Alan Webb on Matt Centrowitz’s 1500m Gold

By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2016 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

FALMOUTH, MA, USA (21-Aug) — Four thousand, eight hundred miles
northwest of Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic Stadium, American mile record
holder Alan Webb sat watching a television set at his host family’s
house. Webb didn’t bat an eye as Matthew Centrowitz completed a
monumental run from gun to tape to win the Olympic 1500m gold medal,
taking home the United States’ first victory in the event since Teddy
Roosevelt was President and the Chicago Cubs were World Series
champions. Not since 1908 had an American stood atop the 1500m podium
and heard the Star Spangled Banner play.

It was a moment that Webb dreamed of for so long, as did countless
other American milers: Jim Ryun, Marty Liquori, Steve Prefontaine,
Bernard Lagat, Leo Manzano. The list goes on and on and on; none of the
474 sub-four minute milers America had produced had struck gold at the
Olympic 1500m.

In town as an honored guest for the New Balance Falmouth Road Race,
Webb was joined by his host family –the McDonalds– as they tuned in
to Centrowitz’s run. Speechless, Webb was brought to emotions as
Centrowitz crossed the line then went on his boisterous victory lap
draped in an American flag.

“Matt is incredible at being in the right place at the right time. He
executed better than anyone else in the race,” Webb told Race Results
Weekly, speaking exclusively after finishing the seven mile Falmouth
Road Race, running alongside Olympic marathon gold medalist Joan Benoit
Samuelson. “It was surreal to watch, to finally see an American dude do
that after such a long time. Nothing but pride and joy to see him
accomplish that.”

For a generation, Webb was the face of American distance running. He
was a high school prodigy, dipping under four minutes for the mile when
doing so as a prep was still as rare as a flawless diamond. He’d win
three national 1500m titles outdoors and set the still-standing
American mile record of 3:46.91 in 2007.

Countless American runners –including Centrowitz and others competing
in Rio de Janeiro– consider Webb a millennial running pioneer and
inspiration. His fierce desire to win and run fast would be emulated at
tracks across America, from Maine to Michigan and Montana.

To see Centrowitz claim gold, fulfill the American milers’ dream, was overpowering for the 33-year-old Webb.

“He’s got something that I’ve never seen anybody else have. You can see
he can increase his pace at will. The gas pedal control is what I think
about when I see that, being able to push on the gas pedal and go
faster when he wants to. He put that on display last night while
everyone else was tripping themselves trying to keep up,” Webb began.
“At first when I saw he was leading I thought that may be a
disadvantage, but it wound up being an advantage because he was
probably the only guy who ran 1500m. It was amazing to watch.

“I don’t know the words that came out of my mouth but I was overcome
with pride to see an American do that. To watch Matt progress over the
years and culminate with that moment, I was speechless. It was

Precisely picking his words, as if each one painted a picture
recreating the moment, Webb was nostalgic. In Centrowitz, he saw a
combination of America’s all-time greatest runners, so few who’d
attained Olympic medals and even fewer Olympic gold. 
“He’s the only one that didn’t make any mistakes. He ran his race and
nobody else did. He was the best man in the field, physically,
tactically, mentally. He was mentally there. If you do all those things
right you’re going to win,” he said.

Coming home with a total of seven medals in disciplines 800 meters and
up, the United States is riding a wave of progress that is generations
in the making. Webb, part of the American resurgence in the 2000s, said
he knew at some point in the future American distance running would
have a euphoric moment. It turned out to be the last fortnight in Rio,
with one gold, two silver, and four bronze medals from the 800m to the

“I hope that this becomes sort of routine. I think that it’s always
been there, but we had to find the people, have the people, the
training, and the belief,” Webb said, speaking with passion. After
looking out over the ocean and pausing for five seconds, he’d continue.
“I think we’re finally getting to that point. Somewhere along the way
we hit this critical tipping point where it really clicked. Now, every
time an American steps to the line at an international competition they
aren’t just saying they believe it. It’s inside they know it. It’s part
of our culture now. If you’re going to a World Championships or an
Olympics now, you’re competing for a medal. It’s not a maybe; it’s a
reality and how it is. If you’re there, you’re competing for it. That’s
great, and we want to keep it going.

“To know that we finally got to that point, and now it just shows it’s
possible, it really is. People will see that, and hopefully it’s a
cultural thing. Not just in the United States, but around the world.”

While all the United States’ medals were impressive, Centrowitz’s gold
was personal to Webb. Not only did it come in his primary discipline,
but it also came from a man who he’s seen go from a fast young prep
(the son of a two-time Olympian) to collegiate star at the University
of Oregon (winning the 2011 NCAA 1500m title and earning seven
All-American honors), then national champion (four times over 1500m)
and global medalist (2016 Olympic gold and World Indoor gold, silver
and bronze at the 2013 and 2011 World Championships, respectively).

Webb thinks it’s only a mater of time until his American record is eclipsed by Centrowitz.

“Oh definitely. Yes, for sure. I think for sure he could do it, he just
has to pick the right race to do it. He’s very capable. There’s no
guarantees, but you know he’s ready,” said Webb.

With Centrowitz’s medal, Webb sees beyond the historic win. He sees the
race and triumph as a chance to inspire the next generations of
distance runners (plural) to strive for gold. As he repeated
frequently, it’s all about progress, belief, and progressive training.
With that mentality, anything –even Olympic gold– is possible.

“It wouldn’t be [bittersweet to lose the American record]. I want to
see progress. I had my moment and it’s awesome to be a part of that.
Those records are always meant to be broken,” Webb began. “I’m happy to
see him [run well]. Look at not just Matt, but so many other Americans
and how far distance running has come in the last ten years. I hope
I’ve played a small part in that. I think he can do it if he puts
himself in the right race, and to see that progress … If he does,
he’s going to inspire someone else and some other kid is going to watch
him and believe he could do it. In a small way to help in that
progress, helping that along, gives me a lot of pride.”

Forever, the 2016 Olympic gold medalist at 1500m will be listed as
Matthew Centrowitz. Yet the medal was 108 years in the making, a
culmination of a century’s worth of progress.

Centrowitz called it “a dream come true” and “the best it gets” post-race.

It, indeed, was a dream come true for all American runners, Webb included.

PHOTO: American mile record holder Alan Webb after completing the 2016
New Balance Falmouth Road Race

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