MAYBE NOT all records are made to be broken. That's what some in track and field were thinking about Steve Scott's American mile record of 3:47.69, which was set in 1982.
Enter Alan Webb, high school hero turned college-track dropout turned, as of last Saturday, American mile record holder. Running in a tiny meet in Brasschaat, Belgium—because organizers agreed to let him run the mile with two pacesetters—Webb left his second rabbit with a quarter mile to go and powered through a 56.2-second final lap, crossing the line in 3:46.91. It was Webb's third impressive performance in two months, a sign of the consistency that has eluded him since he burst onto the track scene as a high schooler.
When he ran 3:53.43 in 2001 as a senior at South Lakes (Va.) High, shattering Jim Ryun's 36-year-old schoolboy mark, Webb did Letterman and was heralded as the U.S.'s next great hope in the mile. But it would be three years before Webb would run faster than he did in high school. His first—and only—season at Michigan was a disappointment, as he didn't mesh with his coach. His confidence damaged, he left school to train with his high school coach and sign a six-figure deal with Nike, which still saw potential. Webb showed flashes in 2004, running away from the field in the 1,500 meters at the U.S. Olympic Trials. But in Athens he was knocked out in the prelims, running five seconds slower than he had at the trials.
Now, though, it looks as if Webb's roller-coaster ride might finally be over. Before his record-setting run, he won the 1,500 at the U.S. nationals in June and dusted an Olympic-caliber 1,500-meter field in Paris earlier this month. Confidence no longer appears to be an issue. "I've struggled a bit with consistency," Webb says. "I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that I had lofty goals. Obviously I'm on a roll right now. I handled the pressure [in Belgium] well. That's part of being one of the best runners in the world."
MICHAEL STEELE/GETTY IMAGES (WEBB RUNNING)
FRENCH TOAST A win in Paris presaged Webb's record.
PHILIPPE PERUSSEAU/EPA (WEBB)