The outdoor track campaign is upon us with the spring weather and cool crisp air. These signs show track athletes across the nation are strapping on their spikes and waiting in anticipation for the weekend.
Athletes will run their fastest, throw their furthest, and jump their highest. Young athletes usually have some sort of role model to look up and follow their example in hopes of becoming as great as they were. Each sport has their Michael Jordan. One deemed to be the greatest of their time, the greatest of their sport, cementing their legacy with numerous accomplishments as evidence. My Michael Jordan was Alan Webb.
For the people who don’t follow closely with the sport of track and field, Alan Webb was and still is a household name for those who enjoyed the sport. Nowadays, in most sports, there is always a dominant player or team that claims the spotlight; the Warriors, Russell Westbrook, the Patriots, and on occasion the Cubs. In the sport of track and field (at least professionally) there are no teams. It’s you versus the field. In Alan Webb’s case this set the scene. In the early 2000s track and field was lack luster. The era of Steve Scott and Michael Johnson was seemingly over at the time and the sport needed a revival.
Enter Alan Webb. 18 year-old Alan toes are on line at the New Balances Games in New York City with a audacious goal in mind. To become the first high school runner to ever break four minutes in the mile indoors. Running 3:59.86 to obtain the national high school record for the mile indoors (along with the converted 1500m time) was the catalyst that started his career. Alan was only beginning. The current outdoor national record for the mile stood at 3:55.30 held by legendary miler Jim Ryun. Only four months after running 3:59 in the indoor mile, Alan had set his sights on Ryun’s record. The best place to do it would be at Historic Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. “Tracktown,” as they call it was the perfect venue for Alan to complete such a feat. The “Prefontaine Classic,” it was called in memory of America’s running icon Steve Prefontaine. This was an exclusive Diamond League meet notorious for yielding fast times and breathtaking performances. This set the stage for a perfect opportunity to break the record.
This star-studded field contained the current world record holder and 3 time world champion at the 1500m distance, the third fastest 1500m ever, and some of the top milers from across the world. This would no doubt be an incredible advantage to Webb to pace off of world class athletes. There was probably some skepticism that Webb could hold on to the blistering pace and run under the current high school record of 3:55. As the story goes, Webb defied the odds and ran a time that would be the fastest mile run by any American in 3 years. After crossing the finish line, gasping for air, he turns to competitors and track meet workers and asks, “Did I get it?” Standing there waiting in anticipation, he reads the names and times fluttering across the scoreboard: ALAN WEBB 3:53.43.
The rest is history.