Last Friday, American University announced that Matt Centrowitz would be stepping down, effective Sept. 1, after 18 years as the school’s cross-country and track and field coach, in part to help coach his son, Olympic gold medalist Matthew Centrowitz.
On the same day as the announcement, the New York Times reported that U.S. anti-doping officials had written in a report that Matthew’s coach, Alberto Salazar, violated drug protocols with several Nike Oregon Project runners. Matthew, who joined the team in 2011, was not named in the article.
Centrowitz said in a phone interview last Saturday that his decision was not in relation to the report and that he is not replacing Salazar.
“This decision [to step down from AU] has nothing to do with Alberto,” said Centrowitz, who added he has not read the New York Times report. “This is about me and my son spending time together. Alberto’s still the coach. I’ll help him when Alberto can’t be in two places.”
Neither Matthew nor Salazar responded to The Post’s request for comment, but Salazar issued a statement Wednesday night to The Oregonian/OregonLive that called the allegations “incorrect,” and said he has cooperated with U.S. Anti-Doping Agency investigators.
“The Oregon Project will never permit doping and all Oregon Project athletes are required to comply with the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) Code and IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations, the governing body of international track and field) rules,” Salazar said in the statement.
“The Oregon Project and its athletes have nothing to hide and are hiding nothing. I fully support their exercising of their rights under the WADA Code and IAAF rules to protect themselves from these improper intrusions.”
A two-time Olympian, the elder Centrowitz’s decision to step down at AU also means he will turn his attention to promoting his autobiography at clinics around the country, as well as help direct and recruit for the District Track Club, a post-collegiate running club in the D.C. area that he recently co-founded. And though he will be taking on an increased role in his son’s career, Centrowitz said he will not be on Nike’s payroll.
The book and the District Track Club “are my two projects,” Centrowitz said. “And with those two projects is the flexibility of working with my son more than I have in the past and go have more fun, go travel around.”
The younger Centrowitz, 27, became the first American since 1908 to win an Olympic gold medal in the 1,500-meter race last August at the Rio Olympics and the success has carried over to this season. At a meet in Los Angeles last Thursday, Centrowitz ran a season-best 3:33.41 in the 1,500-meters, out-kicking fellow Olympic champion and Nike Oregon Project teammate Mo Farah, who finished second.
Despite the controversy surrounding Salazar, Matt Centrowitz expressed confidence in his former teammate at Oregon.
Matthew has “never had a failed drug test, and people can accuse you of anything,” Centrowitz said. “I have no idea what they’re saying but obviously there are two sides of every story and I know Alberto: He’s never been exposed to that thinking. We don’t associate with people like that, so why would we be concerned?”
“You’re not going to be an Olympic champion if you’re not comfortable,” Centrowitz added. “You got to have 110 percent confidence in everything that you’re doing, everybody you’re around, [that] you’re all on the same page.”
Matthew, who starred at Oregon and was a five time All-Met at Broadneck High, credited his father for his success at all levels, especially early on in his career. The two keep in touch daily and it was his father’s challenge to him in high school that running was “too tough” that motivated Matthew to stick with the sport.
“With my dad, it’s more than just his experiences,” Matthew said in an interview at the National Press Club in Washington last November. “He knew me better than anyone else. He knew the right time to kick me in the [butt], the right time to build me up and use positive reinforcement. … He knew exactly what to say. I think that was the key piece in our relationship, more [so] than workouts.”
Centrowitz will leave American University having guided 11 runners to NCAA all-American finishes in cross-country, indoor track and outdoor track. The Eagles dominated the Patriot League in the early 2000s and Centrowitz was named the league’s coach of the year nine times in 18 years with the school.
“We thank Matt for his efforts to build the AU cross-country and track program into the success it is today,” Billy Walker, American University’s director of athletics and recreation, said in a statement. “He’s dedicated 18 years to American University, and we wish him nothing but the best in his new endeavors.”
This post has been updated with a statement from Alberto Salazar.