Sunday, July 8, 2007

Alan Webb finally has found his groove.

As a result, he soon may set the American records in the 1,500 meters and the mile.

In his biggest career victory Friday at the Meeting Gaz de France in Paris, Webb showed the tenacity and confidence that this country has been hoping to see from him since he burst onto the running scene as a prep star at South Lakes High School seven years ago.

The reigning USA Outdoor 1,500 champion ran a huge personal best 3:30.54 — slightly less than two seconds faster than his previous best of 3:32.52 in 2005 — and posted the fastest 1,500 time in the world this outdoor season.

Webb ran just a second and a quarter slower than the U.S. record 3:29.30 set in 2005 by Bernard Lagat, who was seventh in Paris in 3:35.09.

Only Lagat (from Kenya) and Sydney Maree (3:29.77 in 1985, from South Africa) have run faster as Americans than Webb, making Webb the fastest American-born 1,500-meter runner ever.

Webb’s time also put him just ahead of Somalian Abdi Bile (3:30.55) and just behind Kenyan Alex Kipchirchir (3:30.46) on the all-time world list. Webb, Bile and Kipchirchir coincidentally share a common bond in former George Mason coach John Cook. Webb’s coach, Scott Raczko, trained under Cook at George Mason, while Bile ran for Cook before and after graduating from George Mason and Kipchirchir ran for Cook as part of the Nike Oregon Project over the last few years.

The Paris race was a tough one, with Webb moving out aggressively with the initial pacesetters. After 1,200 meters, Webb and French record-holder Mehdi Baala (PR 3:28.98) exchanged the lead until Webb regained the lead for good with less than 50 meters to the tape.

“I hate to spoil the race for the hometown hero,” Webb said. “It meant a lot to Baala, but it meant a lot to me, too.”

His win came just five days after his personal best 1:45.80 in the 800 — a key and lacking component for a fast 1,500 for Webb — and two weeks after he grabbed his third U.S. 1,500 title in Indianapolis. For a guy who has had problems with consistency, Webb seems to be on a roll heading into the IAAF World Championships in Osaka, Japan, where he lines up for the first heats Aug. 25.

“I still have some work to do, and I certainly can’t rest on my laurels,” said Webb, ninth at the 2005 championships in Helsinki. “There’s a lot of work to be done. I want to be on the medal stand in Osaka.”

Steve Scott’s 25-year-old American mile record of 3:47.69 is well within reach, too.

Locals heading south — Joshua George of Herndon, Jill Kennedy of Palmyra, Va., and Tatyana McFadden of Clarksville, Md., were named to the 2007 U.S. Parapan American Track & Field Team based on their performances at the 2007 U.S. Paralympics Track & Field National Championships in Marietta, Ga., last weekend.

Athletes across all physical disabilities categories — amputee, wheelchair, visually impaired, cerebral palsy and dwarfism — were ranked against their national standards with the closest performances to the standards receiving top ranking.

The 2007 Parapan American Games will be held Aug. 12-19 in Rio de Janeiro. The United States will bring 28 men and 17 women on the track and field team. George and McFadden compete in wheelchairs while Kennedy, a frequent competitor at the Potomac Valley meets at Langley High School, is an accomplished javelin thrower in the dwarfism classification.

Sorensen watch — Jim Sorensen again failed to become the first to eclipse the four-minute mark in the outdoor mile as a masters (40-and-older) athlete at the USA Youth Championships in Lisle, Ill. The elite mile was won by Mark Fountain in 3:58.86, with Sorensen fifth in 4:04.98. Local runners Rod Koborsi (ninth in 4:09.19) and Sam Burley (11th in 4:12.21) also were in the field.

Salazar news — Legendary distance runner Alberto Salazar collapsed while coaching last week in Portland, Ore. First, the doctors said he had a “heart event,” then went on to say that the three-time New York City Marathon champ and longtime Nike employee had a heart attack at age 48. The news should not be shocking — while Salazar now says there was heart disease in his family, he nearly died at least twice after big races, trained unbelievably hard in his day and currently appears to be under tremendous stress.

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