Webb has history on the run The miler's sizzling summer is likely to continue at the Worlds in Japan

Posted: August 25, 2007

The wait of more than two decades for the next great American miler is over - that is, if you listen to the last great American miler speak.

Alan Webb has achieved a history-making summer that has seen him break Steve Scott's 25-year-old U.S. record in the mile, run the fastest 1,500-meter time in the world this year, and clock the second-swiftest time in the 800.

Scott, who ran a record 136 mile races in less than four minutes before his retirement in 1992, is an admirer.

"I've said this the last couple of years: When all is said and done, at the end of the day, Alan will be the best American distance runner ever," Scott said in an interview earlier this week.

Webb, 24, has shown exceptional promise since he broke Jim Ryun's high school mark in the mile. He hopes to continue the momentum of his sensational summer in the World Outdoor Track and Field Championships beginning today in Osaka, Japan.

Scott likes what he has seen in Webb, a combination of physical gifts and focus that has helped him progress from high school phenom to major player on the world stage.

"He has run very impressively this season," Scott said. "What I like is that he has a methodical approach, which is something that was missing with me and some of our group years ago. He does everything the right way.

"He doesn't do too much over-racing, no indoors, no road racing. He trains for the outdoor season. He'll take time off, but he'll get his work done. He's not married, and by that I mean he has no distractions toward being the best he can be."

In June, Webb posted an emotional victory in the 1,500 at the U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships, breaking Scott's meet record in a time of 3 minutes, 34.82 seconds. Webb threw his arms up in exultation 10 meters before the tape and sank to both knees after he finished.

"I didn't get to defend my title last year because of injuries," Webb said after his third U.S. Outdoor title. "To lose the title and then get it back was emotional, I guess. There was a lot of pressure."

In the five weeks after that race, Webb:

Ran 3:30.54 in the 1,500 meters on July 6 in Paris, still the fastest time in the world in 2007.

Clocked 3:46.91 in the mile on July 21 in Brasschaat, Belgium, breaking Scott's durable mark of 3:47.69 and recording the eighth-fastest time ever.

Achieved a personal-best time of 1:43.84 in the 800 on July 28, the second-fastest world time this year.

"He's really blossomed," said Villanova track and field coach Marcus O'Sullivan, who clocked 101 sub-four-minute miles during his career. "I didn't win my first world championship until three years after Villanova. If he stayed in college, this would be a year-and-a-half for him. That's very young, when you think about it.

"He's been in the forefront of expectations right on time. The fact of where he is right now is fantastic for him. I don't know him that well, but I've watched him come from high school all through this process."

One month after running the fastest 800-meter anchor leg (1:49.1) by a high school athlete at the Penn Relays while a senior at South Lakes High in Reston, Va., Webb broke Ryun's high school mile record with a time of 3:53.43 at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., on May 27, 2001.

Webb went on to Michigan but stayed only one year before turning pro. His career has since had several peaks and valleys, accompanied by the pressure of expectations that constantly has followed him around the track.

An example came in 2004, when Webb won the Olympic trials at 1,500 meters but failed to get out of the first heat in Athens. He won the U.S. Outdoor championship in 2005 but could not compete the next year because of injury.

Now, heading into today's first heat of the 1,500 at the World Championships, Webb is on pace to become the first American to medal in the metric mile in this, the 11th staging of the biennial competition.

"Is he a viable contender? Absolutely," O'Sullivan said. "His last 100 meters are spectacular. He seems to be in championship form."

Webb also is seeking to build for next year's Beijing Olympics. No American has won Olympic gold at 1,500 meters in nearly a century, since Mel Sheppard in 1908. Ryun was the last American to medal, capturing a silver in 1968.

Luke Kibet of Kenya won the marathon in 2 hours, 15 minutes, 59 seconds in Osaka early today, claiming the first gold medal of the 2007 world championships.

Mubarak Hassan Shami of Qatar was second in 2:17:18, and fast-finishing Viktor Roethlin of Switzerland was third in 2:17:25.

It was the slowest winning time in world championship history.

World Outdoor Track and Field Championships

What: The World Outdoor Track and Field Championships begin today and run through Sept. 2 in Osaka, Japan.

Best event: The first showdown of the year in the men's 100-meter dash between world- record holder Asafa Powell of Jamaica and American Tyson Gay is expected to yield a new world mark over the fast track at Nagai Stadium. Gay is more accustomed to multiple preliminary heats, however, and three rounds will be conducted in the 100 before tomorrow night's final.

Whom to watch: Gay going for a double in the men's 100 and 200; Allyson Felix attempting to repeat in the women's 200; Olympic gold medalist Jeremy Wariner competing in the men's 400; Bernard Lagat running for the first time as an American in the 1,500 and, maybe, the 5,000; U.S.-record holder Jenn Stuczynski going against world-record holder Yelena Isinbaeva of Russia in the women's pole vault; world-record holders Liu Xiang of China (men's 110-meter hurdles) and Meseret Defar of Ethiopia (women's 5,000) competing.

Local women: Nicole Leach (West Catholic High), Erin Donahue (Haddonfield High), and Jennifer Rhines (Villanova) will compete, Leach in the 400-meter hurdles, Donahue in the 1,500 and Rhines in the 5,000. Two other former Villanova stars, Marina Muncan of Serbia and Carmen Douma-Hussar of Canada, will run in the 1,500.

-Joe Juliano

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.

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