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Pac-12 to Rio

Coverage of the Pac-12
student-athletes, coaches and alumni
who competed at the 2016 Rio Olympics

2016 Olympics Aug. 20 recap: Matthew Centrowitz stuns field to win 1500m final

Aug 20, 2016
Anthony L. Solis/Pac-12 Conference

RIO DE JANEIRO -- It’s official. The Pac-12 is the Conference of Champions.

Following another impressive day that featured gold medal winners from the Pac-12, and considering Klay Thompson and DeMar DeRozan are guaranteed to win a silver or gold for Team USA basketball, Sunday will mark 16 out of 16 days where a Pac-12 athlete stepped atop the podium in Rio.

After flexing its muscles in the pool for the first half of the Olympics, the Pac-12 has since taken its talents to the track and beyond. Take a look at Saturday’s top storylines from the Pac-12.


Matthew Centrowitz was in disbelief.

Head in his hands, knees on the blue track under the lights at Estadio Olimpico, the former Centrowitz had just won the men’s 1500m race to become the first American to win the Olympic gold in the event since Mel Sheppard in London. Not the 2012 summer games in London, but the 1908 edition.

"There's nothing like it,” Centrowitz said. “It doesn't compare to anything else I've won in my life."

The former Oregon Duck claimed inside track position early and built an early lead on the first lap, though it was a slow pace by Olympic standards. Heading into the final lap, Centrowitz and field turned up the heat, as it turned into a full-on sprint down the home stretch. But Centrowitz (3:50.00) was able to hold off reigning gold medal winner, Algeria’s Taoufik Makhloufi (3:50.11), to secure the stunning victory.

"Doing my victory lap,” Centrowitz said, “I literally kept screaming to everyone I know 'Are you kidding me?'"

Later in the evening, a pair of Pac-12 alums participated in the 5000m race. Washington State icon Bernard Lagat proved that age is just a number and nearly earned the bronze medal with a time of 13:06.78. At 41 years old and competing in his fifth Olympics, Lagat is Team USA’s oldest athlete in Rio.

“I gave it all I had,” Lagat said.

Though he originally finished fourth, Lagat was awarded the bronze when American Paul Chelimo was disqualified and stripped of his silver medal. But later in the evening, Chelimo appealed and was reinstated, as he reclaimed the silver and knocked the gracious Lagat off the podium.

“I guess if the rules are like that, whatever decision they want to make tonight I'm going to accept it,” Lagat said while believing he held the bronze. “Then again if they tell me they gave it me by accident and take it back, no problem."

Cal alum David Torrence placed 13th in the event with a mark of 13:43.12.


If this was Allyson Felix’s farewell act, it was a good one.

On Saturday night, the USC alum solidified her legacy with one more gold in the 4x400m relays. After winning the silver in the 400m and gold on the 4x100m relay in Rio, Felix became the first woman to ever win 5 golds (8 total medals) in track and field. In the 4x400m, Felix tacked another gold on to her medal haul as she anchored the last leg to give Team USA a time of 3:19.06 to edge out Jamaica (3:20.34).

"This one wasn't an individual medal and the great thing is I get to share it with these great friends," Felix said. "I am so blessed. Track and field is such a big part of my life. In track and field, there are always bumps in the road and each one of us had a unique journey to get here, but we pushed through."

Former Oregon Duck Phyllis Francis also took part in the relay, running the third lap before handing the baton off to Felix for the finish.

Despite entering Saturday’s high jump final tied with five other athletes for the highest qualifying mark at 1.94 meters, Cal alum Inika McPherson finished the final tied for 10th place with a mark of 1.93 meters. Spain’s Ruth Beitia took home the gold by clearing 1.97 meters.


Gold was the goal for Team USA’s women’s volleyball team heading into Rio, but a stunning five-set loss to Serbia in the semifinals changed all that. But on Saturday, the team got a small slice of redemption by topping Netherlands, 3-1, to win the bronze medal.

Ex-UCLA Bruin legend and USA coach Karch Kiraly had beach volleyball star Kerri Walsh Jennings address his team before the match. Earlier this week, the Stanford alum Walsh Jennings suffered her first career Olympic loss (26-1) in the semifinals and had to settle for a bronze medal with partner April Ross, a USC alum.

"It feels phenomenal,” Kiraly said of winning the bronze. “Kerri described it to us as maybe the toughest match that has to be played in sports because everybody who plays for a bronze wanted to be playing for a gold medal and they have to figure out a way to get back to a place after some disappointment.”

Less than 48 hours after suffering a leg injury against Serbia, former Stanford star Foluke Akinradewo was back in the match as the starting middle blocker. Akinradewo, who won silver with Team USA in 2012, is likely set to retire following Saturday’s match. She made it a memorable one, as she was one of three USA women to rack up a team-high 13 kills. Former UCLA star Karsta Lowe also played in all four sets, chipping in four kills for the offense.

"We knew that no matter what medal we come home with or if there's no medal,” Akinradewo said. “it doesn't define who we are as individuals, who we are as women, and what we bring to the program. … It's a lot of joy, gratitude. I'm emotional mainly because a lot of these girls I'm maybe not going to play with again. Some are retiring and a lot of them are my best friends. Just knowing that's over is sad but I'm very grateful that I've had the chance to battle with them the past four years."


The women’s golf tournament came to an end at the Olympic Golf Course on Saturday, as Korea’s Inbee Park (16-under) ran away with the gold medal. Among the 60-woman field are 12 golfers with Pac-12 ties. Arizona State alum Anna Nordqvist, representing Sweden, was the top finisher for the Conference of Champions with her 6-under, which tied her for 11th place. Other top Pac-12 finishers included UCLA and Colombia’s Maraijo Uribe (t-19th, minus-3), Stanford and Switzerland’s Albane Valenzuela (t-21st, minus-2) and Spain and ASU’s Azahara Munoz (t-21st, minus-2).

[Related content: Follow the Pac-12 to Rio]


Eyeing Bermuda’s second-ever Olympic medal, Flora Duffy finished in eighth place on Saturday in the grueling triathlon competition. Duffy, who graduated from the University of Colorado and still trains in Boulder, recorded a time of 1:58.25. She ranked 11th through the swim portion of the race and 12th after the bike leg, before moving up to eighth following a strong run in her third Olympic triathlon.


Coming into this weekend’s 10m platform competition, reigning Pac-12 Diver of the Year Rafael Quintero eyed a top-5 finish in the finals for his native Puerto Rico. Though the University of Arizona product fell just short of his lofty goal, he still posted an impressive seventh-place finish after scoring a 485.35. Quintero’s forward 4 1/2 somersault proved to be his highest scoring dive, followed by his reverse 3 1/2 somersault dive to wrap up his list. Coached by Arizona’s Omar Ojeda, the 22-year-old could be a major threat to medal during the 2024 summer games in Tokyo.


The Pac-12 featured a couple of alums taking part in Saturday’s women’s mountain biking final. Colorado’s Katerina Nash, competing for the Czech Republic, finished fifth with a time of 1:32.25. Arizona alum and Team USA’s Chloe Woodruff placed 14th with a mark of 1:36.17.