American miler Alan Webb had a red bull's eye in the form of a number “one” printed on his race number yesterday at the New Balance Games at the New York Armory, and drew the inside lane around the red banked track.
He was first on the line and sporting a new look - a shaved head, and was the first athlete of the field of 11 home to the finish line on the sixth anniversary of his birth into the elite ranks.
Webb was the most distinguished athlete in the race, and the centre of attention - having retured to the exact spot to the exact day where, six years earlier, he made USA history by becoming the first high school athlete to run under four minutes indoors (3.59,86). Any move the 24-year-old was to make would be closely monitored and countered, it was thought.
However, the 2005 IAAF World Championship 1.500m finalist (ninth) and American 2-mile record-holder displayed excellent strength and took on his pursuers with relative ease over the mile, clocking 3 minutes 56,7 seconds (race video) - a new personal best indoors, and his second sub-4 in as many races this young 2007 indoor season.
“It’s a personal record indoors,” quotes The New York Times, “and it’s only January. It’s the first time I’ve won in New York since high school. I couldn’t believe it. It’s just what I wanted. It’s not perfect, but it tells me I’m moving in the right direction. The competition gets more and more competitive.”
Kenyan Eliud Njubi, who had run 3.58,78 in Arkansas last weekend, was second in 3.58,64, and had no zip in his legs to catch Webb on the final lap.
“I was always right on Alan’s tail, and I thought I could beat him. But when I started moving on the last lap, my turnover wasn’t good and I couldn’t go. But I’m happy with my race, even though I lost.”
Webb responded by stating, “I was ready for him. I wasn’t going to let him pass me. I’m moving forward.”
Webb is definitely moving forward - one race at a time - as he pursues his dream of winning a medal in Osaka, Japan at this summer's IAAF World Championships, and takes that further to the Olympic Games in Beijing next summer in hopes of turning his flame out in 2006 and his tactical errors of 2004 great learning opportunities, but distant memories.
Skipping the 2006 indoor season was meant to provide Webb more strength work as he contended with cross country courses and longer interval training in an effort to build his stamina to a level where he could respond to moves and kicks despite not feeling ready to cover a move.
Webb suffered a bout with anemia during the late winter months and was forced to miss the USA Cross Country Championships, but he recovered enough to demonstrate excellent strength preparations when he set a 10.000m personal best of 27.34.72 at Stanford University on 30-April.
His achievement was short-lived, however, as he then never fully recovered from a hamstring strain following his phenominal victory over American Dathan Ritzenhein, with Webb pushing it through two more races before missing the bulk of the season - one which he had planned on using to run "very fast".
Webb finished his 2006 season with a solo mile victory in Ireland fighting the wind and the elements.
The great testament to Webb's strength was in his even-split running yesterday, as he knocked off times of 58,7-60-60-58 around the banked track - chopping nearly one second from his previous best, a 3.57,52 (2004), and eclipsed his previous Armory best (3.59,49) by almost three seconds as he improved his best placing up one spot from a runner-up finish in 2004.
Irishwoman Mary Cullen took the women's race in 4.32,29 over American Sarah Hall (4.32,68) and Canadian Carmen Douma-Housar (4.32,78).
The 2007 indoor season will be a pure joy ride for Webb, as he ticks off the next three week-ends with mile races at the Reebok Boston Indoor Games, the 100th Millrose Games at Madison Square Garden - where he will face American Bernard Lagat and Australian Craig Mottram - and the Tyson Invitational in Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA.
Previous Webb entry: Alan Webb to Return to the Armory (blog link)
Select Results of 2007 New Balance Games Mile
- Alan Webb, Nike, 3.56,70
- Eliud Njubi, Westchester Track, 3.58,64
- Adrian Blinco, New Balance, 4.00,21
- Josh McAdams, New Balance, 4.00,59
- Andy Baddeley, New Balance, 4.01,17
- James Thie, NYAC, 4.01,66
- Mary Cullen, Reebok, 4.32,29
- Sara Hall, Asics, 4.32,68
- Carmen Douma-Hauser, New Balance, 4.32,78
- Hilary Stellingwerff, New Balance, 4.32,90
- Marina Muncan, New Balance, 4.35,43
- Katrina Wooten, New Balance, 4.35,52
High School Boys:
- Chris Moen, Walter Johnson, 4.16,76
High School Girls:
- Danielle Tauro, Southern Regional, 4.46,13