Matthew Centrowitz ends U.S. drought in men's 1,500 meters

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Matthew Centrowitz always wanted to be an Olympic runner. Kind of like Matt Centrowitz.

Like father, like son -- as the tattoo across his chest says. Only the son, who goes by Matthew, is bringing home a gold medal and neither he nor his dad, known as Matt, can believe it.

During his victory lap after a surprise win in the 1,500 meters at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics on Saturday, the American runner suddenly spotted his dad in the stands.

"I was like, 'Are you kidding me?'" Centrowitz recounted. "It hasn't sunk in. We're both just absolutely astonished right now."

Centrowitz surprised himself as he took the lead in a leisurely paced race with about two laps remaining. He only got stronger with the finish line in sight. It was the first title in the event for the United States since Mel Sheppard won the "metric mile" more than 100 years ago at the 1908 London Games.

"I'm a confident guy," Centrowitz explained. "But I don't know if I was this confident.

"I thought, on the best day, maybe I'd get a silver medal. But sure, in the back of my head, I thought I could get a gold."

He was motivated by a good-luck email from running great Jim Ryun, a silver medalist in the 1,500 in 1968. He was spurred on by a rock-solid race plan -- a couple of them depending on what transpired. And he was in awe of the person handing out the gifts at the medal ceremony -- Sebastian Coe, the president of the IAAF and a middle-distance running icon.

Seeing Dad and the rest of his family was a big highlight.

Distance running just so happens to run in the Centrowitz family. His father represented the United States at the 1976 Montreal Games. His sister, Lauren, competed in college for Stanford.

Then there's Matthew -- the confident runner who always believed he was going to be the next big thing in the 1,500.

"I have a lot of respect for everyone in that field," said Centrowitz, who finished fourth at the 2012 London Games, missing out on a medal by 0.04 seconds. "I never took anything for granted."

That's why he had so many race plans -- so nothing would surprise him.

Steadily pulling away, then holding on at the end, "Centro" finished in 3 minutes, 50 seconds, beating defending champion Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria by 0.11 seconds. Nicholas Willis of New Zealand captured bronze.

After crossing the line, Centrowitz looked straight ahead, stunned at what he had just done. He then dropped to his knees and put his hands on top of his head.

It was that unbelievable.

His dad took in the entire scene from the stands. These two are tight, so much so that the son has that tattoo across his chest that reads, "Like father, like son."

Matt couldn't find the right words when asked about what his son's win meant to him, responding in a text message, "Wow, impossible to say."

Matthew Centrowitz went to the University of Oregon, home of the late Steve Prefontaine -- the training partner of his father before Pre's death in a car accident at the age of 24.

The 26-year-old Centrowitz grew up hearing all the stories. He even hung posters on his wall of Prefontaine, the charismatic and talented runner who finished fourth in the 5,000 meters at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

"It's great to make history," Centrowitz said. "I've been joking since I've gotten this medal, that I don't have to do anything for the rest of my career now and it's not a complete failure."