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DESPITE BUMPY START, ALAN WEBB CONFIDENT PRIOR TO OLYMPIC TRIALS
By David Monti
(c) 2008 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

When Alan Webb finished 16th at the U.S. 8-K Championships last March, then stepped off the course with about 800m to go at the Carlsbad 5000 three weeks later, alarm bells went off amongst America's track fans.  A panic practically ensued when he withdrew from the mile at the Drake Relays a week after the Carlsbad race.  Was Alan Webb in trouble in this all-important Olympic year?

Not according to Webb or his coach, Scott Raczko.  With the opening of the U.S. Olympic Trials just two days away in Eugene, Ore., Webb feels he's on target to perform at his best at the Trials and make his second Olympic team.  For him, his season is just getting started.

"Basically, going back to last fall to now I've gotten a lot accomplished in the fall and winter," said Webb in an interview on his cell phone.  "I had a little hiccup around the 8-K and Carlsbad, but things have been going great since then."

Webb, 25, the American record holder for the mile, has only run two track races so far this year, skipping the indoor season entirely.  He opened his track season on June 8 at the Nike Prefontaine Classic, finishing seventh in the Bowerman Mile in 3:55.47.  It's a race he called a "rust buster."

"That wasn't my intention," said Webb choosing his words carefully.  "I wanted to go there and compete, but it was what it was."

And that was not necessarily a bad thing.  Webb's early-year racing difficulties stemmed mostly from that fact that he was pushing himself so hard in workouts, he said.  True, he got food poisoning before the 8-K, but that wasn't the whole story.

"Basically, what happened is that that wasn't the only thing going on with me at that point," said Webb.  "I was doing a lot of training at that point.  That just sort of put me over the edge, just getting sick before the 8-K.  I started to plateau at that point, and at some point you start to get diminishing returns from your training."

TIME TO TAKE A STEP BACK

After Carlsbad, he and Raczko decided to pull back his training, allowing him to consolidate his fitness gains.

"So, we said let's take a step back here and do things like we always do them," Webb recalled.  "Rest-up and build-up for my outdoor season.  All it did is that it delayed my outdoor season so I missed all the early season races I planned on doing.  I didn't really miss any training time."

In Webb's only other track race this year, a low-key 800m in Indianapolis on June 14, he ran 1:47.41 and there were more alarm bells (he ran a U.S.-leading 1:43.84 in 2007).  But Webb said he was using that race to regain his feel for the track.

"I'm like a rhythm sort of runner.  I need to get used to it.  I just have to get that race familiarity back.  Just in the last races I've feel a lot more confident going to the line and going to the race."

His coach also likes what he sees.  "Things are going very well," said Raczko speaking on his mobile phone.  "He's rounding into shape exactly when he needs to.  It's really shaping up for him to have a really good year."

CARRYING A HEAVY BURDEN?

All athletes feel tremendous pressure going into the Trials --a top-3 finish is the only guarantee of an Olympic Team berth-- but Webb doesn't feel as though he's carrying a bigger burden than anyone else.  In fact, in the 1500m he feels that all the pressure is on reigning world champion Bernard Lagat.

"Bernard is they guy with the target on his back," Webb said with some relief in his voice.  He said that the dynamics of the 1500 made it an inherently unpredictable race, but that he was ready for the challenge.  "It's not cut and dried," he said, pointing out that the entire podium is really up for grabs.  "Everyone's going to be right there."

Webb's motivation to run his best at the Trials rang clearly in his voice.  "First of all, I'm excited.  It's an Olympic year.  It's my second Trials.  It's a once in a lifetime thing to make my second Olympic team.  It would be a huge accomplishment for me.  That's my focus at this point.  Hopefully, this will be the catalyst to bigger and better things."

"I'M NOT FAR AWAY"

While Webb and Raczko see things headed in the right direction, there's more work to do for both the Trials and the Olympic Games.  Webb doesn't have to step to the starting line until July 3, and doesn't plan to arrive in Eugene until next week.  He summarized where he is this way:

"Two things: 1) I'm not far away. 2) I still I have a lot of work to do.  We've had a couple of good workouts since then (the 800m in Indianapolis).  I feel like I'm on another level since then.  It's one of those things: you can train all you want but there's a difference between training and racing.  I wasn't jumping through hoops about things, but... I'll turn those 59's into 58's."

Raczko is on the same page.  "Since then (April), the last month, month and a half, were very solid," said the coach.  "He opened with a couple of track races.  The stuff I've seen in the last few weeks definitely signal he's definitely coming out at the right time."

Webb's big accomplishments last season --the USA record for the mile (3:46.91), a world-leading time for 1500m (3:30.54), and the #2 time in the world for 800m (1:43.84)-- came about from his physical preparedness, said Raczko.  It was no lightning strike.

"I think he was confident, but I also think he was physically ready," said Raczko recalling Webb's 2007 summer season.  "That also gives you the confidence.  He's definitely going to get to that point this year.  I think he gets excited about crowds and big events.  He's gone though so much maturity."

STICKING TOGETHER

No athlete has had his coaching situation second-guessed more than Webb.  Raczko was his high school coach at South Lakes High School in Virginia and, besides a short stint under Ron Warhust at the University of Michigan, Raczko has been his only coach.  A recent article in OUTSIDE magazine likened Webb's move to return to Raczko like "Derek Jeter had walked out on the Yankees to train with his Little League coach."  Is Webb still happy that he reunited with Raczko?

"Oh, 100%," he said, his tone reflecting near incredulity at the question. "Come on now.  He's helped me along with Ray (Flynn, his agent).   I think the biggest reason we work so well together is we have similar goals for myself.  We have the same vision of where the sport is going for me."

As if Raczko had been eavesdropping on that conversation, he was clearly in synch with his athlete.  "He's trying to be the best he can," said Raczko.  "He's been undeterred in that.  He's got some lofty goals in this sport."

CAN HE MEDAL?

Webb's 2004 Olympic Games were a disaster, when he failed to advance out of the first round.  He's not thinking about that, however, nor is he thinking about Beijing, yet.  He reminded this reporter that to make an Olympic medal for an American 1500m runner really is the culmination of seven races: one to get the Games qualifying standard, three at the U.S. Trials to make the team, and three more at the Games to mount the medal stand.  The key is to stay focused on each of those races as they come, and Webb isn't thinking about Beijing right now.

"At this point, not really.  Maybe at some point earlier; even a few weeks or a month ago. At this point I'm just thinking about the Trials.  I'm thinking about the Olympic Trials and getting through this and getting in the top-3.  It's all for nothing if you don't do that.  It's all part of the same game.  It's all part of my childhood dream.  I've go to take it one step at a time."

ENDS
Sponsored by RUNNER'S WORLD  /  CHAMPIONCHIP USA  /  SALMINI FILMS

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