RIO DE JANEIRO — Never bashful, Matthew Centrowitz always believed he could win at the Olympics.
The American runner showed that supreme confidence on Saturday as he took the lead in the 1,500-meter race with two laps remaining and held off a late charge from the field to capture gold.
It was the first title in the event for the United States since Mel Sheppard won the metric mile more than 100 years ago at the 1908 London Games.
“Doing my victory lap, I literally kept screaming to everyone I know, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Centrowitz said.
Distance running just so happens to run in the Centrowitz family. His father, Matt, represented the United States at the 1976 Montreal Games. His sister, Lauren, competed in college for Stanford.
Then there’s Matthew, of course, the confident runner who always believed he was going to be the next big thing in the 1,500.
He took a brazen approach in a race Saturday that was rather slow at the start. Centrowitz jumped to the front with about two laps to go and only got stronger with the finish line in sight. He finished in 3 minutes, 50 seconds, beating defending champion Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria by 0.11 seconds. Nicholas Willis of New Zealand captured bronze.
After crossing the line, Centrowitz looked straight ahead, stunned at what he had just done. He then dropped to his knees and put his hands on top of his head.
It was that unbelievable.
His dad took in the entire scene from the stands. These two are tight, so much so that the son has a tattoo across his chest that reads, “Like father, like son.”
Centrowitz went to the University of Oregon, home of the late Steve Prefontaine — the training partner of his father before Pre’s death in a car accident at the age of 24.
The 26-year-old Centrowitz grew up hearing all the stories. He even hung posters on his wall of Prefontaine, the charismatic and talented runner who finished fourth in the 5,000 meters at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
“There’s nothing like it,” Centrowitz said of his win. “It doesn’t compare to anything else I’ve won in my life.”