April 8, 2007
By Mike Foley - The Greenville News
On a day better suited for staying indoors, Alan Webb made more than 3,000 fans assembled for the Asics Blue Shoes Mile at Furman University on Saturday glad they put on hats and gloves and headed out the door.
The mile race, set up specifically so someone could run the first official sub-4- minute mile in South Carolina, achieved its goal with smashing success.
On a flawed day, Webb ran to perfection. Running patiently behind a pacesetter for two laps of the track, Webb bided his time on his way to 3:57.83 mile. The pacer led the tightly bunched field through the first 440 yards in 59.5 seconds.
Even though the runners were getting a boost from a 15 mph tailwind on the backstretch and then smacked in the face with the same brisk wind as they entered the homestretch, the pack followed Webb and the pacer through a half mile in 2:00.
Then Webb ran solo into history.
Arms pumping furiously and his head bobbing from the effort, Webb churned through the third lap in 3:00 minutes and as he began his last lap a sly grin crossed his previously strained countenance.
Cupping his hand to his right ear, Webb turned his head a bit to the crowd urging them to scream louder. Responding, the crowd turned it up a notch or two and Webb put on a show.
"I knew I had it nailed," Webb said later about his gesture. Running his next 220 yards furiously, he covered the distance in 26 seconds leaving himself 34 seconds to make history over the next half lap.
"I felt so good from 1200 (meters) to 1400," Webb said. "Then the wind hit me and I really had to struggle home."
Race announcer Adrian Craven counted down the minutes and seconds as Webb headed toward the finish line 3:55. 3:56, 3:57 and as Webb crossed the finish line he smiled broadly at his job well done.
"I'm pretty happy with that," Webb said. "I got the sub-4."
Watching from the infield, Dave Wottle, the 1972 Olympic gold medalist at 800 meters, had a grin as well.
"That was fantastic," Wottle said. "They didn't go out in the pace they wanted, but when he finished the third lap you could tell, he kind of knew he had it."
Palmer Thomas, a Laurens County dentist and 1999 Furman alum, said the crowd pushed him along.
"It was awesome," Thomas said, as he lay spent on the infield grass. "I'm the local kid so everyone was yelling my name.
"It was pretty cool."
Thomas said he tucked in behind the pack and knocked off three laps in a row of 62 seconds each.
"Then I got gapped and the wind hit me," he said. "At that point, I was done.
"I can't say enough about that crowd. People were stacked all along the track."
Race director Mickey McCauley said a false start in the race where two runners fell to the track, had him worried.
"Both mentally and physically, that could have caused problems," he said. "And the wind was a factor."
Webb's agent, Ray Flynn, himself a sub-4 miler 89 times over, said the wind and the cold slowed the field.
"This is not a day to run fast," he said. "It probably cost them five or six seconds easy."