- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 22, 2004

It will be a long four years for Alan Webb. With great expectations and celebrity comes great disappointment when one fails on the world’s biggest stage.

What is particularly mind-boggling is how America’s Great Mile Hope ran such a genius of a race at the U.S. Olympic trials 33 days ago and then ran what he called “a stupid race” in the Olympic 1,500 heats Friday and failed to qualify.

“I just got banged around,” Webb said afterward. “I was trying to stay to the outside and stay out of trouble, and it just got me in trouble more.”

This is what Olympic track is all about. When you put 13 elite athletes in one heat and guarantee only the first three a pass to the next round, it’s going to be rough and tumble.

Watch the old films of the great milers in the Olympics — the Jim Ryuns, the Seb Coes, the Steve Ovetts. There was as much contact on the track as there is chasing a rebound in a pro basketball game.

When you tell 40 of the world’s best middle-distance runners there are only 24 spots in the semifinals, you can expect spikes to fly, elbows to land hard and bodies to be strewn out on the track.

“I should have been more aggressive on the second lap and maybe out towards the lead or in the back,” Webb said.

What he should have been doing all summer was getting in more tight races in Europe instead of basking in the glory of races like Home Depot and Prefontaine, where his biggest challenge was making sure the rabbit didn’t trip him.

The great milers all were contact runners. They could take it as much as dish it out. If you don’t like the contact, then you need to look to the 400 meters, which is run in lanes.

But Webb will learn that. Considering he is just 21, he should be a major force in Beijing 2008 and beyond.

He will be stronger for the setback and smarter for the experience, which should make him hungrier to come back and show his mettle, or medal, in coming years.

As Webb ended his Olympic dream for this Olympiad, and put his hands over his face, I was reminded of the scene in “The Natural,” when Roy Hobbs takes a called strike in his first major league at-bat, and the announcer comments, “Welcome to the majors, Mr. Hobbs.”

Hurricane kick — If you tuned in late in the 10,000-meter race, you would have thought you were watching a 1,500-meter heat.

Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, who someday will be replace countryman Haile Gebrselassie as the world’s greatest distance runner, demolished a spectacular field with a closing 53-second last 400 meters.

Rarely do you find that last-lap speed in a 5,000-meter race, or even 1,500 meters. Left behind on a hot night were Americans Dan Browne, who placed 12th in 28:14.53 (well off his 27:47.04 PR from 2002) and Abdi Abdirahman, who ended 15th in 28:26.26 (well off his 27:42.93 PR in 2002).

Abdi announced last week that he will join Browne and Bob Kennedy in his marathon debut at the Nov.7 New York City Marathon.

Officials at the New York City Marathon, however, were unsuccessful in attracting local elite marathoner Heather Hanscom. Sources say even an offer of a $10,000 appearance fee — plus the strong possibility of decent prize money — could not lure Hanscom, the nation’s sixth-ranked marathoner, to compete because she has her eyes set on the IAAF World Championships in August 2005.

Filled to the brim — The Army 10 Miler closed its entries last week after reaching the 20,000 limit. Do not even try to talk your way into the Oct.24 race if you are not already registered, I have been told. Unless, maybe, you are a general.

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