- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 23, 2002

At precisely 6:36 tonight in Palo Alto, Calif., America's top 1,500-meter runners will contest the final of the U.S. National Championships. Meanwhile, the sport's greatest young American prospect will be at an undisclosed location some 3,000 miles away on the East Coast, more than likely watching re-runs of "The Simpsons."
Alan Webb, who would be mayor of Reston if the town had a mayor, said he is chilling out for a bit after making the biggest decision of his 19-year-long life. He left the University of Michigan after an up-and-down freshman year to move back home and continue with the successful coach-athlete relationship he developed here with his South Lakes High School track coach, Scott Raczko.
The decision was the right one.
And his decision to step away from the track for a bit bagging the Junior Nationals held this weekend in Palo Alto as well was the right one, too.
But it also was a gutsy decision. Name a track athlete who has basically gone from high school to pro. You see it in other professional sports like basketball, which lures away talented high school and freshman or sophomore college players with lucrative contracts.
Webb needed to get out of the college grind. He needed to come home to family and friends. He needed the space, the ability to rest between seasons rather than feel pressured to run intensely during cross country, indoor and outdoor track, which spans a continuous period from August to June.
By the NCAA outdoor championships on June 1, Webb was still trying to get on track after an injury from running indoors. The high school youngster who ran the 1,500 meters in 3:38 (en route to a mile) this time last year ran 3:43 as a college freshman at the NCAAs. A year ago, Webb was beating nearly all the college kids and many of America's best professionals.
This year, he ends up fourth in the college championships, losing on a rookie error of trying to lead wire to wire.
Nobody likes taking a step backward.
If Webb lives at home, he does not need much in endorsements and appearance fees, not that he won't get them. But consider this: as Runner's World researched, Webb's 3:38 last year in the 1,500 placed him 78th on the yearly world list. Hardly in the Big Show.
Even Webb's agent, Ray Flynn, a 3:49 miler at the peak of his career, recognizes that his newest and youngest charge is not yet world-class.
To score in the top three at last year's World Championships took a 3:30 to 3:31, which is a world of difference from a 3:38 in the 1,500.
It will take time, lots of time. And fortunately for the young Webb, he has lots of time, as long as "The Simpsons" aren't canceled.
Meanwhile, at the U.S. Nationals last Thursday, Marla Runyan announced that she will be running the Nov. 3 New York City Marathon.
Runyan joins a long list of 5,000/10,000-meter runners who are stepping up to the 26.2-mile distance.
Is it the money in marathoning? Runyan is trading a brilliant track career for a race in which she does not have the strength and endurance to excel.
I suspect that Runyan, the first legally blind athlete to compete in an Olympic Games (she made the finals of the 1,500 in Sydney in 2000) and a paralympic champion, is trying to follow in the footsteps of Deena Drossin, whose 2:26:58 in New York last year was the fastest debut ever by an American woman and the precursor to some fabulous times since then.
But Drossin had been racing at distances up to half-marathon while Runyan has been focusing the past few years on races up to 5,000 meters. Now it becomes apparent why she ran the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler here in April, cruising in at fifth place in 53:37.

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