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This is the culmination of a series of DyeStat year-end awards for 2006-07. The DyeStat Most Outstanding Performers series included boys and girls distance, sprints, hurdles, jumps, throws, and multi-events. These are followed by the DyeStat Athlete of the Year award. Selections are made by DyeStat editors and are based a combination of multiple major victories/honors won and performances on all-time and yearly lists. Performances from outdoor track, indoor track, and cross-country are taken into account.

Photos by Vic Sailer

In the crazed, euphoric moments after the Nike Outdoor National boys two mile, when the flashbulbs were still popping and the journalists were still circling for quotes, when stunned fans were still consulting stopwatches in disbelief and fellow competitors were still wobbling the post-race dance of the depleted, Matthew Centrowitz of Annapolis, Maryland, was scanning the backstretch grandstand for one grinning, mustachioed face—his father’s. Somewhere in that cheering throng was Matt Centrowitz Sr. and his wife Beverly, both accomplished runners in their own right, now watching their son bask in the limelight of an historic track performance.

Squinting into the camera lights, the new national champion began patiently fielding interview questions as meet officials escorted his parents from the bleachers and across the empty track. The plan, he said, casting a quick glance over his shoulder, had simply been to win. No, he allowed, peering politely past the interviewers, he hadn’t known the race was going that fast. It was, he said, Unreal. And Perfect. And—and then his parents were there, extracting him from the cluster of reporters for a congratulatory embrace.

Bridge between the boom years

In the past few years, a great deal has been made in track and field circles of the apparent revival in American schoolboy distance running. We are witnessing a return, many opine, to the glory days of the 1960s and 70s, when sub 9-minute two miles and low 4-minute mile races were more common than they became during the relative dry spell of the 1980s and early 90s. With roots that include an indoor 2-mile duel between Andy Powell and Franklyn Sanchez and the breakout performances of Donald Sage, the revival is largely attributed to a clutch of new-millennium runners tagged with single-name monikers like Ritz, Webb, Teg, Hall and Rupp. But if you’re looking for a symbolic bridge between the past and the present, a flesh and blood encapsulation of the work ethic of the 60s and 70s springing back to life in the legs of the MySpace generation, look no further than that midfield embrace between a father and his son.

Matt Centrowitz Sr.—the original Centro, the 4:02.7 high school miler from Power Memorial in Manhattan, 8:56 two miler, eventual American record-holder at 5000 meters and now head coach at American University—wrapping his arms around Matt Centrowitz Jr.—the “new” Centro, the 4:03.40 miler from Broadneck HS in Maryland, 8:41.55 two miler, and now the 2007 DyeStat Male Athlete of the Year.

Matthew Centrowitz had a fine cross country season, culminating with an 8th place finish at Footlocker Nationals, followed by an indoor campaign which included a runner-up finish in the Nike Indoor Nationals 2-mile, but it was his revelatory outdoor season—and the indelible 8-lapper he authored in Greensboro, North Carolina—which elevated him above the other fine athletes of ’07 and cemented his status as the AOY.

“That Nike Outdoor race was a huge step forward,” Centrowitz says now, fresh off a beach vacation and with the benefit of a few months’ perspective. “ It was the race of my career thus far.”

He stands by the original statement he made that June evening, that the goal of the race, all along, was simply to win. “The plan was just to win a national championship. I really wasn’t thinking of [Jeff] Nelson or [Steve] Prefontaine or any of those guys; I was just trying to win a national title. But looking at that all-time list now, and getting to meet [#2 all-time] Craig Virgin at the USATF meet a week later, I’m honored to even be placed next to those names.”

Not only did Matt’s parents join him on the infield after the NON two mile, but Matt Sr. presented his son the gold medal on the awards stand (right, photo by John Dye). “Having my dad give me the award was amazing. I was definitely looking for him after the race—for both of my parents. It was pretty exciting to have them there in the stands.”

On to the USATF Junior 1500

The remainder of that Friday night passed in a bit of a blur, but at breakfast the following morning Centrowitz was already turning his focus to the next race on the schedule. “I was already looking toward Junior Nationals,” he says. “It was good to have that to look forward to after Nike. I started mentally preparing for different outcomes, putting myself in the race and thinking about how I had to be ready to move when the race really started.”

The event he was mulling over was the USATF Junior 1500, a race less than a week away that would pit him against NON mile champion Sam Borchers and future University of Oregon teammate and defending Junior 1500 champ A.J. Acosta. There had been some consideration given to racing the 5000 meters instead, but Matt Sr. thought it important for his son to gain experience running qualifying heats on multiple days—something he’d have to deal with in college and beyond—and the 5k was a final-only affair. While Matt’s father wasn’t his official high school coach, the senior Centrowitz and Broadneck head coach Dana Dobbs struck an amicable balance in supervising Matt’s training, with Dobbs providing many of the daily workouts and Matt adding on as necessary with his father’s guidance and input.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t have been the runner I am today without my dad’s background and experience,” Matt says. “If he told me to do something, I felt confident and secure that he knew what he was talking about.” That confidence carried Matt through his remarkable post-season, where he took the blended preparation from his dad and Coach Dobbs and internalized his father’s admonition to avoid over-thinking when it came time to toe the line. “He told me to never think when I’m in the race. He’ll do the thinking—I just go out and run.”

That recipe delivered another fine performance at the USATF Junior meet, where Matt led the 1500 only meters from the line (left, photo by Vic Sailer), before Acosta slipped past for a 3:49.53 to 3:49.54 tactical win. The runner-up finish provided Matt with his first appointment to a US national team, allowing him to wear the red, white, and blue at the Pan American Games in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

One more shot at sub-4

Buoyed by two successive strong races, and driven by a sense that he’d never been in better shape, Matt remained in Indiana after the USATF meet to take a shot at the elusive 4-minute barrier at a low-key American Milers meet in Bloomington, Indiana. He’d already made a much-heralded attempt at four minutes at the Reebok Grand Prix on June 2nd, when he’d been added to the elite section of a stacked mile with the express goal of pursuing his father’s high school best of 4:02.7, but the understood dream of becoming history’s fifth sub-4 American schoolboy. At that race in New York he'd come home eleventh with a big PR of 4:03.40, but fell short of both goals in an effort that left him fuming. “I was really pissed afterwards,” he says with refreshing honesty. “But after the Nike Outdoor two mile my confidence was up again, and we decided to take another shot in Indiana.”

The American Milers race, hastily assembled to provide not only Centrowitz but also Masters runner Jim Sorensen with a chance at sub-4, resulted in an outcome remarkably similar to the Grand Prix mark—4:03.47—but with a slightly altered perspective from Centrowitz.

“After that race in Indiana, I realized I may have been trying to push this sub-4 thing a bit too much. I didn’t let myself get as angry afterwards, but I came away with a lot more appreciation for how hard it is, and for those guys who have actually done it.”

The final event of Matt’s busy summer campaign was the Pan American Junior 1500 in Brazil, a race that brought him quite close to his mother Beverly’s South American birthplace of Guyana. Growing up there, she’d developed into a fine middle distance runner with an 800 PR of 2:08 which propelled her to college in New York City, where she eventually met Matt’s father. “We were joking,” Matt says, “that I was heading back to my roots when I went down to Pan Ams.”

Whether it was the proximity to his mother’s homeland or a desire to end the season with a flourish, Centrowitz flipped the finish order on Acosta at Pan Ams, surging past for a 3:56.63 win that featured the same whisper-thin margin of .01 which divided the two at USATF.

Due to be a Duck

Speaking about the Pan American meet now, Centrowitz says its value extends well beyond an opportunity to get his feet wet in the world of international racing. With future University of Oregon teammates Acosta and Kenny Klotz (who won the 10k race) on the US Junior roster, Centrowitz had a chance to get to know his fellow Ducks outside the whirlwind of recruiting visits and college selection. Acosta—brash, confident and loquacious—and Klotz—quieter, introspective and more stolid—offer a study in healthy contrasts that has Centrowitz excited about the diversity of athletes he’ll soon call his teammates. Used to training mostly alone, Centrowitz can’t wait for the talented pool of workout partners who’ll push him through the paces. “Ten to fifteen guys to train with? That’s exactly what I’m looking for,” he says.

He knows that the comparisons to his father become even more pronounced now that he moves on to his dad’s alma mater, but he also allows that the succession of Centros at Oregon was by no means pre-ordained—not with his father serving as head coach of rising Division I power American University in Washington, D.C. “Of course I looked at American,” he says. “There were days when me and my dad were out at the track and...man, everything was working out great, and I was thinking, ‘He just knows me so well,’ and I was positive I was headed to AU.’”

But being both a son and a blue chip recruit—or a father, a coach and an unspoken recruiter—provided its share of familial tension as well. “There were other days,” Matt admits, “when we came home from practice still arguing, because he’s my dad and could be hard on me sometimes, and it got to the point where I was glad I was getting out and going three-thousand miles away.” With a laugh that any eighteen year-old would understand, he adds, “I think it’s probably healthier for our relationship.”

When Matt matriculates to Oregon, however, he can’t help but pack up the parental lessons and life experience and genetic material that have gotten him this far. He’s realistic about the stacked roster that awaits him in Eugene, but feels great about the progress of his summer training and confident that the Pan Am race came early enough to allow him time to recover and still build a solid base. He’s planning to room with Footlocker national champion Chad Hall this coming year, and has discussed the possibility with Oregon coach Vin Lananna of eschewing the presumed redshirt for a Duck jersey in the fall.
(left to right) Beverly, Matthew and Matt Centrowitz Sr. -photo by Donna Dye

“Coach Vin says, ‘If you’re ready, we’ll run you,’ but he’s not making any promises. As for me,” Matt says, his voice ringing with the quiet determination that carried him past Craig Forys and into the record books in that historic two-mile, “I’m going to try to make this cross country team. And then help them any way I can.”

Year-End Awards Index