Rio de Janeiro: Matthew Centrowitz produced a stunning gun-to-tape 1500m run on Saturday to claim the United States’ first gold in the event since 1908. Centrowitz, fourth in the London Games four years ago and twice a world championship medallist, timed 3min 50.00sec.
Algerian defending champion Taoufik Makhloufi added silver to second place in the 800m, in 3:50.11, while New Zealand’s Nicholas Willis claimed bronze (3:50.24). “There’s nothing like it. It doesn’t compare to anything else I’ve won in my life,” said Centrowitz. The last American to win the 1500m in the Olympics was Mel Sheppard in the 1908 London Games, and Centrowitz was left shell-shocked by his performance. “It hasn’t sunk in yet. I had an email from Jim Ryan before the race, Seb Coe gave me the medal and Hicham El Guerrouj is back there,” he said in reference to the US 1968 1500m silver medallist, IAAF president and two-time Olympic gold medallist in the event and the Moroccan world record holder respectively.
“Seb said: welcome to the club! “Everything leading up to it, during and after has been surreal. “I saw my dad on my victory lap and I yelled ‘are you kidding me?!’ and he yelled back ‘are you effing kidding me?!’ and it kept going back and forth. I don’t think any of us believed it.” Centrowitz added: “There’s no achievement in sport that tops Olympic gold, no world record, no other medal. “The Olympics are the pinnacle of track and field. This is the best that it gets. I’ve been joking since I got this medal that I don’t have to do anything else in my career! “On the best day I thought I could have got silver. Coming away with gold is unbelievable,” said Centrowitz.
The American and Spain’s David Bustos set a slow early pace, Makhloufi boxed in the chasing pack with Kenyan favourite Asbel Kiprop. The opening two laps were timed at a relatively pedestrian 66 and 69.7sec respectively.
Kiprop saw his teammate Ronald Kwemoi take a tumble that left him at the back of the pack, effectively leaving him unable to offer the 2008 Olympic gold medallist and three-time defending world champion any tactical help in the close-run race. Kiprop decided to move, and motored up through the field as the pace accelerated. Morocco’s reigning world and Olympic bronze medallist Abalaati Iguider and Djibouti’ Aynaleh Souleiman pushed Centrowitz through the bell for the last lap, with all eyes on Kiprop and Makhloufi.
As expected, the Kenyan made his move with 300 metres to run, the Algerian sweeping in on his coat-tails. But Centrowitz kept his nerve as the pack entered the home stretch. “After the first 800 metres when no one came around me, I thought ok no one’s going around me now,” he said. His face gritted in determination, the 26-year-old American, coached by Alberto Salazar, held on for a shock victory, timing 50.62sec for the last lap. Kiprop was reeled in down the straight by Souleiman and Willis and eventually finished sixth, 0.87 off Centrowitz’s pace.
Willis, who won silver at the 2008 Games in Beijing, said the moment was not as “joyous” as he thought it would be. “It’s more that I can still do it at 33,” the Kiwi said. “It doesn’t have that euphoria I was expecting – maybe because the race was so slow, we didn’t expend that much energy, it came a bit too easy.” Willis added: “After 2008, I had three different surgeries, it took me four years to get back in to form. A lot of people write you off in your 30s. This is for all the 30-year olds.” Willis also didn’t count himself on whether he could still compete at a fifth Olympics: “What do you think? I think I can do five.” (AFP)
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