- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 7, 2009

The nation’s elite track and field athletes have a little more than two weeks to peak for the 2009 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

While last year’s nationals qualified athletes for the Beijing Olympics, this year’s championships, contested once again at Hayward Field at the University of Oregon in Eugene, serves as the qualifier for the IAAF World Championships in Berlin in August.

Sunday’s Prefontaine Classic, the fifth event of the 2009 USA Track & Field Outdoor Championship series, is an opportunity for athletes dreaming of Germany to prep for their big day at nationals.

Hayward Field is full of history, the site of the ‘72, ‘76, ‘80, and the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. But Berlin’s track has deep historic importance too. In fact, this year’s world championships will be the first major international track and field event in the Olympic stadium since the 1936 Olympic Games, where Jesse Owens won four golds.

One athlete looking for a ticket to Berlin is U.S. mile-record holder Alan Webb, who is entered in Saturday’s Bowerman Mile. The Reston resident will have to contend with his other two 1500-meter Beijing Olympic teammates - Leonel Manzano and Lopez Lomong - and also line up against Kenya’s Haron Keitany who ended 2008 ranked No. 1 in the world, and his countryman Asbel Kiprop, who won the silver medal in Beijing and entered this year ranked third in the world.

Prefontaine defending champion Shedrack Korir of Kenya and the always-tough Canadian Olympian Nathan Brannen are scheduled to run the Bowerman Mile as well.

This is an important race for Webb, who had an unceremonious halt to his 2008 season when he failed to qualify for the Olympic team. Webb has not run particularly fast so far this year, with a 4:00.61 mile at the Drake Relays on April 25 (he set the Drake record of 3:51.71 in 2007) and a 3:42.58 1500 meters at the Reebok Grand Prix on May 30 in New York.

To be fair, it was cold at Drake in Des Moines, Iowa, and Webb was just going for the victory, which he got. But at Reebok, he finished 10th in 3:42.58, far behind Manzano’s 3:34.14. Hopefully for Webb, he was merely training through Reebok with his taper coming in the next week or so going into nationals.

Hayward Field was the venue where Webb, just graduated from South Lakes High School in 2001, broke Jim Ryun’s national prep outdoor mile record in 3:53.43 and took down the 1,500-meter U.S. prep record in 3:38.26 en route to the mile.

Speaking of prep milers - The four-minute mile was a magical pursuit for track athletes long before Roger Bannister broke it for the first time in 1954. Since Don Bowden became the first American sub-four-minute miler in 1957, just 312 Americans have followed, and only four were high school athletes.

Could No. 5 be recorded next week? The meet director of the Portland (Ore.) Track Festival has compiled a loaded mile field of preps chasing the mark. The meet will be held at Lewis and Clark College on June 13, with Robby Andrews of Manalapan (N.J.) High School the headliner. The 2009 Millrose Games mile champion will be going to the University of Virginia in September.

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