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  August 18, 2013
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  Oregon Athletes Take Center Stage at World Championships
   
     
   
Former UO Athletes Discover the Importance of Patience at World
Championships

By Steve Ritchie / Special to the Statesman Journal
August 18, 2013


Matthew Centrowitz

Moscow, Russia - The virtue of patience dramatically affected the fortunes of two former University of Oregon athletes in Luzhniki Stadium on the final day of the IAAF World Championships in Track & Field. Matthew Centrowitz was very patient, and he walked away with a silver medal in the 1500 meters. English Gardner got a little impatient, and that cost her a chance at gold in the 4 x 100 relay.

World championship 1500 finals are usually tactical affairs, and this one followed suit. After the gun, race favorite Asbel Kiprop of Kenya immediately sprinted to the lead, only to slow the pace down. After the first lap, a second Kenyan runner, Nixon Chepseba, tried to pick up the pace, but no one followed him.

Centrowitz, who won the bronze two years ago at the worlds in Daegu, once again showed off his uncanny sense of timing and strategy in the 1500. With just over two laps to go, he moved up to Kiprop's shoulder and stayed just behind him in third place.

Even on the last lap, Centrowitz stayed there. Boxed in on the inside lane, Centrowitz admitted he was starting to panic. But still he waited.

"I'm a very impatient guy as it is," Centrowitz said. "I'm sitting on the inside (lane) and I can't get out. I started to half panic and half focus . . . (but) every time you hit that straightaway, everyone drifts wide a little bit. So I figured there would be a gap to open up. Fortunately, there was. It was a little tricky to be in that position. Obviously not the ideal spot, but still good enough to be within striking distance of Kiprop and the leaders."

A little opening suddenly appeared for Centrowitz with 100 meters to go. He squeezed through it, as everyone began to sprint for the finish line. Kiprop pulled away to win convincingly in 3:36.28. Chepseba and Johan Cronje of South Africa challenged for the runner-up spot, but Centrowitz beat them to the line, finishing in 3:36.78, just .05 ahead of third-place Cronje.

"I gave it my all out there," Centrowitz said. "I'm very pleased with the silver. I don't want to say right now but I'm just a little disappointed not to come away with the gold because I'm such a competitive guy, but getting the silver to Kiprop is gold any other day. That guy is just on another level right now."Just happy to give it a shot with that 100 to go. I'm glad I was in the position I wanted to be in."

Asked once more if this had special meaning to him because his father was denied the chance to compete for a medal in Luzhniki Stadium, due to the U.S. Olympic boycott in 1980, Centrowitz said it did.

"This buzz head cut is a tribute to him. "Obviously it was a different event that year, but it was still weird coming into this country and this stadium where he would have raced 30 some years ago."

English Gardner got her chance at a medal, shortly after Centrowitz' race. Gardner, who won both the NCAA and U.S. championships in the 100 meters this year, was part of a young American 4 x 100 relay team. With Allyson Felix out with a hamstring tear, and Carmelita Jeter also out with assorted injuries, it was left to Gardner and company to take on the feared Jamaican short relay team.

Two of the U.S. quartet had international experience - Jeneba Tarmoh and Alexandra Anderson. Gardner and anchor Octavious Freeman were getting their initial taste of the pressure that comes with representing their country at a world meet.

The semifinals went off well. The U.S. qualified with the fastest time, 41.82, .05 seconds faster than the Jamaicans, who were running without their star, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, in the prelims. Things were also looking good for the U.S. through the first two legs of the final, but, as Anderson approached to exchange the baton with Gardner, it appeared that Gardner started too soon, instead of waiting for Anderson to get closer. Anderson yelled and Gardner had to slow and turn around, nearly coming to a stop, to get the baton.

The exchange was made within the zone, but the U.S. not only lost the lead, but was now last. Gardner ran well, once she got the baton, and Freeman ran an outstanding leg, bringing the U.S. from seventh place to third. Never pressed after the Americans' poor exchange, Jamaica cruised to the victory in a championship record time of 41.29. France crossed the line second, just barely holding off a charging Freeman, in 42.73, but were later disqualified for a zone violation on the second handoff.

With the disqualification, which was not decided until more than two hours after the event, the U.S. team was awarded the silver and Great Britain took home the bronze. Gardner and her teammates acknowledged a "mishap" in the race, but didn't want to get into particulars.

"It was just a mishap," Gardner said. "Once we crossed the line, you just have to let it go.

"Once you get out there, your adrenaline is flowing, and it is so loud. The 4 x 1 is so fast you can't have a mistake," she said. Former 100 meters world record holder Maurice Greene said, "It's not just one person's fault." He explained that Alexandra Anderson slowed down as she saw Gardner take off early.

While the botched handoff cost the U.S. a chance at gold, the U.S. looks well-positioned for the future with a talented, young relay squad.

Anderson said, "We're a young team, we're going to make mistakes," but Gardner and her teammates said they were okay with the result.

"We went out there and performed the way we did. I can't explain how proud I am of all my girls and how delighted I am with the way our team performed . . . We came out with a bronze (later changed to silver) and I couldn't be more happy."

Notes . . . The U.S. men's 4 x 100 relay took the silver medal behind Jamaica. The two teams were even as they approached the final exchange, but Justin Gatlin stumbled before getting the baton and never had a chance to catch Usain Bolt, who ran the anchor for Jamaica . . .Alysia Montano of the U.S. led for all but 60 meters of the 800, but was passed by three runners in the final stretch. Kenyan Eunice Sum won in 1:57.38. Brenda Martinez of
the U.S. passed Montano in the last five meters to claim the bronze . . . Russia won the most gold medals of any country with seven. The U.S. had the most overall medals, 25 to Russia's 17. The U.S. won six gold, 14 silver, and five bronze.

 
 

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