- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 13, 2008

Alan Webb of Reston had a disappointing showing in a disappointing year at the Olympic trials last week in Eugene, Ore.

Coming off a career season last year when he surpassed Steve Scott’s 25-year-old American record in the mile and crushed opponents in the 800, expectations were high.

But Webb has had a difficult season this year, culminating in his fifth-place finish in the 1,500 meters at the trials.

“I just feel a little off,” Webb told USA Today. “I’m sort of at a loss for explaining myself now.”

The 25-year-old said that maybe he should have raced more often before the trials.

“If I would have gone into the meet with more races, three or four under my belt, it’s a different story,” said Webb, who wasn’t sharp in either of his two races before to the finals - a mile and an 800. “I thought I’d be OK. I did the best I could with the scenario I was given. It wasn’t enough. Not with the way the 1,500 is now. It’s too competitive in the U.S. now.”

Webb has received much criticism - from checking his splits on his watch during races to the food he eats with his friends at night. But the major issue with Webb is that while he can outrun almost anyone, he doesn’t know how to race.

During his three races at the trials, he seemed to spend too much energy shifting around in position.

Watch multi-Olympian Bernard Lagat, for example, who just positions himself from the start and flows effortlessly. Lagat, 33, not only made the U.S. team in the 1,500 but also in the 5,000.

Last year, he won the double at the world championships. Webb’s best time in the mile is better than Lagat’s.

In a fast race, Webb is great. In a slow, tactical affair, Webb has a harder time than others shifting gears.

Webb is similar to retired middle-distance runner Steve Holman. On his USA Track & Field bio reads “a consistently fast runner in fast races, Holman has weathered criticism over his performances in tactical championship races.”

From 1990 to 2000, Holman was the top-ranked American four times, second four times and fourth twice in the 1,500 but made just one Olympic team - just like Webb, so far - in 1992 and his first American title in 1999.

He was even ranked No. 1 back-to-back in 1994 and 1995 but finished 13th in the 1996 Olympic trials.

But Webb shouldn’t worry too much. He displayed tenacity during 2002 and 2003 when he struggled after breaking Jim Ryun’s high school mile record. Racing in Europe for a month or so may clear his head.

- Tennessee senior Sarah Bowman finished eighth at her first Olympic trials in the 1,500 meters. Her 4:16.54 time in the finals was off her personal best 4:07.50 set last month at the NCAA championships.

Bowman competed at the Potomac Valley Track Club open meets in Alexandria as a 13-year-old. You never do know who of the hundreds of kids who show up for these all-comers meets will move on to greatness.

I remember watching Cathy Schiro (now O’Brien) compete as a teenager at the Wednesday evening summer track meets I organized in the 1980s in a suburb of Boston. She became an Olympian in the marathon in 1988 and 1992 and ran in this year’s Olympic trials at 40 years old.

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