PORTLAND, ORE. (12-Mar) -- With 120 meters to go in the men's 1500m at the USA Indoor Championships here today, defending champion Matthew Centrowitz was in the lead, but was anything but comfortable. Robby Andrews, who had finished second to Centrowitz at the USA Outdoor Championships last summer, had just come up on his right shoulder and was gaining steam.
"He was definitely the guy I was looking to (be there)," Centrowitz said later. "He's such a fast guy that I think with less rounds he does better. So, with this just being a final I was expecting someone to come up on me in the last 200."
Andrews, the 2011 NCAA 800m champion when he competed for the University of Virginia, had decided this was the time to put Centrowitz to the test. He had already passed Ben Blankenship and showed no signs of slowing.
"I don't know if I should have waited for the final 50, or what, but I wanted to get around Ben," Andrews told reporters, violently coughing the dry air of the Oregon Convention Center out of his lungs. He added: "Matthew knows exactly what he's doing. I was trying to follow him along."
Coming around the final bend, Andrews drew even with Centrowitz as the crowd of 5244 spectators roared. Staying on the outside, Andrews managed to get a half step ahead of his rival.
"It was just a matter of how I was going to respond," Centrowitz recalled. "I actually think he went by me at one point, and I came back again that last 10, 20 meters."
As both men lunged for the finish line, it was Centrowitz who got there first, but only by the slimmest of margins, 3:44.33 to 3:44.40. Andrews actually ran the faster last lap, 26.73 to 26.89, according to the official timing data.
"I was in front of him for a little bit," said Andrews. "He had just a little bit saved up. He knows exactly what he's doing. He's a tremendous runner."
Both men qualified for the IAAF World Indoor Championships to be held here next weekend. They make a formidable team. Centrowitz has two world championships medals (bronze from Daegu in 2011 and silver from Moscow in 2013), and was fourth at the 2012 London Olympics. Andrews, who is still only 24, just ran a personal best 3:53.16 for the Mile at the NYRR Millrose Games and was on the gold medal USA 4 x 800m team at last year's IAAF World Relays.
"Obviously, we have a great U.S. team going into worlds next week," said Centrowitz. "I just hope that he won't be in my prelim."
The women's 1500m offered a different kind of drama. Heather Kampf took the field through steady laps of about 34 seconds, and the women were content to stay together.
"It went out perfect; I felt like it was an honest pace," said Brenda Martinez, the 2013 IAAF World Championships 800m bronze medalist. "I just wanted to stay on the outside on the front shoulder, and just make the move when I needed to, just kind of commit to that."
On the backstretch of the penultimate lap, Martinez took one step outside and surged, immediately gapping the field. The race was over.
"I didn't want it to be like a gradual (move)," Martinez explained, who stopped the finish clock at 4:08.37. "I wanted it to be, like, sudden so nobody could react to it." She added: "I know I had another gear in case somebody came up."
Finishing a surprising second was the former University of Florida star Cory McGee who held off a tiring Amanda Eccleston, 4:09.97 to 4:10.42. She was thrilled to make her first national team.
"Honestly, I'm on top of the world right now," McGee gushed. "I like to win, but this is the happiest I've ever been to be second."
In the 800m finals, there was little drama as the two favorites prevailed with relative ease. On the women's side, Ajee' Wilson won her third USA indoor title in four years, leading gun to tape in 2:00.87.
"The plan was just to get out hard," said the always modest Wilson. "If someone was going to fight for the lead, just tuck in behind. I found myself in the lead, so I just took it from there. It felt really good."
Laura Roesler was able to pass Phoebe Wright in the last 50 meters to take second place and earn her spot on Team USA for next weekend's world championships. She clocked 2:02.44 to Wright's 2:02.51, but wasn't particularly pleased with her effort.
"I just didn't have it," Roesler said in the mixed zone. "I don't want to make excuses; I don't know."
Like Wilson, Boris Berian went wire-to-wire in the men's four-lap contest to win his first USA title, clocking 1:47.19. The only man in the meet with the IAAF qualifying standard for the world championships, Berian was assured a team spot regardless of his finish position, but he said it was important for him to win today, anyway.
"Even though I had the spot already I still wanted it to be competitive, still make it a race," Berian said. "Just go in, try to win it."
Erik Sowinski finished second in 1:47.62, and although disappointed with his race, he received good news after the meet. The IAAF hadn't filled the field for the 800m discipline for next week's championships, and Sowinski got a special invitation to compete.
"Not the prettiest, but got the job done," Sowinski said via Twitter. "Excited to be invited to represent the US again alongside @borisgump800 next week!"
The IAAF World Indoor Championships begin here at the Oregon Convention Center next Thursday.