BOSTON, Feb. 25 -- Dan Taylor described the situation as rough. John Godina called it ridiculous, and Christian Cantwell blurted out a derogatory term not fit for a family newspaper.
All had been asked, after another mentally draining event, what it was like to face so much excellence so routinely. In a clash of three former shot put world indoor champions and the three top-ranked throwers in the world at the U.S. indoor track and field championships at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center Sunday, Cantwell topped the field.
He described himself as lucky.
Cantwell's first heave of 71 feet 3 1/4 inches proved enough to keep Reese Hoffa, world indoor champion and this year's world leader, in second place (69-7). Recent Ohio State grad Dan Taylor, ranked third in the world and the 2004 NCAA champion, finished third (66-8).
Godina, the 2001 world indoor champion who is recovering from shoulder surgery, managed just fifth (64-5). Cantwell's throw earned him a $25,000 bonus from USA Track and Field for winning its Visa Championship Series.
"I'm sure I have several ulcers from" these competitions, Cantwell said. "It's a lot of stress. There are such ups and downs. If you don't bring your A game every week, you're going to get buried."
Alan Webb knew he, too, had a chance of getting buried in the mile. Despite the stakes, Webb was determined to carry out a race plan that went against his every instinct simply because he wanted to practice something new.
Webb, who attended South Lakes High and lives in Reston, got the practice and the title, winning with a sprint to the finish in 4 minutes 1.07 seconds over Rob Myers (4:01.78) and Gabe Jennings (4:01.93).
Instead of taking the lead early, as he prefers, Webb forced himself to sit behind the leaders in a race that went out slowly. But Jennings, a former Stanford music major, also had a plan in mind. He said he had pasted six track ovals, representing each lap, on his wall at home and written various phrases on each this week, helping hammer home his strategy.
With three laps to go, Jennings took off.
Webb hung on Jennings's shoulder until about 400 meters remained.
Then Webb took off.
"I thought I would try to shock people going at three" laps, Jennings said. "But there was one man I couldn't shock. He was the better man today. He sets the bar for the rest of us."
After a few rough years as a professional after breaking Jim Ryun's 36-year-old high school record in the mile in 2001, Webb clearly is a man to be feared again. He has dabbled in longer distances, including the 10,000; was ranked No. 7 in the world in the 1,500 in 2005; and won four major 1,500 races the previous year.
Last summer, however, he took a break from competition to treat low iron levels in his blood. He returned this winter by lowering his personal best in the indoor mile at a race in Washington in January. And now this, his first indoor championship.
"I've proven I can win a race from the front," Webb said. "I really haven't practiced much running races like this."
Cantwell, on the other hand, has had plenty of practice at winning competitions like this. When, that is, he wasn't losing them. Cantwell, a Missouri graduate, experienced the ultimate disaster against a similarly stacked field just over two years ago. Ranked No. 1 in the world in the summer of 2004, Cantwell finished fourth at the U.S. Olympic trials. Only three U.S. men went to the Olympics. Cantwell, the best thrower in the world that year, stayed home.
"I felt like I had missed my guaranteed Olympic gold medal," Cantwell said. "That ruined me for about a year and a half."
Cantwell said he did not train for about seven months after the trials, wiling the hours away fishing, playing with his dogs, pondering retirement and wondering how he could have blown such a big opportunity.
"Anytime your heart is broke, you look to something else," he said. "When I finally picked it up, I was really far behind but it was either start throwing again, or get a job. That's what my wife told me."
So Cantwell clambered back. He finished third at last year's U.S. outdoor championships. At this month's Millrose Games in New York, he posted the longest throw in the world this year (71-9 1/2 ).
Today, the winning throw came early. Hoffa claimed the silver on his fifth of sixth attempts and Taylor, who topped Cantwell and Hoffa at a meet here in late January, earned third on his third toss. The competition could have been even tougher: Adam Nelson, the 2004 Olympic silver medal winner, wasn't even here today -- he's attending business school at the University of Virginia.
"This felt good," Cantwell said. "I know I beat a great field today and I did it in pretty convincing fashion."
Track Notes:A four-time U.S. indoor champion in the triple jump, Upper Marlboro's Tiombe Hurd finished second in today's final with a mark of 43-11 1/4 . Shani Marks topped the field with a leap of 44-6. . . . Howard graduate David Oliver won the bronze in the 60 hurdles, finishing in 7.57 seconds behind Ron Bramlett (7.47) and David Payne (7.51). . . . Lolo Jones (7.88) beat Danielle Carruthers (7.92) in the women's 60 hurdles. . . . Dabryan Blanton won the men's 60 in 6.56 seconds, edging Marcus Brunson (6.58). . . . Hasani Roseby won the women's 60 in 7.16, topping Carmelita Jeter 7.17. . . . Nick Symmonds won the 800 in 1:48.73.