by John Jackson Sports Editor
Manhattan College had a reunion this past August with a former Jasper student-athlete who has accomplished numerous things over the last 44 years since he attended college in Riverdale. That former Jasper, Matt Centrowitz, was named director of the college’s cross country and track and field programs beginning on Aug. 1.
Centrowitz has had a storied running and coaching career. As a runner, he was a collegiate All-American, a Pan-American Games gold medalist, a four-time United States Champion and a two-time Olympian. He was ranked the nation’s best high school miler as a senior at Power Memorial High School and still holds the state record in both the 1500-meter and mile races.
As a coach, he started the cross country and track program at American
University from scratch and coached it from 1999 to 2017. Over his 18 years there, Centrowitz coached 11 All-Americans, was named Patriot League Coach of the Year nine times and led the men’s cross country team to six straight Patriot League titles.
After his final season with American University in 2017, he spent some more time with the training of his Olympic gold medalist son Matt Centrowitz Jr. Now he’s back home and ready to help bolster the running programs at Manhattan.
“Well it feels fantastic to be back at Manhattan College,” Coach Centrowitz said. “And obviously I’m from the neighborhood so it’s great to be home again.”
Centrowitz only spent a year with Manhattan before transferring to the University of Oregon. However, his experience at Manhattan was a positive one and it’s where he met his lifelong friends.
“The best friends I made were at Manhattan College,” Coach Centrowitz said. “A lot of them are still personal friends that I speak to on a daily basis.”
One of his closest friends is the school’s cross country assistant coach, John Lovett. The two runners both attended Power Memorial together before Lovett went down in Manhattan College history for being part of the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championship team in 1973. However, Centrowitz was on a NCAA Championship team of his own as Oregon’s cross country team was best in the nation in 1977. He was also recognized internationally a year before that as he competed in his first Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada.
A couple of years after graduating from Oregon, Centrowitz landed a job as an assistant coach at St. John’s University in 1980. While there, he still kept up his running and earned gold at the 1980 Olympic Trials. Due to the United States’ boycott of the Olympic Games hosted in Moscow, Russia, Centrowitz did not get a chance to participate in his second Olympic Games.
“So I can’t say my Olympic experience has been tremendous or anything, but I am a two-time Olympian and my son finished the job for us by getting the gold medal so it’s kind of a cool thing that even though I didn’t accomplish it, my son finished the job for me,” Coach Centrowitz said.
Centrowitz Jr. was able to finish that job in 2016 at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games by winning the 1500-meter race. In doing so, he became the first US runner to win that race since 1908.
Centrowitz’s daughter Lauren is also an accomplished runner who ran for Stanford and qualified for the Olympic trials in 2012. Beyond running, she also excelled in academics and earned a master’s degree from American University in Justice, Law and Society in 2012.
The accomplishments of his children are not something he attributes to being a Centrowitz, but rather individual hard work and effort.
“Talent is one thing, a lot of people have talent,” Coach Centrowitz said. “But who dedicates themselves and has the passion for this, you can’t predict that. There’s no gene for that. You got to have to find your way through this sport because it’s a lot of work. It’s an individual sport and a team sport at the same time and you got to find your niche and obviously you have to enjoy that kind of work not just do it, but you have to enjoy it and thrive with it. And both of them did that in high school and college.”
Centrowitz brings a lot of experience and success to the table for Manhattan. When he embarked on starting a new track and cross country program at American University, he truly didn’t have much to work with at all. The school didn’t have enough room for any field events and the track they built was just around the soccer field which meant it wasn’t even as round as normal tracks. With Manhattan, he’s coming into a good situation as the team has been quite competitive in both cross country and track and field the last few years.
“I think it just shows the investment in the program that the school’s making and that the alumni are making,” said senior Amir Khaghani. “I know there was a lot of alumni interest in building the distance program back up from what it was in Coach Lovett’s time at the school. So they really wanted to bring it back to its former glory so sort of hiring Coach Centrowitz and bringing him on really shows an investment in the program because now we’ll have two full-time coaches for the distance program, plus Coach Lovett as the assistant coach so it’s really showing an investment by the administration and the alumni to support the team and our future.”
The focus is indeed to build up the distance program, but that does not mean track and field will suffer.
“We’re not diminishing any other area, but we’re beefing up the middle distance and distance running programs here,” Coach Centrowitz said.
Senior Lisa Fajardo, one of the integral runners on the cross country and track and field teams, also expressed excitement over the hiring of Centrowitz.
“I am really excited to have an olympian as a part of our program! He has a lot of experience as a runner and a coach,” Fajardo wrote via email.
Fajardo already broke numerous school records in different events over the years (most recently on Sept. 8 when she broke her own 5K school record set in 2017) so it will be interesting to see how Centrowitz’s presence may impact her performance the rest of the cross country season and going into track and field season.
The cross country season is well underway and under the tutelage of Head Coach Kerri Gallagher, Assistant Coach Lovett and Director Centrowitz, the trio hopes to build up the distance program while keeping the track and field program in tip-top shape.