EUGENE, Ore. - Matthew Centrowitz fought his way through a feisty field to win the national title in the men's 1,500 meters Saturday at the USA Track & Field Championships, delighting the Hayward Field crowd of 10,812.
After a sluggish opening half of the race, former Duck Jordan McNamara, who now competes for OTC Elite, extended the pace a bit as Centrowitz and a half-dozen others remained within striking distance. Bernard Legat then went to the front on the final lap with Centrowitz on his shoulder.
Centrowitz looked for an opening heading into the final turn and took it as the field tightened. A final kick pushed him around Legat, as he pulled away on the home stretch and won by a stride ahead of Lagat and hard-charging Leonel Lamong and Andrew Wheating.
The junior from Arnold, Md., won in 3:47.63.
"It hasn't set in yet," said Centrowitz, who became the first Duck undergraduate to win a U.S. title since the legendary Steve Prefontaine captured the American three-mile race in 1971. "I was confident and my coaches had confidence in me. I was aiming for top three but winning is great.
"The whole race there was a lot of pushing but I finally saw it clear in front of me. I saved a little for the last 50 meters just in case someone came up behind me."
Centrowitz also becomes just the second Duck to win the U.S. 1,500 meters/mile title, joining Dyrol Burleson, who won the mile at the U.S. Championships in 1961 and 1963 and the 1,500 in 1959.
"It is a dream come true," said Centrowitz, who will now represent Team USA at the IAAF World Championships in South Korea in September. "Looking back on this year I am really happy. I accomplished all I wanted to do.
"Representing the U.S. is the highest level. Doing that at 21 years old is amazing and I'm very excited. I am looking forward to the upcoming races."
The men's 1,500 also ended up with a good outcome for former Duck Andrew Wheating. He finished fourth in 3:48.19, behind Lagat (3:47.96) and Manzano (3:48.16), and normally would not have been eligible for Team USA. However, since Legat had previously announced that he would focus on the 5,000 meters at the World Championships and forgo his spot on the 1,500, the fourth-place finisher - Wheating - inherits that spot on Team USA.
"Not how I wanted it to happen, but I'm happy I'm going and I'll be there," said Wheating, who now runs for OTC Elite. "Sweet relief, but frustration too. Nobody likes to be fourth, but it has to be somebody."
Also in the 1,500 meters, senior A.J. Acosta was 11th in 3:50.11, while McNamara, another former Duck, was 10th in 3:49.61.
In other action, Mike Berry capped an outstanding freshman season by finishing fifth in the men's 400 meters in 45.22.
"I felt good, but I wanted to come out and make Team USA," said the Seattle, Wash., native. "It was a long season, but I feel strong. I gave it my best in each round.
"Placing top five in the nation is great. I always dreamed of racing with Jeremy Wariner and Greg Nixon. I'm proud of myself and blessed to be out here and get top five."
Also for the current Ducks, sophomore Jordan Hasay capped her outstanding season with a solid ninth place finish in the final of the women's 1,500 meters. The Arroyo Grande, Calif., native timed 4:12.66.
Senior Steve Finley was 13th in the men's 3,000 meter steeplechase in 8:54.12.
In the junior meet, Duck freshman Phyllis Francis rallied for a personal best in the women's 400 meters for the second straight day. She ran second in the final in 52.93 - the seventh-fastest time in school history - to qualify for the U.S. Junior team that will compete at the Pan American Games in August in Florida.
"I was starting to get scared when I saw how far behind I was, but I made sure to turn it on the last leg and finished strong," said the Queens, N.Y., native. "I am happy with the outcome, seeing as I am more of a 4x400 meter and 800 meter racer. I have some fine-tuning to do before the Pan-Am."
Freshman Parker Stinson followed up his Friday victory in the men's junior 10,000 meters by taking second in the 5,000 on Thursday in 14:10.59.
"I went out a little slow, but I felt great at that pace. I felt very smooth and relaxed," said the Austin, Texas, native.
Freshman Megan Patrignelli was 12th in the women's junior 1,500 meters in 4:40.41.
In other senior action involving former Ducks, Rachel Yurkovich was the national runner-up in the women's javelin with a best throw of 180-2/54.91m.
Keshia Baker finished seventh in the women's 400 meters in 52.21.
In the women's hammer, Brittany Hinchcliffe took 10th with a throw of 210-5/64.14m, while Britney Henry was 11th at 205-9/62.71m.
In action involving future Ducks, signee Elias Gedyon was the runner-up in the men's junior 1,500 meters in 3:49.50, while Allison Woodward grabbed third place in the women's 3,000 meters in 9:33.11.
Jenna Prandini placed fifth in the women's junior 200 meters in 23.75. She won the junior long jump title on Friday.
Jeramy Elkaim was 18th in the junior men's 5,000 in 14:54.85.