Catholic News Service photo
Spain's Diego Ruiz tumbles as Matthew Centrowitz of the U.S., left, Ethiopia's Aman Wote and Morocco's Abdalaati Iguider run in the men's 1500-meter event at the London 2012 Olympic Games Aug. 3. Centrowitz has been based in Eugene, Ore., since 2007, but first gained acclaim while running for Broadneck High outside Annapolis, Md., where he received first Communion and was confirmed at St. Andrew by the Bay Catholic Church.
Catholic News Service photo
Spain's Diego Ruiz tumbles as Matthew Centrowitz of the U.S., left, Ethiopia's Aman Wote and Morocco's Abdalaati Iguider run in the men's 1500-meter event at the London 2012 Olympic Games Aug. 3. Centrowitz has been based in Eugene, Ore., since 2007, but first gained acclaim while running for Broadneck High outside Annapolis, Md., where he received first Communion and was confirmed at St. Andrew by the Bay Catholic Church.

BALTIMORE — What connection does St. Andrew by the Bay Parish in Annapolis have to the 2012 Summer Olympics?

Matthew Centrowitz is representing the United States in track and field's 1,500 meters in London, where the games began July 27. He's been based in Eugene, Ore., since 2007, but Centrowitz first gained acclaim while running for Broadneck High outside Annapolis, where he received his first Communion and was confirmed at St. Andrew by the Bay.

The parish figures in the religious medal Centrowitz wears during races.

"Three years ago, Matt asked me for a gold cross," said Beverly Bannister-Centrowitz, his mother. "I bought one and took it to St. Andrew, had a priest there bless it after 11 a.m. Mass one day. I told him it was for my son. I didn't say anything about him being a runner."

That cross was most prominent last September in Daegu, South Korea, where Centrowitz won the bronze medal at the 2011 world championships. Only 21 at the time, he became the youngest American ever to medal in the event at the international level.

While hailed as a breakthrough, that performance came as no surprise to those familiar with Centrowitz's scholastic and collegiate progress -- and his bloodlines.

His mother, a licensed social worker, was a field hockey player in her native British Guyana. Her college in New York didn't offer that sport, but she switched to track and became an accomplished half-miler, with a best of 2 minutes, 8 seconds.

His father, Matt Centrowitz, was a two-time Olympian for the U.S., in 1976 and 1980, and set the American record for the 5,000. He is the veteran cross country and track coach at American University in Washington.

He was a prep legend at Power Memorial High School in New York, where he credits the friendships he made and time spent with the Christian Brothers as being vital in his life.

"I get more calls from Power Memorial people than anyone else," he said, of the reaction to his son joining him as an Olympian. "It was already a running power with a great tradition when I got there (in 1970). Brother John Bielen was a great coach, and great influence."

The elder Centrowitz ran for Manhattan College before transferring to the University of Oregon, where he filled the void left by the 1975 death of Steve Prefontaine, America's biggest running star of that era.

Matthew Centrowitz moved on to Oregon himself after Broadneck High, where he lowered the meet record in the 1,600 to 4:04.9 at the 2007 Maryland state championships.

In the spring of 2011, he won the NCAA championship in the 1,500, and followed that with a title at the U.S. track and field championships, becoming the first Oregon undergraduate since Prefontaine to win a U.S. outdoor title. After the world championships, he passed on his remaining collegiate eligibility, signing an endorsement contract with Nike and turning professional.

He qualified for the London Olympics at the U.S. trials, despite a knee injury that curtailed much of his training throughout the spring.

Still just 22 years old, Centrowitz was considered a long shot in London, where his aim was to become the first American to medal in the men's 1,500 since Jim Ryun took the silver in 1968. He finished fourth, however, just four-hundredths of a second behind the bronze medal winner.

Peter Rono of Kenya was a Mount St. Mary's University undergraduate in 1988, when he won the men's 1,500 at the Seoul Olympics.

Centrowitz isn't the only archdiocesan link to Olympic track and field. Harry Marra, a 1969 graduate of Mount St. Mary's, is the coach of Ashton Eaton, the world-record holder and gold medal favorite in the decathlon, which tests proficiency in 10 events. The decathlon competition was to take place Aug. 8 and 9.