Webb Breaks Ryun’s High School Mile Record - This Day in Track & Field
High school phenom runs epic race against world class field at Pre Classic
By Walt Murphy, Walt Murphy's News and Results Service
(c) Copyright 2012-all rights reserved. May not be reprinted or retransmitted without permission.
EUGENE, Ore. -- South Lakes, Va. High School senior Alan Webb, with the able assistance of coach Scott Raczko, fulfilled the great promise he had shown since his sophomore year by running 3:53.43 at the 2001 Prefontaine Classic to shatter Jim Ryun's 36-year-old National HS Record in the Mile (3:55.3).
Running against a world class field that included world record holder Hicham El Guerrouj (who also set a winning U.S. All-Comers Record of 3:49.92), Webb, 18, patiently ran his own race and didn't get caught up in the incredibly exciting atmosphere that permeated Hayward Field, a fitting setting for such an historic day.
Running well off the pace of the rabbits and the lead pack, Webb went through quarter-mile splits of 58.1, 1:57.9, and 2:58.4, and then clicked into another gear. The crowd virtually ignored the great El Guerrouj, who was pulling away from Bernard Lagat and the rest of the field, and devoted all of its energy to Webb, who rewarded the faithful with a great 55-second last 1/4 to finish off his record run to place an impressive 5th overall. And on the way, he also took down another Ryun record, clocking 3:38.26 at 1500 meters.
El Guerrouj, a student of the sport who knew full well the impact of Webb’s run, grabbed his new friend by the arm and they went on a joint victory lap, much to the delight of the adoring Eugene fans. Soaking up his new-found fame, the fun-loving Webb gladly signed autographs for at least an hour after the meet had ended.
The ensuing media blitz hadn't been seen in the sport for a long time. Webb's run was reported on the front pages of newspapers all across the country (including the New York Times), and he eventually made appearances on the morning talk shows and met with President Bush at the White House. He also had a memorable guest shot on "Late Night with David Letterman," who couldn't stop gushing about Webb's accomplishment. And Webb handled all the attention with the poise and style of a seasoned veteran.
The speculation about Webb's potential started to build after he ran 4:06.94 in 1999 to break Ryun's National HS sophomore record. It continued the following year when he ran a 3:59.9 anchor 1600 meters at the Penn Relays, but an injury kept him from any serious efforts to break 4-minutes the rest of the season (he had to turn down an invitation to the 2000 Pre meet). An early sign in his senior year that everything was going according to plan came at New York City’s Armory in February, when he set a HS indoor record of 3:59.86 and became the first prep sub-4-minute Miler since Marty Liquori ran 3:59.8 in 1967 and also the first HSer sub-4 under the roof.