Matthew Centrowitz takes track 33 years after dad couldn’t because 1980 US boycott of Moscow Olympics

MOSCOW — Nearly 33 years later, a Centrowitz family member finally stepped inside Luzhniki Stadium and started a major race.

With a freshly buzzed haircut, Matthew Centrowitz easily advanced out of his first-round 1,500-meter heat at the world championships on Wednesday, taking a couple of laps that his father never got to run.

For the senior Centrowitz, who goes by Matt, his son’s presence in the Russian capital almost seemed full circle since the US boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics prevented him from racing in the 5,000 meters at the same stadium.


And for the son, his fast trip around the track felt like he was running for them both.

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In a way, he was.

Leading up to the race, Centrowitz couldn’t help but think of his father and what he possibly could have accomplished had he competed in Moscow all those years ago at the Olympics.

‘‘He missed his chance of competing well, because he was running well that year,’’ said the younger Centrowitz, who was a surprise bronze medalist at the 2011 worlds in South Korea. ‘‘It’s a little weird thinking about that coming in.’’

Centrowitz’s race was one of the few events on an abbreviated day at the world championships. American Dwight Phillips qualified for the long jump final in his attempt to win five world titles, and Robert Heffernan of Ireland won the only medal on Wednesday’s program in the men’s 50-kilometer walk.


These days, the words ‘‘Olympics’’ and ‘‘boycott’’ are being linked again to Russia with the Winter Games in Sochi on the horizon. Such talk stems from the anti-gay legislation in Russia, which the country’s president, Vladimir Putin, signed into law in June.

It’s triggered calls for a boycott of the games from celebrities to activists.

‘‘I almost fell off the couch when I first heard talk of that,’’ the elder Centrowitz said. ‘‘I can’t believe they think that’s the smart way to solve it. The last thing you want to see is another athlete to be taken away from what they do because of politics. I hope that never happens to anyone else.’’

Some of the competitors in the Russian capital say athletes shouldn’t be used as pawns and it should be up to their individual consciences whether to protest or boycott.

But at least one finds his conscience muffled by the Russian law, which says foreigners can be jailed for up to 15 days and deported for violations.


‘‘I can’t talk about it,’’ said American runner Nick Symmonds, noted for usually being outspoken on social issues. ‘‘You’re not allowed to talk about it here. I'll get put in jail for it.’’