Morceli's 2001 Season - Reports
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Noureddine Morceli - 2001 Season Reports

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  Report: El Guerrouj, Webb set new mile marks

El Guerrouj, Webb set new mile marks

EUGENE, Ore. True to their words, Hicham El Guerrouj ran the fastest outdoor mile ever in the United States, and Alan Webb broke four minutes outdoors just as he did indoors.

The world record-holder from Morocco and the high school sensation put on a dazzling show at the Prefontaine Classic on Sunday.

El Guerrouj won in a sizzling 3 minutes, 49.92 seconds, shattering the U.S. all-comers' record of 3:50.86 by Algerian Noureddine Morceli at Atlanta in 1996, two months before the Olympic Games.

Webb, the 18-year-old from Reston, Va., put on a brilliant last-lap burst and finished fifth at 3:53.43, smashing the high school record of 3:55.3 set by Jim Ryun in 1965. En route, Webb broke Ryun's record for 1,500 meters. Webb's time of 3:38.26 erased Ryun's mark of 3:39.0.

"I played it conservative for the first 2 1/2 laps, but at the end of the third lap, I pulled up with the pack," said the senior, who is headed for Michigan.

"I got excited then. I was like, 'I'm five meters from El Guerrouj with a lap to go."'

After his memorable race, Webb took two victory laps ^ one with El Guerrouj, one by himself to a rousing standing ovation from the knowledgeable, enthusiastic crowd of 11,211 at Oregon's Hayward Field.

One of those who embraced him afterward was Maurice Greene, the Olympic gold medalist and world record-holder at 100 meters.

"I wouldn't race him a mile," Greene said of Webb. "He don't look like no high school dude."

Although El Guerrouj's time was the fastest in the world this year, he wasn't completely satisfied with his first race of the season.

"I would have preferred to run 3:46 or 3:47, but unfortunately the pacemakers went out a little too quickly," he said.

"I was greatly disappointed after the Olympic Games, because my own national press criticized me, and it made me even more determined to come out and become a great champion again, because I think I deserve it."

El Guerrouj has failed to win the gold in the past two Olympic 1,500s, finishing last in 1996 after tripping, and placing second last year after leading into the stretch.

He was delighted with the crowd and with Webb, however.

"C'est magnifique," he said. "It's the first time I've seen a public that understands athletics so profoundly.

"I think Alan Webb can become my No. 1 rival if he works at it. He's got a great future."

The day before the race, El Guerrouj and Webb had a friendly conversation in a hotel lobby.

"I told him my best mile was 3:59 (indoors)," Webb said. "He asked me if I'd like to go 3:55. I said, 'Hell, yeah.'

"I ran under four before and I can do it again. I'd like to ride the wave and see how fast I can go."

Riding the fast pace, Webb's splits were 58.1, 1:57.8 and 2:58.4, before he reeled off a last lap of 55.0.

"He's got the face of a champion," El Guerrouj said of the young prodigy. "I had told him he could run 3:55, and to believe it."

Webb believed it.

Overall, 12 of the 13 finishers in the field broke the once-hallowed four-minute barrier.

- Bert Rosenthal, AP Track Writer USA Today

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Last modified: June 5, 2001