As a professional in his signature event, Alan Webb, who two years ago set a schoolboy record in the mile when he ran 3:53.43 for Reston, Virginia's South Lakes High. Webb, 20, who last June left Michigan after a disappointing freshman season to sign a six-year endorsement contract with Nike worth $250,000 annually, finished third in a 10-man field last Saturday at New York City's Armory Collegiate Invitational.
Coming off a month in New Mexico, his first extended training at altitude, Webb said on Friday that he felt stronger than ever. For the better part of Saturday's race he looked that way, too. Webb paced the pack before being overtaken by James Thie, 24, an unheralded Welshman, and Kenya's Eliud Njubi, 23, on the backstretch. Thie's winning time was 3:57.71. "I tried to break 'em with two laps to go and paid for it with 50 meters left," said Webb, who finished in 3:59.42. "I can handle any pace, but I need to be more aware of what's going on at the end."
Webb, who was widely hailed as the future of American middle-distance running when he shattered Jim Ryun's 36-year-old high school mile mark at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., on May 27, 2001, had hoped for a better result on Saturday. But he did turn in an indoor personal-best performance, an impressive feat given his eight-month layoff from major competition.
Relieved to have his first professional mile behind him, Webb returned to Reston, where he will work out with his former high school coach Scott Raczko and study economics at nearby George Mason. He wants to focus on racing tactics before facing a tough field at the Indoor Nationals in Boston from Feb. 28 to March 2. "My legs are there," says Webb. "I'm getting my head there, too."