UO Stars Shine Bright at TrackTown Tuesday

TrackTown USA’s Sasha Spencer Atwood interviews a trio of UO NCAA Indoor national champions in (left to right) Raevyn Rogers, Hannah Cunliffe and Sasha Wallace at TrackTown Tuesday. (TrackTown USA photo by Josh Phillips)

EUGENE, Ore. – A two-time Olympic qualifying father-son duo, three NCAA indoor national champions and the most recent addition to the Oregon football family headlined a star-studded TrackTown Tuesday event.

Former Oregon track stars Matt Centrowitz Sr. and Matthew Centrowitz Jr. capped off the free town hall gathering at the Downtown Athletic Club on Tuesday as emcee Sasha Spencer Atwood asked about the Rio Olympics, the father-son dynamic and their experiences at Oregon.

“I gave [my dad] a thumbs up and that reassured him that I was kind of loose.”
– Matthew Centrowitz

When Centrowitz Jr. was warming up for the 1,500-meter final in Rio, he heard a “distinct voice” yelling. That voice was Centrowitz Sr. cheering and waving at his son from up above in the nearby stands.

2016 Olympic 1,500-meter gold medalist Matthew Centrowitz

“I gave him a thumbs up and that reassured him that I was kind of loose,” Centrowitz Jr. said. “It also reassured myself that, OK, I was able to do that instead of maybe ignore him or pretend I’m trying to get in the zone.”

That relaxed mentality led Centrowitz to achieving Team USA’s first gold medal in the men’s 1,500 meters since 1908. He said that he was confident going into the race and thought that he would medal, but “just wasn’t too certain on” what color he would come out with.

Centrowitz Sr., being an accomplished runner himself, said that he watches his son compete through the eyes of a father, not a coach.

Two-time Olympian and UO alum Matt Centrowitz Sr., talks about his UO career with his son, Matthew Centrowitz, looking on. (TrackTown USA photo by Josh Phillips)

“He knows what he’s doing, he doesn’t need another coach,” Centrowitz Sr. said. “He had a great coach at Oregon, he has a great coach in Alberto Salazar, so the last thing you want to do is throw over-coaching in or get in the way of the process.”

Centrowitz Sr. chronicles this father-son dynamic and much more in his self-published book, Like Father, Like Son: My Story on Running, Coaching and Parenting. He said that he spent the last three years writing it, and his son’s Olympic gold medal was the perfect ending to the story.

Three UO standouts, who are also accustomed to winning, were welcomed onto the TrackTown Tuesday stage: senior Sasha Wallace and juniors Raevyn Rogers and Hannah Cunliffe.

“It’s a great feeling knowing that I’ll be challenged in practice every day by my teammates.”
– Hannah Cunliffe

Each of these women took home an individual title, as well as the team title, at the recent NCAA Indoor Championships in College Station, Texas. Wallace took first in the 60-meter hurdles, Cunliffe won the 60-meter dash and Rogers claimed the 800 meters.

“I’m pretty sure everyone is already expecting us to do big things,” Rogers said, “but for us to continue to keep the ball rolling and make the adjustment so easily as far as our transition to the outdoor season, it’s exciting for what NCAAs holds for us and all the things that we can do.”

The women agreed on three things: that they all support one another, they challenge each other in practice and finally, that Hayward Field fans are the best fans.

UO senior Sasha Wallace won the 60m hurdles at the NCAA Indoor Championships last month.

“Going into the indoor season, as far as performance goes, I think we really motivated each other to do the best we can,” Wallace said. “And I think that’s what makes us different from other programs is that we’re really invested in one another.”

The Oregon women are currently ranked first in the USTFCCCA rankings and recently broke the 4×100-meter and 4×200-meter collegiate records at the Florida Relays. There is no shortage of talent on this women’s team.

“It’s a great feeling knowing that I’ll be challenged in practice every day by my teammates,” Cunliffe said. “It makes everyone better.”

Rogers said that before she even donned the green-and-yellow UO uniform, competing at the IAAF World Junior Championships at Hayward Field in 2014, the fans were so supportive.

UO junior Raevyn Rogers is a four-time NCAA champion – twice indoors and twice outdoors – in the 800 meters.

“No one is as knowledgeable (about) track and field as the people in Eugene,” Rogers said. “I love when they announce a Ducks’ name and everyone just goes bananas.”

The Downtown Athletic Club welcomed a new guest to TrackTown Tuesday as Oregon head football coach Willie Taggart graced the stage.

What does Taggart say is his greatest accomplishment to this day? Getting the head coaching position at the University of Oregon.

“It’s been a goal of mine, ever since I became a head coach … I always said that I wasn’t going to leave the University of South Florida, which was about 45 minutes from where I grew up, so all my family was there,” Taggart said. “I wasn’t going to leave unless I had an opportunity to go to a place where we could win a national championship.”

UO head football coach Willie Taggart chats with TrackTown Tuesday emcee Sasha Spencer Atwood.

Taggart was so excited when he heard about the opening, that he says he didn’t jump at the opportunity, he “leaped at it.”

Taggart and the rest of his coaching staff begin the journey to try to win a national championship on Wednesday, as spring practice begins. He made sure to let the audience know that they don’t have to wait until the fall to watch their favorite players compete. There are a few spring practices open to the public beginning on Friday at 9:30 am and Saturday at 2:30 pm.

“I wasn’t going to leave [South Florida] unless I had an opportunity to go to a place where we could win a national championship.”
– Willie Taggart

“Now I’m asking them to compete and be great football players, so I’m ready to see them compete against each other and impress the coaches,” Taggart said.

If you missed TrackTown Tuesday,

The next TrackTown Tuesday event will be on May 2 at the Downtown Athletic Club.