Sacramento, Calif. -- With a stunning kick down the homestretch, Robby Andrews dethroned the two-time defending champion and Olympic gold medalist Matt Centrowitz to earn his first ever USATF Outdoor Championship in the men's 1500m.
"I was running free today. This was pure instincts. I had a huge monkey on my back after the Olympics and we just decided I needed to run free," Andrews said.
With 150 meters remaining in the race, Andrews tracked down a hard-charging Centrowitz to win the final in 3:43.29, less than a second ahead of the Nike Oregon Project standout. John Gregorek followed close behind for third in 3:43.99 to earn the final spot on Team USA headed to the IAAF World Championships in London.
WOW! @RA_Andrews goes from EIGHTH at 1200m to win the 1500m, defeating Olympic champ Centrowitz! 3:43.29— Jon Mulkeen (@Statman_Jon) June 24, 2017
(Correction: fifth at 1100m. Either way, he was way behind. He was basically at Hayward Field).— Jon Mulkeen (@Statman_Jon) June 24, 2017
After the race, Centrowitz told reporters that 10 days ago he almost decided to pull out of the championship due to a series of illnesses and injuries that he's endured since the beginning of the spring.
"I just started training 10 days ago. I didn't want to say much because coming in I wanted to be confident, but today the main goal was just to qualify," Centrowitz said.
In April, Centrowitz had a strain in his left adductor. After the USATF Middle Distance Classic, he suffered from chest pains due to a viral infection which kept him from training for a week. In the first workout back from the infection, Centrowitz said he tore his right adductor, which took four weeks to heal.
"I was ready to shut the season down, but I'm just glad I have such a great support system that gave me the confidence to take things day by day," Centrowitz said.
Olympic bronze medalist Clayton Murphy was expected to contend for a top three spot, but fell short in the final homestretch of the race and faded to last place. Murphy was in the middle of a grueling 1500m/800m double. Unfortunately, he was seen hobbling through the mixed zone following the race. When reached for comment on his health, Murphy's agent Paul Doyle said that the athlete's hamstring began to tighten up with 150 meters to go, but he still plans to run the 800m tomorrow.
Like most championship finals, the 1500m was a tactical battle. When the race began, Andrews made an early move towards the front to share the lead with Centrowitz and Jordan McNamara. By the 800m mark, Andrews was leading the pack through a pedestrian split of 65 seconds for 400m. The pace quickened on the following lap when Olympian Ben Blankenship made a decisive move just before the bell.
Almost immediately, the race split into two with Blankenship and Centrowitz vying for position down the backstretch. Behind the leaders, a swarm of runners set off on a chase with 200 meters remaining.
Former Ole Miss All-American Craig Engels, Gregorek, Cristian Soratos, and quiet hunter Andrews were tracking them down. On the homestretch, Andrews unleashed his signature kick to overtake a fading Blankenship and ultimately Centrowitz in the final meters of the race to the sounds of a roaring crowd.
Andrews' run marks his first ever national title in the 1500m. He still needs to run the IAAF qualifying standard of 3:36.00 before the July 23 deadline in order to compete in London, but should easily notch the mark after running a season's best of 3:34 last year. If he doesn't get the standard, fourth-place finisher Engels can chase the mark as well.
At the 2016 Olympic Games, he was disqualified in the semifinal round and is likely looking for redemption this summer. London will be his fourth international team of his career.
The shock of Andrews' kick was felt considering the fact that Centrowitz has dominated nearly every championship for the past six years. He won the 1500m at the 2011, 2013, 2015, 2016 USATF Outdoor Championships. Last summer, he became the first American man to earn a gold medal in the Olympic 1500m since 1908.
Gregorek's performance earned him a spot on his first ever international team. The NJNY standout already ran the IAAF qualifying standard this season. Saturday's performance is wanted redemption after finishing sixth at the Olympic Trials last year.
Johnny Gregorek talks to the press after making his first world team: