He’s got CITIUS (Latin for faster) tattooed on his right shoulder, and Matt Centrowitz’s 2015 season has started just like that. SPIKES caught up with the US middle distance runner ahead of this weekend’s US Indoor Champs to talk chasing medals, chasing girls and his fear of flying.

In 2011, a fairly unknown 21-year-old Centrowitz burst on the scene with a bang when taking 1500m bronze at the Daegu World Championships. He had not been too prominent on the international scene during his junior years: a modest 11th place at the 2008 World Junior Championships had been his only previous appearance in a global final.

Since then, Centrowitz has firmly cemented his position at the top of the event. He finished fourth at London 2012, missing out on a bronze by a mere 0.04 seconds. Then at the 2013 Moscow World Championships he added silver to his tally of medals.

Although 2014 was an “off-year” with no major global champs, the former University of Oregon student improved his PB by over two seconds with a 3:31.09 at the Monaco Diamond League. Now the 25-year-old has his sights firmly set on completing his set of medals with gold at the Beijing World Championships come August. And judging by his indoor season, he’s on the right track. 

Matthew Centrowitz 2011 SPIKES ()

Centrowitz takes bronze at the 2011 World Championships behind Kenyans Kiprop and Kiplagat

He opened his 2015 indoor campaign setting a world record in the Distance Medley Relay (an admittedly less frequently run event) at the Armory Track Invitational in NYC. A week later he set a meeting record of 2:17.00 at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix, narrowly missing the American Record by 0.24 seconds, before taking the victory in the Wanamaker Mile at the historic Millrose Games.

“It’s been definitely going better than I would have imagined,” says Centrowitz of his indoor season so far.

Sport runs in his family. His dad, Matt Centrowitz, competed over 1500m at the 1976 and 1980 Olympics. His uncle Jerry, mother Beverly and older sister Lauren are all runners, too. “I guess it’s in the blood,” he laughs.

He was never pushed toward the sport. His dad, he explains, “actually used some reversed psychology”.

“He was the one always telling me to stick with soccer and said ‘stick with other sports because running is too tough’. 

“I was thinking ‘it’s a non-contact sport, how tough can it be?’ and little did I know what he really meant. He was also just trying to keep me from running for as long as possible I think. At times you see people start at a young age and then burn out, so I think he just wanted me to keep that interest in sport.” 

Matthew Centrowitz 2012 SPIKES ()

"It’s a non-contact sport, how tough can it be?"

One thing that helped fuel his interest in the sport as a teenager, and still does, were girls.

“I definitely have to credit track for getting my name out there [with the girls].

“I’ve been tempted to use this line for a while in interviews because they ask this a lot ‘what would you be if you weren’t a track athlete?’ and I can’t take it now because Rory McIlroy used it before me [he actually got it from Peter Crouch]. When he was asked ‘if you weren’t a golfer what would you be?’ he said ‘I’d be a virgin’,” he grins, then puts on a serious face.

“I am the only guy on my team who is single. Everyone has kids or is married, so I’m the guy they expect to stay single. Every time I get serious with a girl they tell me ‘pump the breaks’, it’s basically my duty to give them stories of what’s going on out there. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.”

And it’s not just any old team he’s training with. Centrowitz is based at Nike’s Oregon Project, the Hogwarts of track, coached by the legendary Alberto Salazar. He trains alongside the likes of double Olympic champion Mo Farah and Olympic silver medallist Galen Rupp.

Matthew Centrowitz 2013 SPIKES ()

In 2013 Centrowitz claimed silver, this year he wants to complete the collection

The training group has high hopes for 2015. While Farah has two world titles to defend, Centrowitz is looking to complete his set of world championship medals with a 1500m gold in Beijing.

“At this point in my career I feel like now that I have the other two medals [silver and bronze], I have to get the gold. That’s what my maths is telling me,” he says.

“Right now the 1500m is so deep and it could be literally anyone’s game, not even just Kiprop which is crazy to think. You have Souleiman, Kiplagat, and a few other players that could win on any given day. It’s going to take a little bit of luck for sure, but that’s the goal right now, to win that gold to make the collection complete.”

Strong competition may be one challenge, but there is one thing the passionate video gamer is even more worried about: getting to Beijing.

“My biggest fear in the world,” as Centrowitz describes it, “is flying.”

“I hate flying. I’m always paranoid that this is gonna be it, if there’s the slightest turbulence. I don’t know why they don’t give everyone on the plane parachutes.”

With planes recently going missing, his paranoia of having to take similar routes has only become worse.

“We’ll go via the north pole if we have to. I’ve had a look at the map to see which way is the safest to take.” 

Luckily, he’s got it all figured out: “I’ll set a new travelling rule ‘avoid going east’, I’d be like Derek Zoolander; he can only turn right and not left, I could only travel one way.”

With a parachute on his back and his route thoroughly planned out, he’s all set to take that gold come August.