Running into history

With a record 4:08 mile at the Penn Relays, Broadneck's Centrowitz builds a case as possibly Md.'s best-ever schoolboy distance runner

May 09, 2007|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Reporter

Is Matthew Centrowitz the best schoolboy distance runner Maryland has ever seen?

A similar discussion over a basketball or baseball phenom would stall under sketchy arguments that can never be quantified, but the Broadneck High senior operates in a realm ruled by the stopwatch.

The objective data in his favor make a convincing argument - not that it matters to Centrowitz, who's more focused on reaching an international competition in South America than a state meet record.

Centrowitz made history April 27 at the 113th running of the Penn Relays, where he lowered the meet record in the boys mile to 4 minutes, 8.38 seconds, believed to be the fastest ever by a Maryland runner in scholastic competition.

Generations of Olympians-to-be have won at Philadelphia's Franklin Field. Ten boys have repeated in a distance race there, but Centrowitz is the first with Penn titles in the mile and 3,000 meters.

His 2006 time in the 3,000 (8:20.09) was the fastest at Penn in two decades.

Centrowitz is among a handful of boys who have won three state titles in cross country, but only the second to do so in the 4A classification, made up of the state's largest schools.

Does that settle it?

Not so fast.

Even the seemingly clear stream of a timed sport is muddied by nuances, like technology and rules that affected his predecessors.

His motivation for Penn included a text message from a rival, interested in pushing the pace, and snail mail from Dave Patrick. Running for Kenwood High in 1964, Patrick won the inaugural Penn Relays high school mile in 4:15.4, albeit in footwear and on a track that were comparatively primitive.

Patrick and Kenwood teammate Charlie Messenger began a golden age of distance running in Baltimore County. In 1970, it included Dulaney's Bob Wheeler, whose credentials included a 1:50.6 for 880 yards and a prep mile best of 4:10.0.

"Don't you think," Bob Dean said, "that Bobby could have run a great 2-mile if the schedule allowed?"

Dean coached Wheeler and boys who weren't softened by central air conditioning and electronic diversions. It was a generation well-suited to handle a heavy workload, but before 1975 Maryland schoolboys who ran the 2-mile could enter no other race.

They couldn't flaunt their range like Centrowitz, but a slew from Montgomery and Prince George's counties narrowed their focus and posted monumental state meet records.

Centrowitz won the state 4A 3,200 last year in 9:13.68, sixth fastest in meet history. The four fastest were run in 1972 and 1973, when DuVal's George Malley lowered the 2-mile mark to 9:10.2. A year later, Wheaton's Jim Peterson dropped the mile to 4:10.0.

Malley still holds the meet standard for eight laps, converted to a 9:07.0 for 3,200 meters. Peterson held the state meet record over four laps until 2002, when River Hill's Shane Stroup dipped to 4:07.11 in the slightly shorter 1,600.

(One of the great feats in state meet history does not qualify as an individual record. In 1983, on the anchor leg of the 3A 3,200 relay, Rodney Giles of Northern-Calvert split 1:46.7).

While fans once waited for next month's Track and Field News to read of those exploits, multiple Web sites update the accomplishments of 17-year-olds like Centrowitz.

"I was getting dinner an hour after Matt's mile at Penn, sending people information they already had," Broadneck coach Dana Dobbs said. "There's no flying under the radar for Matt."

Centrowitz has long been a familiar name. His sister Lauren, a Stanford junior, was The Sun's Female Athlete of the Year in 2004. His father, Matt, a two-time Olympian, is the coach at American University.

"One of my dad's proudest accomplishments is the 4:02.7 [mile] he ran at his state meet [in New York in 1973]," Centrowitz said. "He's told me, `These times might not mean as much now as they will down the road.' I feel confident I could give the state 2-mile [3,200] record a go, but I'm 99 percent certain I want to go in the mile [1,600] at the states."

Centrowitz lacks a state title in the 1,600. The 3,200 and 1,600 will be contested on successive days at the state championships, but don't look for Centrowitz to attempt both.

"Everywhere we go, people want to know what Matt's running," Dobbs said. "I understand where that's coming from, but he has to think about things that are bigger than county, region and state meets."

Like his father, Centrowitz will run for Oregon. His mother, Beverly, a fine half-miler in her day, was born in British Guyana. The Junior Pan American Games will be held in nearby Brazil in July. To get there, Centrowitz must qualify at the U.S. Junior Nationals in June.

That big picture will be in mind today, in the Anne Arundel County championships at North County High, and at the state meet. Centrowitz could test himself in the state 800 on May 26, but the very last individual race of the meet at Morgan State collides with an eternal conflict that has halted lesser mortals.

"Could be tight," Centrowitz said. "It's prom night."

paul.mcmullen@baltsun.com

Distance star

Broadneck's Matthew Centrowitz has some distinctive accomplishments as a high school distance runner:

Cross country -- He's only the second boy to win three Maryland titles in the large schools (4A) classification.

Mile -- His 4:08.38 at the Penn Relays was a meet record and is believed to be the fastest ever by a Maryland runner in scholastic competition.

Range -- Centrowitz is the only boy in Penn Relays history to win both the mile and 3,000-meter run.

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