LONDON — — If the Algerian runner had stayed disqualified. If a fellow American hadn't surged past him near the finish line. If he had run .05 of a second faster.
Matthew Centrowitz almost medaled in the 1,500-meter race here Tuesday night, but for several might-have-beens. But the 22-year-old graduate of Broadneck High School in Annapolis doesn't play that game, and is accepting the heartbreaker of a finish in his first Olympic Games.
"What I'm trying to swallow now is not a good feeling," the dejected Centrowitz said. "I can't be too mad at myself — it wasn't a terrible race — but at the same time, it's just so close to the medal."
Centrowitz was in good position near the head of the pack most of the race, but Leo Manzano of Marble Falls, Texas, made a late break from sixth place in the home stretch to win silver at Olympic Stadium here — the first American to medal in the event since Jim Ryun also won silver in 1968 in Mexico City.
The gold-medal winner, Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria, wasn't even supposed to be in the race: He had been ejected from the Games on Monday for not trying hard enough in a heat for a different race, the 800-meter. According to news reports, he fell behind other competitors, stopped running about 200 meters in and walked off the track.
The referee for track and field's governing body, the IAAF, ruled that Makhloufi should be expelled from the rest of competition for failing to put out "a bona fide effort." But Algerian officials said the runner had a knee injury, and the IAAF reinstated Makhloufi after saying it had reviewed evidence from the Olympic organizing committee's medical officer.
Knee injury or not, Makhloufi finished comfortably ahead of the competition in 3:34.08 seconds. Manzano came in at 3:34.79. Winning bronze, .04 of a second ahead of Centrowitz was Abdalaati Iguider of Morocco with a 3:35.13 finish.
While Centrowitz said he "obviously" would have medaled without Makhloufi competing, he added that he needed to race whoever showed up.
"I wasn't looking at it like that," Centrowitz said. "Whoever was in the field, I have to compete with."
Centrowitz said he ran the race he wanted, getting ahead early on rather than holding back.
"I wouldn't have done anything differently," he said. "I put myself in a position to win it. That's what I wanted to do. I don't want to sit back and see who I could pick off in the last straightaway. I just wanted to stick it out and commit early."
Centrowitz said he was surprised when Manzano passed him, but "if anyone had to, I'm glad it was my countryman." Manzano similarly passed Centrowitz in the final 25 meters of the qualifying trials in Oregon.
After attending the University of Oregon for three years, Centrowitz turned pro last year.
His father, Matthew Centrowitz Sr., is a two-time Olympian, having run the 1,500 meters in 1976 and qualifying in 1980, the year the U.S. boycotted. He is track and field coach at American University in Washington.
The younger Centrowitz didn't take much comfort Tuesday night in the prospect of future Games.
"It's great that potentially I will have a couple more Olympic experiences. But you never know what the future's going to bring," he said. "I didn't want to look past this Olympics yet."