Alan Webb would have received the bouquet and a kiss from girlfriend Christina Hosenfeld regardless of where he finished today at the Great American Cross Country Festival here at McAlpine Park.

But winning--in dramatic fashion, against a field of the top high school talent in the country--made the kiss and flowers that much sweeter.

The South Lakes High junior, a three-time All-Met and last season's runner of the year, came from behind in the final 80 meters and outkicked Wautauga (N.C.) High's Ricky Brookshire to win in 15 minutes 3.39 seconds in the meet's showcase event, the Race of Champions. Brookshire finished in 15:03.87.

"I was still calm," Webb said of Brookshire's surge to take the lead on the final straightaway. "I was still licking my chops. I was going hard. . . . I had a good feeling that I was going to win. It worried me a little bit, but I wasn't scared. "I just wanted to win. I was hoping for the record, but, oh well."

The course record of 14:57.6 is shared by three: West Springfield All-Met Sharif Karie (1996); Teddy Mitchell of Longwood, Fla. (1989); and Brian Jaeger of Winter Park, Fla. (1982).

The meet showcased 238 schools from 21 states, with 10 of the top 20-ranked boys teams (according to Harrier's High School Cross Country Report) in attendance. Six of the top 20 girls teams also were here.

Webb gained national attention in June when he broke legendary Jim Ryun's sophomore class mile record with a 4:06.94 at the National Scholastics Track and Field Championships in Raleigh, N.C. He made good once again on this visit to North Carolina.

Shortly after the race's two-mile mark, Webb and Brookshire had separated themselves from the pack. After passing two miles in 9:55, Brookshire appeared to take command. Webb caught him less than a half-mile from the finish.

The pair stayed together until the final 150 meters. They took turns in the lead, then Webb got out in front and stayed there to the finish.

"I'm a little upset," said Brookshire, who set the state record for the course by six seconds. "I'm going to learn from this. Don't be surprised if you see him in Athens [at the Summer Olympics] in 2004."

The Woodlands (Houston) upset Christian Brothers Academy (Lincroft, N.J.) for the Race of Champions boys title. Bingham High (South Jordan, Utah) upset four-time national champion Saratoga Springs (N.Y.) in the girls competition.

Felicia Guliford (Gallup, N.M.) won the Race of Champions for girls in 17:12.47.