By Sabrina Yohannes
20 January 2001 - Alan Webb, 18, became the first American high school athlete to run under four minutes for the indoor mile on Saturday. Webb's time of three minutes, 59.86 seconds at the Armory Track and Field Center in New York also makes him just the fourth U.S. high-schooler and the first in over 30 years, to run a sub-four-minute mile, indoors or out. The last was 1968 Olympian Marty Liquori, in 1967. "I feel really good," said Webb. "Its an amazing feeling. Ive thought about it a lot."
En route to his third-place finish in the mile event, where he was the only high-school athlete in an elite invited field, Webb was timed at 3:43:27 for 1,500 meters, which is itself a high school record. The previous records for both distances were set by Thom Hunt, who ran 4:02.7 for the mile in 1976.
The mens and womens mile races were the only elite events at the otherwise high school level New Balance Games Saturday. Leonard Mucheru of Kenya won the mens event in 3:57:90 and Amy Rudolph the womens in 4:28:47, followed by fellow Americans Jody Dariano and Liz Diaz. "I was confident because I have been training very well in Kenya," said Mucheru, 21, who hails from Nyandarwa in central Kenya but will spend the next two weeks in Pennsylvania before returning to New York for the Millrose Games. Mucheru was fourth in the 2000 world cross-country championship short course and his primary goal for this season is qualifying for the 2001 championships in pursuit of a medal.
His victory at the Armory was swallowed up in the celebrations surrounding Webbs feat. "I heard there was a high school guy, but I didnt know he was that fast," said Mucheru. "I think he will be wonderful if he continues training."
Webb, who is in his final year at South Lakes High School in Reston, Virginia, ran in second place behind Mucheru and well ahead of the rest of the pack for most of the race before being overtaken by American Matt Holthaus at the finish. Webbs previous best times for the mile, both from last year, were 4:03:33 outdoors and 4:07:87 indoors.
After initially getting into swimming, Webb began training as a runner in his first year of high school and became more committed to it the following year. "I had been concentrating on swimming, but I had more success in running," he said.
He first set his sights on the four-minute mile after breaking eventual Olympic silver-medallist Jim Ryuns sophomore class record of 4:07.8 with a 4:06.94 in June of 1999. "I knew then I could do it," he said. "It was just a matter of time."
"Weve felt pretty strongly for the last year that he was capable," said his coach Scott Raczko.
"I really wanted to do it last year, but I got hurt," said Webb. "I wanted to do it indoors to make up for last year." Webb's four-minute mile was eagerly anticipated in the press as well and the teenager felt the pressure. "I'm so glad it's out of my way so now I can worry about improving and getting faster," he said.
The current U.S. high school record is 3:55.3, set in 1965 by Ryun, who was the first to run a scholastic four-minute mile. "Jim Ryuns record is out there," said Webb. "I guess you could say thats the next step."
Webb started high school dreaming of one day becoming an Olympic swimmer, but his long-term goals have changed slightly. "I want to be an Olympian," he said. "I want to be in the 1,500-meter track finals someday."