After two years of competitive frustrations and setbacks, Alan Webb broke out of his seemingly intractable slump last weekend with a performance that flashed back to the brilliance of his senior season at Reston's South Lakes High.
Webb won the 1,500 meters at the Home Depot Invitational in Carson, Calif., on May 22, obliterating a high-profile field in a race that produced a slew of small victories. It was his first career win in a major event with a personal best time (3 minutes 35.71 seconds). It also met the qualifying standard for this summer's Olympics in Athens (he still has to make the U.S. team at the July Olympic trials), was the top time in the United States this year, not to mention No. 2 in the world this season.
Webb, who in 2001 broke Jim Ryun's high school record in the mile while at South Lakes, was asked after the race if he had finally succeeded in getting a monkey off of his back.
"I always thought it was a gorilla," he said. "A gorilla with claws scratching at my face."
In a telephone interview last week, Webb said the race provided reassurance about his decision to drop out of the University of Michigan after one disappointing season there to turn professional in 2002, returning to Fairfax to train with his high school coach, Scott Raczko.
"After I came back from school, my coach basically started over again in terms of my training," he said. "We weren't doing a lot that first fall after my freshman year. It took a long time to get back to where I was at the end of high school."
Since high school, he suffered an Achilles' tendon injury and a ruptured appendix. Last year was abysmal: He finished seventh at the U.S. indoor championships, 10th at the U.S. outdoor championships and 10th in the mile at the Prefontaine Classic in the spring.
Now, however, he is healthy, confident and running well. He plans to run a pair of 1,500 races in Europe and one 800 before the July 8-18 U.S. Olympic trials.
"I'm not looking toward the [Olympic] Games," he said. "I'm looking toward running my best race at the trials."
Still With a Good Shot
The United States lost last year's national champion shot putter Kevin Toth to a two-year ban for performance-enhancing drug use, but the nation's heavy medal hopes in Athens don't seem the least bit in jeopardy. Christian Cantwell, 23, has taken the shot put world by storm this season, emerging as an early gold-medal threat a year after finishing a dismal fifth at the U.S. championships.
At last week's Home Depot Invitational, Cantwell surpassed the 70-foot barrier a stunning six times, with his best throw of 73 feet 4 inches the tops in the world this year. A 2003 University of Missouri graduate, Cantwell was virtually unknown internationally before winning the World Athletics Final in Monaco at the end of last summer.
This season, he won the U.S. and world indoor titles and has won 11 straight events. Cantwell said if not for a finger tendon injury he suffered two years ago that lingered through last season, his success would have come sooner.
"I did throw almost 71 feet injured last year," Cantwell said. "Not being injured, and not having to worry about that has been important."
Despite his run of success, Cantwell still will have to fight for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team with three-time world champion John Godina, 2000 Olympic silver medalist Adam Nelson and 2003 world indoor silver medalist Reese Hoffa also in the mix.
"Four or five of the top-10 throwers in the world are in America," Cantwell said. "Some people who could medal will be left home. I'm treating [the Olympic trials] as the Olympic Games. . . . We're peaking for it."
Back in Training
In what would be a remarkable comeback, U.S. gymnast and two-time Olympian Blaine Wilson hopes to compete at next weekend's U.S. championships in Nashville a mere 13 weeks after having had surgery to repair a torn biceps. Wilson said during a conference call last week that he had returned to training on all six events and would decide in which to compete before the championships, which will take place Wednesday through Saturday and will have some bearing on who makes the U.S. Olympic team.
Meantime, Gaithersburg's Courtney Kupets said she is back in top form after having had to drop out of last year's world championships because of an ankle injury.
Ten days ago, Kupets won the gold medal in an international all-around competition in Huntsville, Tex., at the Women's National Team Training Center on the grounds of the Karolyi ranch.
"I do feel like I'm fully back now," Kupets said. The time missed "might even be an advantage for me just because I was injured and now I can just bring it back up."
One More Chance
The District's Aquil Abdullah and double scull partner Harry Nuzum fell short this weekend in their attempt to secure a qualifying spot in Athens during a world cup meet in Munich, but their hopes are not dashed yet.
Abdullah and Nuzum on Friday finished fourth in their semifinal heat behind Slovenia, France and Hungary, missing a chance to advance to the "A" Final with a top-three finish. The pair would have then had to finish in the top four overall to earn a trip to Athens. As it stands, they will have one more chance at the June 26-July 1 Olympic trials in Princeton, N.J. The top finisher at that event will advance to the Summer Games. . . .
U.S. quarter-miler Calvin Harrison was among five U.S. athletes to test positive for the sleep-disorder drug modafinil (two more tested positive for modafinil and the steroid THG) last season, but he is facing a two-year suspension rather than the public warning issued to the other four because he took cold medication at a junior meet 11 years ago.
USADA informed Harrison and his attorney, Edward Williams, that it considered the modafinil positive a second drug offense mandating a two-year ban because he tested positive for pseudoephedrine in 1993. Pseudoephedrine, which is commonly found in over-the-counter cold medication, was removed this winter from the International Olympic Committee's list of banned drugs.