By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Alan Webb, a graduate of South Lakes High School in Reston, broke the American record in the mile last night in Brasschaat, Belgium, with a time of 3 minutes 46.91 seconds, besting the mark of 3:47.69 set by Steve Scott in 1982.
Webb was the eighth-fastest miler to cover the distance. Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco owns the world record of 3:43.13.
"It was cool because the meet itself was very low-key," Webb said. "There wasn't a huge crowd."
Specifically designed as an opportunity for Webb to break the American mile record, the meet was held at the Atletiek Vlaanderenmeet in front of an estimated crowd of 1,000. The plan was for Webb to follow his two pacesetters through the first 1,200 meters of the race and then finish the final 400 on his own.
The strategy almost went awry when one of the pacesetters slowed significantly during the second lap. After two laps, Webb said he wanted to be at 2:48 but instead clocked in at 2:49. "We picked up [the pace] in the third lap," he said. "It was not exactly ideal, but obviously I broke the record, so I can't complain."
Neither can Scott, who learned of Webb's accomplishment from one of the athletes he coaches. "I'm happy that it was Alan who broke it, and I believe at the end of the day, when all is said and done, that people will consider him the greatest distance runner America has ever had," Scott said in a written statement. "He has such range, he's so young and he's accomplished so much. I have nothing to be ashamed of, losing the record to him."
Webb is no stranger to breaking records. His time of 3:53.43 at the 2001 Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., overtook Jim Ryun's national high school record of 3:55.30, which had stood for 36 years.
Asked which record meant more to Webb in the moment, his response was both immediate and emphatic. "Definitely this one because I was shooting for it," he said. "I had it in my mind for a while. This race was set up for me to" break the record.
According to Webb, he could not find any takers willing to race against him, which led to the preordained nature of his record-setting performance. He said the plan was hatched around the time of the U.S. outdoor championships in late June.
While Webb acknowledged that planning to break the record added more pressure, he said that it was just an attempt and that if he did not reach his goal, there would be other opportunities.
"Part of being one of the best runners in the world is you have to learn to deal with pressure," he said. "Obviously, I handled it pretty well."
Webb won his first U.S. indoor mile title in February and claimed his third career national title in the 1,500 at the outdoor championships. On July 6 in France, Webb ran the 1,500 in 3:30.54, the best time in the world this year. His strong season has given him momentum heading into next month's world championships in Osaka, Japan.
"I think my race in Paris gave me more confidence for Osaka," Webb said. "Today it was me and a couple of pacesetters, so I was alone out there. It's different when you've got other guys around you. Running a championship race is very different than what I did tonight. It gives me confidence and tells me I'm moving in the right direction, but there's still lots of work to be done. Osaka is a separate thing."
Ray Flynn, Webb's agent, said his runner demonstrated a lot of power and control en route to the record, enough to signal that even faster times are to come.
"He's got a lot more in him," said Flynn, who ran against Scott in the 1982 race in which he set the U.S. mile record. "He finished so strongly that it was never in doubt."