right now.
T&FN: And again not to put words, but assume you would like to win a Worlds gold to complete your set of medals?
Centrowitz: Yes, eventually it would be great to have a world outdoor title. But right now, if my career ended, I would be disappointed if I didn’t get an AR, especially the 1500. I really wouldn’t be disappointed about not achieving a world outdoor gold. But if I’m having a great year, there’s no reason to think I couldn’t go back there and come away with another championship gold.
T&FN: Who knows, maybe get an AR in something like the 2000.
Centrowitz [laughs]: Maybe the 2K steeplechase! Set up a race!
October 02, 2017
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