Matthew Centrowitz not only won the gold medal in the men’s 1500 meters, he ended 108 years of American frustration in this marquee Olympic event.
You need to go back to 1908 to find the last time the USA took gold in the 1500 meters, aka the metric mile. Melvin Whinfield “Peerless Mel” Sheppard was the last American to win the 1500.
The year 1908 just happens to be the last year the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. Could this be a harbinger of things to come?
Sheppard won the first running medal at the 1908 and tied the Olympic record at 4:03.6. Sheppard also took gold in the 800 meters and medley relay in the 1908 Games, held in London.
Since then, four Americans – Abel Kiviat in 1912, Glenn Cunningham in 1936, Bob McMillen in 1952 and Jim Ryan in 1968 – placed second and took home the silver. But none could win the race.
Teddy Roosevelt was President at the time of the 1908 Olympics. Henry Ford produced his first Model T automobile that year, Bette Davis, Jimmy Stewart and Milton Berle were born. In 1908, Bulgaria declared independence from the Ottoman Empire.
Some of the greatest runners in history have won gold in the 1500. Paavo Nurmi in 1924 Herb Elliott, in 1960, Kip Keino in 1968, and Sebastian Coe, in 1980 and 1984, the only two-time Olympic champ.
Billy Mills won gold in the 10k final in 1964, one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history.
When Galen Rupp won the silver medal in the men’s 10,000 meter final in London the other day, he became the first American to medal in the event since Billy Mills took the gold in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.
The only other American ever to medal in the 10K was Louis Tewanima, below, who took silver in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm.
Both Mills and Tewanima were native Americans. Mills, also known as Makata Taka Helawas a member of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) Tribe. Tewanima was a Hope Indian and ran for the Carlisle Indian School, where he was a teammate of Jim Thorpe.
Mills’ victory is still considered one of the greatest of all Olympic upsets. The favorite was Australia’s Ron Clarke, the world record-holder in the 10K.
Mills was a virtual unknown. He had finished second in the U.S. Olympic trials. His time in the preliminaries was a full minute slower than Clarke’s.
Coming down the home stretch in Tokyo, Mills burst past several runners and sprinted toward the finish, overtaking Mohammed Gammoudi of Tunisia and Clarke, who earned the bronze.
American television viewers were able to hear the surprise and drama as NBC expert analyst Dick Bank screamed, “Look at Mills, look at Mills” For bringing that drama to the coverage, Bank was fired.
One hundred years ago, Tewanima finished second to Finnish runner Hannes Kolehmainen the same games where Thorpe won both the pentathlon and decathlon
Mo Farsh, Rupp’s friend and training partner, won gold in London and Great Bitian’s first medal ever in the 10,000 meters. Both Farah and Rupp were coached by Alberto Salazar, three-time winner of the New York Maraghon and USA Track and Field Hall of Fame.