ATHENS, Aug. 20 -- Blood was already gushing from a four-inch gash on Alan Webb's right shin from a competitor's spike when he ran into trouble with a little more than 200 meters remaining during his first-round heat of the Olympic 1,500 meters.
More specifically, Webb ran into Bernard Lagat.
Alan Webb of Fairfax is outmaneuvered and outrun as he fails to make it out of the preliminary round in the 1,500 meters.
(Anja Niedringhaus - AP)
Webb, trying to move to the front of a tight pack, stepped on Lagat's heel as the pair rounded the last turn in the race. The misstep sent Fairfax's Webb careering into another runner and caused Lagat to step halfway out of his shoe. But while Lagat merely kicked off the shoe so he could sprint to the finish, Webb seemed crippled by the collision.
He faded to the back of the field and finished ninth Friday night, prematurely and painfully ending his hopes of ending a 36-year U.S. medal drought in the event in his first Summer Games.
Webb, a graduate of Reston's South Lakes High, crossed the finish line with neither the necessary placement (he needed to be fifth) nor time (he finished in 3 minutes 41.25 seconds) to do something that seemed relatively simple at the start of the night: advance to the semifinals. He finished 25th overall; the top 24 moved on. He missed the qualification by .11 of a second.
"I was trying to stay outside," Webb, 21, said minutes after the race, sweat rolling off his forehead. "I was trying to stay out of trouble, but I just got myself in more trouble. . . . Stupid."
At that moment, Webb had no idea what happened. Everything was a blur, he said. He ran through the debacle: As he was making a move, he clipped someone, then ricocheted into some other runners, bumping at least two.
Lagat, suddenly, walked over, complaining to Webb that someone had stepped on his heel with about 200 meters left.
"That was me!" Webb said, shocked.
Webb added quickly: "Sorry."
"No problem," said Lagat, the reigning Olympic bronze medal winner, and he wrapped his arms around Webb's neck.
"You have to be strong to endure that," said Lagat, who trains in Arizona. "Of course, experience matters. . . . I'm really surprised. I like the guy really much. He's a guy with a lot of ambition. It's really frustrating he didn't make it."
Despite Webb's relative youth, he was figured to advance to the final here because he had put together such a solid season, seemingly escaping the misfortune that plagued him in the two years after he broke Jim Ryun's longstanding record in the mile as a high school senior.
After two seasons of injury troubles and slow times that caused him to drop out of the University of Michigan, Webb had emerged this year as the undisputed king of the mile in the United States and the first legitimate international threat in years. The United States hasn't won a medal in the 1,500 since the 1968 Summer Games, when Ryun claimed a silver.
Webb, who attends George Mason but competes professionally, had won three major races this season. He had run away with the U.S. title in a brilliant race at July's Olympic trials. For a while, he had the world's fastest time in the event.
But Friday's race went poorly from the start. Webb said somebody spiked him just 100 meters into the race, bloodying his leg. The pace was so slow the runners bunched into a pack, elbowing and shoving for position.
"I should have been more aggressive on the second lap," Webb said. "It's kind of disappointing. . . . Always in races you get a couple of bumps, but I felt like every 50 meters something was happening. It's never been that bad."
Even Lagat, who has the world's fastest time this season, said the style of the race felt uncomfortable. He ended up finishing second in 3:39.80 to Spain's Reyes Estevez (3:39.71) in the second heat, the slowest of three. Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj won the first heat in 3:37.86 and Britain's Michael East captured the third in 3:37.37.
"It wasn't one of my best races, to be honest," Lagat said. "When it goes too slow, anything can happen."