Flyin' Past Ryun
Astounding high schooler Alan Webb smashed a 36-year-old record
for the mile
There was little doubt that high school senior Alan Webb had
arrived in Eugene, Ore., for Sunday's Prefontaine Classic
physically ready to break Jim Ryun's hallowed 36-year-old high
school mile record of 3:55.3. Since going sub-four (3:59.86)
indoors in January, Webb had trained and raced like a low-3:50s
miler. He had done startling workouts, including repeat 400-meter
sprints in 53 seconds. He had run with purpose and speed against
high school competition. "He's fit enough to run 3:54 or even
3:53," USA Track & Field CEO and former miler Craig Masback said
the day before the Pre meet. "That doesn't mean he'll do it under
Translation: Last Thursday, Webb, 18, was dropped into a fantasy
world a continent from his Reston, Va., home. On Friday afternoon
he sat next to mile world-record holder Hicham El Guerrouj of
Morocco for a van ride to a training session at the University of
Oregon's storied Hayward Field. On Saturday he arrived at a press
conference to find director's chairs labeled: MARION JONES,
MAURICE GREENE, HICHAM EL GUERROUJ, STACY DRAGILA and...ALAN
WEBB. Wide-eyed, he whispered, "I can't believe I'm in the same
room with these people." Before Sunday's Bowerman Mile, a race
that included not only El Guerrouj but also Olympic bronze
medalist Bernard Lagat of Kenya and half a dozen other
world-class runners, the raucous crowd of 11,221 shook the
bleachers when Webb was announced.
Webb ate it all up. In the van he introduced himself to El
Guerrouj, who later said, "Alan Webb has the face of a champion."
At the press conference Webb was charming and deferential, and he
then went to eat pasta and mint chocolate chip ice cream with his
father, Steven, and his 13-year-old brother, Chris. Before his
race Webb acknowledged his introduction by blowing a kiss. Then
he obliterated Ryun's record by nearly two seconds, running
3:53.43, the fastest mile by an American since 1998 and good for
fifth place among the 13 finishers. En route, Webb passed 1,500
meters in 3:38.26, breaking Ryun's high school record of 3:39
flat, set in 1964.
Most impressive was the maturity with which Webb ran. Rather than
getting caught up in the pace of those in front of him, he passed
the quarter-mile mark in 58.1 and the half in 1:57.8, sitting in
last place most of the way. As the leaders slowed on the third
lap, Webb regained contact, and at the bell he exploded, running
a 55-second final quarter, nearly as fast as El Guerrouj, who won
in 3:49.92, the fastest outdoor mile ever run in the U.S.
In the aftermath of the race El Guerrouj found Webb and raised
the kid's right arm. Webb jogged a celebratory lap, signing
autographs and blowing more kisses. Fans rose for a standing
ovation in the home stretch. Kevin Sullivan of Canada, who
finished second (3:51.82) and who trains in Ann Arbor, where he
will help Ron Warhurst coach Webb at Michigan starting next fall,
said, "I guess I've got my work cut out keeping ahead of Alan
Webb is suddenly one of the favorites in the 1,500 meters at the
USATF nationals, June 21-24, back in Eugene. He has the speed and
competitive instincts to win--or finish in the top three--and
become the first high school athlete to qualify for a U.S.
Olympic or world championship team in a distance event since Ryun
(1,500) and Gerry Lindgren (10,000) in 1964.
Long after his race on Sunday, Webb stood on the Hayward training
track, munching a Clif Bar. Greene passed by and shook his hand.
Olympic 1,500-meter runner Suzy Favor Hamilton gave him a hug. A
security guard led Webb and his coach, Scott Raczko, to a tent,
where Webb signed autographs for hundreds of fans who stayed two
more hours to meet him. "This is, like, I'm dreaming," said Webb,
throwing his arms into the air. "It's like I'm in a fairy tale."
Actually, it's reality.
El Guerrouj Moves Up
Just One Mile To Go?
Hicham El Guerrouj's win in the Bowerman Mile at the Prefontaine
Classic on Sunday marked a welcome return to outdoor competition
for one of the sport's most accomplished stars. The world-record
holder in the mile and the 1,500 meters and a national hero in
his home country of Morocco, El Guerrouj had felt such pressure
before the Sydney Olympic 1,500 that he had dissolved in tears
walking to the track for the final. After finishing second to
Kenya's Noah Ngeny, he had apologized, again in tears, to his
entire nation. El Guerrouj had fallen in the '96 Olympic 1,500
final but had dominated his event since. His dream of redemption
dashed Down Under, El Guerrouj took 45 days off from running. He
vacationed in London, Paris and New York City--"to forget about
Sydney," he says--and it helped. "The people of Morocco had a hard
time with my defeat," he says, "but they have to understand that
you cannot always win."
El Guerrouj is in the process of switching from the 1,500 to the
5,000. He will run the 1,500 at the world championships in
Edmonton in August and then attempt to break Haile Gebrselassie's
5,000 world record of 12:39.36 in Zurich on Aug. 17. "I can run
5,000, not a problem," says El Guerrouj.
He might, however, have one more mile in him. "I would like to
come back here next year," he said after his win at the Pre, "and
try to break my mile world record."
Dealing with Wild Cards
There is less than universal support for the new USATF rule that
requires all athletes seeking to compete in the world
championships to compete in the nationals, even if they have a
wild card into the worlds from the International Amateur
Athletics Federation (IAAF). Reigning world champions receive
IAAF wild cards, but to be named to the U.S. team under the new
rule, those athletes must compete in an individual event at
This rule is what prevents the semiretired Michael Johnson from
being added to the U.S. worlds team for the 4x400-meter relay,
because he will not run any individual event at nationals (or
anywhere else). "I don't like being forced to run," says Maurice
Greene, who as reigning world 100- and 200-meter champion would,
without the new rule, get a pass into both events at Edmonton.
Perhaps the reluctant stars just need a little motivation. To
that end, USATF was expected to announce this week that for the
first time, substantial prize money will be offered at
A year ago Tomas Dvorak of the Czech Republic was chasing the
9,000-point decathlon and schooling training partner Roman
Sebrle. "He is quite good competition," Dvorak said at the time.
You think? Sebrle took the silver medal at the Sydney Olympics
and last weekend broke Dvorak's world record and the 9,000
barrier, finishing with 9,026 points to win the prestigious
Goetzis, Austria, decathlon....
After Jamaica's Patrick Jarrett upset Maurice Greene in the
Prefontaine 100 on Sunday with an obvious false start that was
not called (meet director Tom Jordan apologized to Greene for
the error), Greene said, "Next time we run, I'm going to
embarrass him. That's a promise."...
Greene would still give Jarrett--and all other gun-jumpers--a
second chance, however. Greene was one of 47 current and retired
track athletes and agents who signed a petition opposing an IAAF
rule, set to go into effect this week at select international
meets, that would disqualify competitors after one false start.
(Under the existing rule, a runner is DQ'd upon a second false