Alan Webb Being Alan Webb: Webb Throws A Tantrum After 7th-place 4:00 Mile In Boston
Webb's Frustration Boils Over In Prolonged Post-Race Episode
by: Emory Mort, Tom Davis in Boston, Robert Johnson in Ithaca
February 6, 2011
Alan Webb has always been known for having an intense but impatient drive to win. Like many things in life, this ambition has been both a curse and boon for Webb. When things are going well, it has fueled him to some of the greatest performances in American track and field history. But at times his intensity has hindered him.
The over-the-top, super-intense Webb was on fine display Saturday night in Boston. After finishing a disappointing 7th in 4:00.70, Webb threw a tantrum after the race that would put a middle schooler to shame. The dark side of Webb's competitive fire was fully evident, as we've seen many athletes get upset after races, but nothing like Webb's antics on Saturday, much less after an indoor season opener. Webb was absolutely livid for 5-plus minutes immediately after the race, but we witnessed his unusual post-race behavior for over an hour (full details below).
A New Webb In 2011?
For Webb, 2011 is a big season because he has not had a truly successful year since 2007. After missing the US Olympic team with a poor trials race in 2008, only running 3:55 for the mile in 2009 before ending his season to injury, and getting Achilles surgery and switching coaching in 2010, Webb had hoped to use Boston as a starting point for a return to his 2007 form, when he ran a US record 3:46 in the mile. Coming into the 2011 season at the age of 28, developing more of a sense of patience was something Webb's coach Alberto Salazar was specifically working on, as Ken Goe reported on Friday in the Oregonian:
"Salazar said he was pleased when Webb decided to go ahead and run in Boston, knowing he wasn't completely race ready, and that Webb was willing to use his first race of 2011 as a stepping stone and not regard it as some sort of career-defining moment."
The plan that the coaching change to Salazar or even Webb's recent marriage might result in him maturing a bit and being able to put performances in the proper perspective failed miserably in his first race of 2011 in Boston on Saturday.
Men's 1 Mile Results: Russell Brown Easily Defeats Big Names
The men's mile was not unusual, as it was rabbited reasonably. If anything, they went out a little quick (27-point at 220 yards), but things settled down to a steady pace. Webb was in 2nd behind pre-race favorite Nick Willis for most of the first 2/3 of the race. Willis did most of the leading after the rabbit Christian Hesch dropped out surprisingly after only 3 laps. Webb started to look uncomfortable after 1,100 meters, then started to fade back, eventually getting passed by 5 other competitors, finishing a disappointing 7th. His time, 4:00.70, was slower than Webb's high school indoor PR of 3:59, which you can watch him run at this link. Webb actually ended up only one spot ahead of the latest HS phenom to take a crack at the 4:00 barrier, Lukas Verzbicas of Illinois (see a post-race video with Verzbicas here).
Immediately after the race Webb walked off the track and behind the media area to avoid talking to reporters. He then picked up his box of gear and slammed it on the ground a couple times as he stomped around the athlete changing area. He was muttering audibly to nobody in particular, venting some frustration as his agent Ray Flynn approached.
|Webb During His Outburst|
Flynn started asking Webb a question and Alan continued to pace around, stare off onto the track and talk out loud about his race. He was very upset, saying things like, "I should have never gotten on that plane. I should have just stayed home and done a f***ing workout," and talking about his fitness, "What should I do, just start from scratch?"
Webb went on for minutes - pacing,
gesturing, getting extremely emotional.
He didn’t make eye contact with anyone, Flynn included, but was seemingly having a public, loud and profane conversation with himself. At this point most other reporters and athletes were off to the side engaged in conversation, but three of us from LetsRun.com were about 5 feet away watching and listening to Webb (why we didn't turn the camera on, we're not sure ... actually, on second thought, we were just in shock and our goal is not to embarrass anyone).
Webb continued to talk, saying things like, "I was starting to get in a rhythm and then he just f***ing cut me off," and, "All that training in the fall. It was f***ing pointless." He was sighing, sort of yelling in frustration, gesturing aggressively with his hands, throwing his stuff in disgust, and all the while talking out loud as Flynn and the three of us watched, waiting for what was coming next.
Editor's note: This article is generating a lot of discussion on our message boards in this thread: "That Webb article is a breach of professional decorum". There is a lot of discussion in particular our use of the headline "tantrum". Webster's defines tantrum as "a fit of bad temper". Many people have watched the video and say it shows no evidence of a tantrum. The video is not evidence of the tantrum at all. Clearly we did not explain well enough how Webb's behavior immediately after the race was his tantrum and how it crossed such a line of what we have witnessed after a race that it needed be reported. We go into more detail here and here on our thoughts for this story and why it was reported. We hope to have a radio show this week to discuss this further and you can hear from people who witnessed the incident.
|Will Leer, Lee Emanuel, Nick Willis, Lukas Verzbicas and others joke around during their cool-down.|
Webb's Post-Race Workout #1: Intervals
Eventually, after about 5 or so minutes of profanity-filled exclaiming, Flynn handed Webb his watch and told him to get his stuff together. At this point, Webb got his basket and headed for the track. He then ran on and off for almost an hour. About the first 20-25 minutes were spent running intervals at around 30-32 per 200. We estimate that he ran at least 2 but probably more like 3 miles worth of timed intervals between 200 and 400m with significant rest. Webb mentioned in our interview later that he did "4:32 x 2" (editor's note: Dave Watt of Americanrunning.org wrote us saying Webb said 4-3-2 X 2 meaning 400-300-200 X 2. Their recap of Webb's race is here) and we have not yet confirmed if that was a planned or unplanned workout. Webb was serious and focused during the workout. While he was running, hitting his watch and looking at his splits every 200m, most of the other mile competitors were cooling down, including Nick Willis and Lukas Verzbicas, who were running together (see photo, left). At one point this group of athletes was taking fake starts out of starting blocks as they continued to joke around and have a good time.
|Frustrated Alan Webb talking to agent Ray Flynn between post-race workouts in Boston.|
Following the intervals, Webb walked to a spot on the track and sat down. We had been talking with Flynn for a bit during this time, and Flynn was supportive and diplomatic, saying that Alan just "really wanted to get out here and compete. He's a competitor." Flynn even joked around a bit, saying during Webb's post-race workout, "You guys should get his splits, he's running faster than he did in the race."
Seeing that Alan had sat down, Flynn then went over and had about a 10-minute conversation with Webb (photo, right).
Webb's Post-Race Workout #2: Tempo
Following this conversation, Webb got back on the track in his flats (he finally changed out of his spikes). At this point, the facility was basically empty. Volunteers had taken down the signs, most of the athletes were on their 2nd or 3rd course of dinner, and most of the media were gone (click these links to watch our video of Webb working out and talking to Flynn between workouts). Webb then started running again, about 2-3 miles but this time it was more of a tempo effort. Towards the end, another reporter joined us and we clocked a couple laps at 37 (5:00 mile pace).
Webb Talks To The Media
This takes us to about an hour after Webb's race ended. At this point, Webb mulled around a bit before joining two reporters in the infield to answer some questions. After we asked him a few questions, Ryan Fenton from Flotrack showed up with his camera and recorded the interview that has been a big debate generator on our message boards (watch video on the left).
|Alan Webb talks to 3 reporters about an hour after his race at the 2011 NB Boston Indoor Grand Prix (editor's note: this is NOT footage of Webb's "tantrum".)|
Webb answered our questions for about ten minutes, occasionally laughing and smiling and way more relaxed than immediately after the race, but it was obvious that he was extremely disappointed in this race. He said he was really frustrated because he had himself in great shape in the fall and early winter before a hamstring problem and then a flu held him back starting about 5-6 weeks ago. Since then, he has only managed a few workouts but thought he could "pull some voodoo mind games"
and run well against
a tough field. He said he thought he was in 3:55-3:57 shape and he thought 3:55 would win the race.
Webb's Post Race Workout #3: Jogging
Following the interview, Webb changed into trainers and jogged some more. At this point we headed for the door as there was virtually nobody else still in the Reggie Lewis Track Center.
Further Analysis - Where Does Webb Go From Here?
This is certainly not the first time Alan Webb has reacted strongly to a disappointing or uplifting early season performance (see a composed but disappointed Webb after finishing 16th at the US 8k in '08). But given his age and experience as an athlete, Webb's post-race behavior was shocking and a breach of professional decorum. We're going to have a podcast talking more about Webb and the New Balance meet this week hopefully joined by Chris Lear (author of Sub-4 and Running With The Buffaloes), who spent time with Webb during his tumultuous 1-year tenure at the University of Michigan back in 2001-2002.
Webb has been over-the-top competitive since high school, as even back in 2001, he was beating himself up on the Letterman Show for not running well at the USA Championships where he wanted to make the US senior Worlds 1,500 team (see video of Webb on Letterman here). He had just run 3:53, but Letterman had to basically try to give him a morale boost as he was talking about how disappointed he was with his own performance at USAs. The exchange looks something like this:
Webb on his race at USAs: "I didn't do that well, I um ..."
Letterman: "But you're not discouraged by that, you have another shot at it in a year!"
AW: Well, yeah, I was a little discouraged because I want, I want, I sorta, I want to win every race ..."
DL: Yea but you're a kid for heaven's sakes. Relax, you'll be fine! Were you giving 110%?
AW: Yes I was. I was ...
DL: That's the key, you gotta give 110%.
We'll talk more about the men's mile, the races in Boston, and Alan Webb's post-race behavior as the week goes on.
Editor's note: This article is generating a lot of discussion on our message boards in this thread: "That Webb article is a breach of professional decorum". There is a lot of discussion in particular our use of the headline "tantrum". Webster's defines tantrum as "a fit of bad temper". Many people have watched the video and say it shows no evidence of a tantrum. The video is not evidence of the tantrum at all. Clearly we did not explain well enough how Webb's behavior immediately after the race was his tantrum and how it crossed such a line of what we have witnessed after a race that it needed be reported. Yes it would have been much easier never to report this story. We go into more detail here and here on our thoughts for this story and why it was reported. We hope to have a radio show this week to discuss this further and you can hear from people who witnessed the incident.
Alan Webb's Positive Fire: