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Lighting Up The Webb

There were a slew of eye-popping performances last weekend on the track, from Jenny Simpson‘s dominant wire-to-wire win in the 1,500 at Drake to an American record in the women’s 4×800 at Penn Relays anchored by Alicia Montano (memo to shoe/apparel companies: that flower in her hair makes her only more marketable).

But what really lit up the LetsRun.com message boards was a 21st-place performance in the men’s 5,000 at Payton Jordan on Sunday night. Why? Because nobody riles track fans like Alan Webb, the American record holder in the mile (3:46.91 in 2007) who’s been mixing injuries with mostly disappointing performances for nearly six years now. His career has gone the direction of Tim Tebow’s.

Webb, now 30 and moving up in distance, made his season debut Sunday night in the 5,000 at Palo Alto, running a 13:37, which isn’t too shabby for an early season race, except that he finished 21st and only three spots from dead last. Most runners were chasing the “A” or “B’ standards for this summer’s World Championships, which are 13:15 and 13:20 respectively. Chris Solinsky, also seeking a comeback, ran 13:23.

The Letsrun.com recap was lukewarm on Webb’s performance while praising Solinsky’s, though arguably they both ran about what we would expect given that Solinsky has far better credentials in the 5,000. The first message posted after the race declared “WEBB IS BACK, BABY, 13:37”. Then an inevitable argument raged between Webb’s boosters and bashers. By our unofficial count, there were 31 posts that viewed the race as a positive sign for Webb and 37 that called it a flop, with over 100 posts overall.

What fascinates us is why Webb is such a lightning rod, even now. Whether this is due to his temper, his hair (he looked older when he was younger, as he’s suspended in a Dorian-Gray like time freeze), or flashes of promise in his repeated comeback attempts (he beat Galen Rupp in a Turkey Trot 5k in 2010), there is no end to what fans think Webb can and should run.

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