Athletes

Beating the Clock

UPDATED 06/18/2001 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 06/18/2001 at 01:00 AM EDT

The deal was this: Run a good race at the May 26 Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., and Alan Webb could go to his high school senior prom. Come up short, and he would have to try again to qualify for the upcoming U.S. track championships—in a race on prom weekend. "For a long time," says Webb, "I didn't know if I could go."

Now he knows. On May 26 the Reston, Va., senior shocked the track world by running the mile in 3:53.43,10 seconds off the world record but nearly two seconds faster than Jim Ryun's 36-year-old mark for high school athletes. "What Alan did was remarkable," says Craig Masback, the CEO of USA Track & Field. "We haven't had a precocious talent of this sort in 30 years."

Always in a hurry (he was born five weeks premature), Webb—the second of three sons of Steven Webb, 54, an economist, and his wife, Katherine, 52, a speech therapist—took to running without much prodding from his parents. "The only thing I've ever pushed him to do is tuck in his shirt," says his mother. Webb clocked his first sub-four-minute mile in January before surprising even himself in Eugene. "I looked up at the time," says the 5'9", 140-lb. runner, "and I thought, 'Whoa, that is awesome!"

So was going to the White House to meet President Bush and Ryun himself, now a Kansas congressman. Despite such perks, Webb "acts normal at home," says brother Chris, 13. "He sleeps a lot and plays video games, and his room is messy." Headed to the University of Michigan in the fall, Webb will try not to let success cramp his suddenly famous style. "Meeting the President, it's kind of nuts," he says. "But it doesn't help me get faster."

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