There is competition, there is some anger, there is even some nastiness but at the core of their relationship is the love and respect that comes with having spent 18 years together, sharing a home and the experience of running. Look no further than the 112th NYRR Millrose Games, which took place on Feb. 9 at The Armory in Manhattan.
The brothers were both running in the mile and it was evident early on that Matt Rizzo was on a pace to do something special. He wound up winning in a personal-record time of 4:09.12, nearly four seconds faster than his brother, who finished sixth with a PR of his own (4:12.89). The moment wasn't lost on Alex Rizzo as he made his way around the final turn.
"I was pretty focused on what I was doing but during the final 50 meters I realized the gravity of what was happening," Alex Rizzo said. "I had to smile and watch him win. I knew I didn't have a chance with 50 meters to go and it was out of my wheelhouse.
"No matter how much we fight, it was fun to watch. I would have loved to have been closer up. We each have our days and that was his day. Come the spring season and in nationals, maybe I'll be in the lead and he's chasing me."
The Millrose victory capped a two-week stretch in which Matt Rizzo had trouble sleeping because he was so focused on the race. Even after he won, there was still a bit of a surreal feeling surrounding the win.
"I knew I won but I had so much adrenaline, it didn't hit me until a few days later that I got it," Matt Rizzo said.
Bronxville coach Ian Clark has been with the Rizzos throughout high school and has watched them develop into two of the New York's more dominant runners. They each have their individual strengths but their collective strength comes from their ability to push each other, both in a positive and a negative way.
Clark has had to put the brothers in a "timeout" more than once in practice over the years though those times haven't been as prevalent of late. Still, it's an interesting dynamic, one that Clark has had to negotiate.
"It [the intensity] has been less so now that they have matured but having seen them over the years, they have gotten more competitive," Clark said. "Last year was brutal. They pushed each other a lot. It was so much of a rivalry that they didn't work out together. This year they have pushed each other, too, but they have also been gracious. They are respectful to each other now and they have that brotherly camaraderie they didn't have years ago.
"The thing is, they have very different personalities and it's reflective in their racing styles. The Millrose race encapsulated how they race and their personalities. Matt has much more personality and is aggressive overall. Alex likes to hone in and figure situations out; he's very good at that. Matt is a sledgehammer and Alex is an assassin."
The brothers have both run well in the 1000 meters this season though Matt Rizzo has a bit of an edge. He's finished first in three of the four meets in which he has run and in the meet he finished second [The Dr. Sander Columbia Challenge in January] he set a personal record with a time of 2:25.41. Alex finished fourth in that race, also setting a personal record [2.26.94]. Alex Rizzo has also picked up first-place finishes in a pair of 1,000-meter races while finishing second in another.
While the local high school meets may seem a bit mundane to some, particularly after running at Millrose, the brothers don't view it that way. They still feel they have much to accomplish in high school and that includes the upcoming New York State meet.
"It's not a letdown to run in these meets," said Matt Rizzo, who is ranked second in New York and fourth nationally in the 1,000 meters as of Feb. 16. "One thing that is kind of strange is that I have never won a state championship. New York is such a crazy place to live. It's super competitive, like nowhere else. As much as I like to say I won at Millrose, I haven't won at States.
"I'm hoping to capture my first state and federation title this year with the 1,000. That would be phenomenal. Alex is the same way. He's doing the 1,600. To try and get two titles in the same family would be nice."
Alex Rizzo also said that he wants Bronxville's SMR and DMR squads to go All-American. He added that he wants earn All-American status in an open event as well. Either way a pair of state crowns would be nice cappers to wonderful high school careers and send the brothers off to college in fine fashion. Matt Rizzo is headed to Stanford in the fall while Alex Rizzo will attend the Naval Academy.
The challenges the Naval Academy poses is what initially attracted Alex Rizzo. He was also drawn to the culture and hit it off with the staff and the track team when he visited the school.
"I loved that warrior culture that you can't find at any civilian university," he said. "I knew I could get a scholarship to other schools but with this I definitely know I'll have a job after four years. Plus the values that they teach and hold you to are bar none. It's an honorable way to go. I knew I wanted to be around the men and women that will shape me into a good person."
Matt Rizzo also had his choice of destinations but ultimately chose Stanford for its academics, its exceptional track and field program and the fact that it isn't in New York.
"I want to get out of the Northeast," said Matt Rizzo, whose sisters Meredith and Hilary were both exceptional runners at Bronxville. "I'm looking for some milder weather. It might be better for running. I want to try something new, I have been living in New York for 18 years."
Matt Rizzo's goal is to break the 4:00 in the mile before he graduates but quickly adds that "it's almost jinxing it if you say you can."
He likely won't have to worry about any jinx, however, not as long as he has his brother both pushing him and egging him on. It's a sibling rivalry that has a few more months of life left in it, at least as far as high school is concerned, and it's a stretch that should prove to be highly entertaining for the Rizzos.