- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 21, 2005

Officials at the New York Road Runners Club are hoping to revive the once star-studded Fifth Avenue Mile. The savior: 5-foot-9, 145-pound Alan Webb.

“The last several years, the professional element has dropped off,” NYRRC president and chief executive Mary Wittenberg said. “We dropped the elite mile division seven years ago. We tried to build a people’s race instead.”

Not that the presence of American Jason Lunn in 2000 and Kenyan John Itati in 2003 was too shabby, but when former U.S. and world record holders like Americans Sydney Maree and Steve Scott, New Zealand’s John Walker and women like Brit Paula Radcliffe and American Mary Slaney have participated in the past, it sets a tough precedent that requires significant money to keep attracting top talent.

“Alan Webb is a major international force as a mile and 1,500-meter runner,” said Wittenberg, who saw Webb place ninth in the 1,500-meter final in the world championships in Helsinki two weeks ago. “As we bring back the Fifth Avenue Mile to its old glory, I can’t imagine a better athlete to lead the way.”

Reston’s Webb nailed another personal best just before the World Championships, an impressive 3:48.92 at the Bislett Games Dream Mile in Oslo on July29. He is edging closer to Scott’s U.S. mile record of 3:47.69 set in Oslo in 1982. Scott was 26 at the time; Webb is just 22.

“I can’t wait to run in the footsteps of the great milers like Steve Scott, John Walker and Peter Elliott, and to get the chance to break the tape,” Webb said Thursday during a conference call from Zurich, where he placed third in a top-notch 1,500-meter field in 3:33.40 Friday. “I’m excited to see a tradition come back and I’m very motivated. It should be a great race.”

Maree won the inaugural Fifth Avenue Mile in 1981 in 3:47, still the course record. Scott won his first in 1983, the year Webb was born, and again in 1988. Until Thursday’s conference call, which included Scott, the man they call America’s greatest miler said he had never had the opportunity to personally express his admiration of Webb.

Said Webb, who has been in Europe since July19, about his ninth-place effort at worlds: “People do notice even in failed attempts. I’ve gotten more congrats for finishing ninth in the world championships than anything else I’ve done. And No.2, I realized once I made the finals, it will be very difficult to win in a race like that.”

Webb will not be the only big name in the Sept.24 race that speeds down Fifth Avenue from East 80th Street to East 60th Street. The field also includes Australian Craig Mottram, 5,000-meter bronze medalist at this year’s worlds and close trailer to Webb at Oslo, and Portugal’s Rui Silva, silver medalist in the 1,500 meters at the 2004 Athens Olympics as well as bronze medalist in the same event at the worlds.

U.S. Olympians Shayne Culpepper and Carrie Tollefson headline the elite women’s race.

Steroid-free zone — The Professional Road Running Organization (PRRO), an alliance of elite road races around the nation, announced the five-race circuit will randomly test its top finishers after each race beginning next year.

“At a time when sports like Major League Baseball and the NFL are being dragged kicking and screaming into drug testing their athletes, we felt this represented a time for the sport of running to separate ourselves by actively embracing testing to remove any drug cheats from the sport,” PRRO said in a press release.

United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), the independent agency responsible for managing the testing for U.S. Olympic, Pan Am, and Paralympic athletes, will conduct the random tests on anyone who earns prize money, which could be the top 12-15 males and females, depending on the race. Those testing positive will be forced to forfeit the money from that race and will be subject to a ban.

The Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run in Washington is a PRRO race, and kudos should go to event director Phil Stewart.

“I was the one who pushed it,” Stewart said. “I was the one who put it on the agenda. The PRRO people liked the idea but they wanted to go back to their race committees for approval. The major marathons [and track and field] have the testing but as for the major nonmarathon events, there wasn’t a lot happening [with drug testing].”

Stewart said he was surprised the testing will only cost between $3,000 and $4,000 an event, which he said PRRO was subsidizing. “It was more reasonable than I expected,” he said.

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