NEW YORK -- The buzz started as soon as Matthew Centrowitz announced he would race the 2-mile at the 110th Millrose Games: Could the Olympic 1,500-meter champion challenge the American record of 8:07.41, held by Galen Rupp?
Centrowitz — who calls the Armory, venue for the prestigious New York City event, a “second home base” — opted to skip the Wanamaker Mile, which he had won the last two years, in favor of a longer distance.
“I’m kind of looking for new challenges,” Centrowitz said at a pre-event press conference two days before the Saturday event.
“Not every day I get to race Ryan Hill, Moh Ahmed, [Andrew] Butchart — who is running unbelievable right now — Donn Cabral, Ben True, all these guys that are primarily 5K guys,” he added. “After Rio, it’s kind of a letdown. This is something that made me excited to training for and excited to put on the schedule.”
The race was exciting, with the lead see-sawing back-and-forth several times in the last 400 meters before True edged out Hill to win in 8:11:33, more than four seconds off Rupp’s record. Centrowitz, though, wasn’t part of the drama, never moving beyond the middle of the pack and finishing seventh with a time of 8:21:07. It’s a new personal best, shattering his previous mark of 8:41.55 set in 2007 as a high school student in Annapolis, Maryland.
“I felt pretty heavy from the get go,” Centrowitz said. “I think we were slower than we were supposed to be for the mile. I felt pretty sluggish, I think we were 4:07, 4:08 at the mile, but it felt like we were going a lot faster than that. I kind of knew the next half mile was going to be pretty tough for me.”
Still, the 27-year-old — who has said he hopes to compete in the 2020 and 2024 Olympic Games in distances from 1,500 meters up to 10,000 meters — has no regrets about giving the 2-mile a try, especially since he thinks stretching his mileage in training will help his 1,500-meter form later this year.
“My training has been focused for this race, it’s not like I’m in bad shape or anything,” Centrowitz said. “The good news is my training has been going well. I have a good base, I’m set up well for the outdoor (season). I definitely expected to be competing that last 200 (meters) with those guys, especially given the way the race played out.”
“I don’t want to go off on this one race,” he continued. “I had a good 3,000 last year, I ran 7:40 (at House of Track in Portland, Oregon) and held off Hassan Mead, who is obviously a tremendous 5K and 10K guy. I definitely think I can run a good 5K. Right now, I’m definitely humbled by these longer distances.”
While Centrowitz admitted he’s still coming down from the high of Rio, where he became the first U.S. man to claim the 1,500-meter gold medal since 1908, he emphasized he hasn’t cut back on training in the six months since winning gold.
He’s enjoyed some celebrity, being honored by his hometown Baltimore Orioles and Baltimore Ravens, as well as his alma mater Broadneck High School, where he set a state record for the 1,600-meter. In October, he celebrated his birthday in Australia, and in early December, he traveled to Florida to be honored as the USA Track & Field male athlete of the year. Otherwise, he doesn’t think his routine has changed much.
“I took a little break in the fall but training has been going great,” he said. “I haven’t had any major setbacks. I just felt a little fatigue going into today; I think it showed the last 800 or 1,000 meters.”
Centrowitz opened his 2017 season with a 3,000-meter win at the University of Washington Indoor Preview in Seattle last month, clocking 7:49.89. Alberto Salazar, the three-time New York City Marathon winner who trains Centrowitz at the Nike Oregon Project, thinks the Olympic champion might have over trained for Millrose.
“I felt pretty sluggish two weeks ago, and felt pretty sluggish again today, so Alberto spoke to me briefly,” Centrowitz said. “He thinks I might have worked a little too hard last week. Training has been going well, so that shows that it’s not that I’m out of shape. Maybe (it’s) the lows of coming back from Rio, or maybe I’m still tired from some of the workouts on my legs these last two, two and a half weeks.”
The Millrose result — and the sluggish feeling — has Centrowitz reconsidering his next indoor event. He had planned to race, perhaps the mile, at the Last Chance Meet at Boston University in two weeks, but is now uncertain.
“I have to sit down and figure it out,” he said. “I was kind of thinking of going up to BU for a race, but I might as well get my legs back underneath me.”
Last season, Centrowitz won gold in the 1,500-meter at the world indoor championships, an event held every two years. He is already looking ahead to the world outdoor championships in London in August.
“Obviously I would like to get back on the podium,” he said. “And I would like to win the world championships. I have to get more fit, get back to training after this indoors season and raise my training up another level.”
American indoor records did fall at Millrose. Courtney Okolo, a member of the U.S. women’s Olympic gold medal 4x400 team in Rio, set a new American standard of 1:07.34 in the 500-meter. Olympian Ajee Wilson broke the American indoor record in the 800-meter by running 1:58.27.