In his 18th season at the helm of the American University cross country and track programs, Matt Centrowitz has consistently proven himself as one of the top middle-distance and distance coaches in the country. Since his arrival at AU, Centrowitz has produced 15 All-Americans, 167 Patriot League individual and relay Champions, 18 Patriot League Scholar-Athletes of the Year, two Academic All-Americans and one USTFCCCA All-Academic Team honoree.
The Centrowitz name is familiar to many track fans. As a high school standout at Power Memorial in Manhattan, Centrowitz set state records in the 1500-meter (3:43.3), mile (4:02.7) and 5000-meter (14:17.0) runs. As a collegiate student-athlete at the University of Oregon, Centrowitz qualified for the 1976 Olympic Games, setting a then-school record of 3:36.7 for the 1500-meter run. Later, Centrowitz helped the Ducks to the 1977 NCAA Cross Country Championships title. Centrowitz continued his great success as a post-collegiate athlete, qualifying for the 1980 Olympic Games in the 5000-meter run and winning four consecutive titles in the event from 1979-82. In the 1982 Prefontaine Classic, Centrowitz out-dueled former teammate Alberto Salazar over the final 800 meters to set a new American Record of 13:12.91 in the 5000-meter run.
Centrowitz also held bests of 3:54 for the mile and 46:38 for 10 miles. In recognition of his standout performances as a Duck, Centrowitz was inducted into the Oregon Hall of Fame in 2000 and was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal of Achievement, the highest civilian award which may be bestowed by the United States Congress, alongside his 1980 Olympic teammates during the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials.
Today, the Centrowitz name continues to be one of the most prestigious in the running world as his legacy is carried on by his children, Lauren and Matthew. Lauren, a standout for Stanford, helped the Cardinals to the 2005 NCAA Cross Country Championships title, earning an individual All-America honor along the way. That following spring, she joined her father as an American record holder as part of Stanford’s victorious 4×1500-meter relay team.
Matthew, Jr., has also risen to the heights of mid-distance running, following in his father’s footsteps at the University of Oregon where he helped the Ducks to an NCAA Championship in cross country. In 2010, he placed second in the 1500-meter run at the NCAA Outdoor Championships to help the Ducks to a third-place team finish. He went on to become the youngest American to ever medal at the 2011 World Track Championships with a third-place finish in the 1500-meter run, making it the highest finish for a U.S. competitor in the event, and was the 2011 U.S. Outdoor Champion and 2012 U.S. Indoor runner-up in the 1500-meter run.
Like his father, Matthew now holds the distinction of two qualifications into the Summer Olympic Games. He made his debut on that most prestigious stage in 2012 where he placed fourth in the 1500-meter run finals. He returned to the Games in 2016, once again taking the line for the 1500-meter run and made history as the first American to win gold in the event since 1908 with his 3:50.0 finish. That was just a latest in what was an exciting year for the youngest Centrowitz which included an undefeated indoor season and a gold medal finish in the 1500-meter run at the World Indoor Championships.
With training methods learned as a high school standout, collegiate All-American and two-time Olympian, Centrowitz has helped guide all of his athletes – be they standouts or walk-ons – to great heights. Early in his coaching career at American, Centrowitz turned unrecruited Will Rayel from a 5:00 miler in high school to a 4:13 runner by graduation. From 2000-03, he guided Sean O’Brien, a 4:14 miler in high school, to four All-America honors including a fourth-place finish in the 1500-meter run at the 2003 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. O’Brien also anchored the men’s distance medley relay team of Andy Ellerhorst, Sean Duffy and Phil Gaeta to an All-American eighth-place finish at the NCAA Indoor Championships.
On the women’s side, Samia Akbar – who had a 5000-meter best of 16:43 entering her senior campaign – became American’s first female track & field or cross country All-American, running a school record 33:38 for the 10,000 meters in muggy conditions at the 2003 NCAA Championships. Keira Carlstrom continued the women’s success the following year, taking 16th at the 2003 NCAA Cross Country Championships and 17th at the 2004 Championship meet.
As Carlstrom won her second-consecutive All-America honor in 2004, the men’s team did what hadn’t been done in over 30 years, earning an automatic qualification into the championship meet after taking second at the Mid-Atlantic Regional. Despite maintaining a roster comprised mostly of walk-ons, the team finished 20th in the country, led by senior walk-on turned two-time Patriot League Cross Country Champion, Pat MacAdie and standout Sean Duffy.
Duffy, who had already garnered All-America honors as part of a relay in 2003 and just missed qualifying for the indoor nationals with his 7:56 3000, went on to rewrite school and NCAA records at the 2005 NCAA Outdoor Track Championships. Running in the first of two preliminary heats, the senior slid behind the leaders through a quick early pace and took the lead in the last 150 meters, running a new school and NCAA preliminary heat record of 3:39.42. Duffy would use the same late kick in the final to take a school-best third-place finish in 3:38.46.
Duffy’s success on the track helped usher in a new era of Eagle distance runners poised to take on the league and national competition. During the 2004-05 season, sophomore Dustin Emrani set a new school record in the 800 and qualified for the NCAA Championships by way of his fourth-place finish at the NCAA East Regional. Freshman Steve Hallinan and Brendan Fennell both ran 3:50 in the 1500 and were integral parts of the team’s cross country success the previous fall.
The Eagles continued their All-America wave in 2006 as Carlstrom, now a senior, raced to two All-America honors, becoming the school’s only four-time female All-American. Carlstrom used a strong kick to take sixth-place at the NCAA Cross Country Championships – the highest finish ever for a Patriot League runner at the meet. In the spring, she set a new school record of 16:09 for 5000 meters in the prelims and then ran to a ninth-place, All-American finish in the finals. Ten days earlier the Eagles had sent five athletes to the NCAA Regional. Most notably, Dustin Emrani qualified for the second straight year by setting a school record of 1:49.67 at 800 meters. Emrani followed up his strong 2005-06 season with an All-American season in `06-’07 placing 12th in the 800 meter at the Outdoor Championships.
Under Centrowitz, the Eagles have dominated the Patriot League cross country meets and distance events in track. In cross country, the Eagle men have won six of the last 13 individual and team titles. The Eagle women have taken four of the last 13 individual titles and two team titles. Indoors, the Eagles have taken advantage of the multiple relays and middle-distance events to win 48 titles in 10 years. In outdoor track, the Eagle men have won eight 4×800 meter relays and six 5000 meter titles. In addition, they’ve won five titles in the 800 and six in the 1500 meters. During the 2005-06 season, Steve Hallinan captured a Patriot League triple crown, winning the XC Individual title, the indoor 3000 meters, and the outdoor 5000 meters. In addition, the team went 1, 3, and 4 in the 10,000 outdoors led by Awit Yohannes’ win.
In the classroom, Centrowitz’s Eagles have set the standard as well with 17 athletes being named Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Over her illustrious career, Carlstrom earned six Scholar-Athlete of the Year awards, was a third-team Academic All-America honoree her senior year and was a finalist for the 2006 NCAA Woman of the Year Award. In 2002, Jen Baclawski was named both Cross Country and Outdoor Track Scholar-Athlete of the Year while Matt Seymour garnered 2004 Indoor and Outdoor Track Scholar-Athlete of the Year honors. Greta Wicklund was named Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2009 for cross country and Colin Eustis was named the 2010 Cross Country Scholar-Athlete of the Year. John Pope was the latest Eagle to earn the honor, being named the Scholar-Athlete of the Year for outdoor track in 2014.
Outside of collegiates, Centrowitz has coached and currently coaches numerous standouts. Centrowitz coaches former American assistant coach Julie Culley, who qualified for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team trials in both the 5000 meter and 1500 meter runs. In 2005 he coached American alum O’Brien to his first sub-4 minute mile, which made him the first New Hampshire man to break the barrier. In addition, he coached two-time Olympian Jen Rhines as well as 2003 Marine Corps Marathon Champions Pete Sherry and Heather Hanscom. Previously, Centrowitz coached for the Reebok Enclave working with, among others, John Trautman, Andre Williams and Ronnie Harris. In addition, he coached Terrance Mahon, now the coach of Team USA Running, to personal records from the mile to the marathon.