After he broke the high school mile record three years ago, Alan
Webb was propped up as the budding star who could revive interest
in track and field in the U.S. It was a heavy load to carry, and
Webb struggled. He spent a disappointing year at Michigan, left
school, turned pro, moved back to his native Virginia--and
continued to struggle, barely making the final of the 1,500
meters at the 2003 nationals. "After that race," he says, "I was
like, 'This is bad.' I had a lot of doubts about myself."
Imagine his joy on Sunday afternoon when he turned down the
backstretch of the 1,500 meters on the last day of the U.S.
trials, leading the field by 30 meters. "I looked at the track
and I couldn't even see the shadows of the guys behind me," Webb
said. "Great feeling. And then I just thought, Keep going! Keep
Webb cruised home to win the race by more than two seconds, in
3:36.13, and earn his first Olympic berth. More impressive was
the manner in which the 21-year-old won. Webb, who's found his
stride while training again under his former high school coach,
has been among the best milers in the world throughout the spring
and early summer, running 3:32.73 for the 1,500 in Europe and
3:50.85 for the mile. Rather than allow the trials 1,500 to
become a slow, risky kickers' race (as did the gifted Steve
Holman while missing the '96 Olympic team), Webb blasted the
field apart after 700 meters with a 54.5-second lap and a 1:55
800. "He dropped the hammer, and nobody could respond," said
third-place finisher Rob Myers.
"The plan was to go with 700 or 800 meters left and go like I'm
running a 100-meter kick to the finish," said Webb. It was a
courageous move on a breezy day in punishing 94° heat.
Webb will go to Athens with a real chance to make the Olympic
final, in which anything is possible. More than that, he will no
longer be remembered for just one record-breaking afternoon in
his youth. --T.L.
COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES Webb could become the first American to medal in the 1,500 since Jim Ryun in '68.
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