News13 Aug 2005

Felix - 400m a long term goal


Allyson Felix ahead of Christine Arron and Rachelle Boone-Smith in the 200m final (© Getty Images)

Helsinki, FinlandThe teachers' daughter has graduated quickly.

Just a few weeks ago, Veronica Campbell boasted the longest win streak in women's athletics, 39 victories including heats, at 200 metres, dating back 59 months. The Athens Olympic champion seemed invincible, until Allyson Felix sneaked and ended it in London last month.

The Californian teenager had taken Olympic silver behind the Jamaican last year, aged just 18. Now she has World gold as well, youngest ever World 200m champion, after her Helsinki victory in 22.16.

Playing education catch-up

So where does she go now? Long-term, her manager is already talking about five Olympics, but whatever route she takes, she will be spoiled for choice.

Short term, there is a 100 metres race in the Zurich Golden League, then Sheffield, England, and the World Athletics Final. "I've also got two races in Japan. I hope to pr before the season is over.”

"I'm going to miss a week of school (she is studying elementary education at the University of Southern California.) So I'll have my brother get my books for me, and talk to my professors, then I'll play a little catch up."

That's a game she is used to playing. "I'm not the greatest starter," she admits, yet an enforced change of coach has helped minimise the problem. However, she admits that's the part of her game she needs to concentrate on. Her mentor before Athens, Pat Connelly, wasn't coming back to the area. "I had to find a new coach, because I didn't want to leave school in California. So I moved to Bobby Kersee."

He changed the focus a bit. "Working with Bobby, we do a lot of longer running, a lot of 600 repeats, things of that nature, so I feel a lot stronger, and I have lot more confidence in my strength. That's been the major difference this year.

"I expected to be down coming off the curve, so I didn't panic. Before, they told me: 'You didn't do all these 600s for nothing . . . When it comes down to it, I want to be the strongest.

"Looking back on my race, I know what I need to work on. My start, that's pretty much it, and curve running, just being a bit stronger in that first half of the race, being more explosive and more powerful."

400m future?

Everyone who watches her - and that includes coach Kersee - can't wait for Felix to run the quarter mile. She says she is not tempted at all to try another this year. She already won once for the USA, against Britain and Russia, on a miserable cold day in Glasgow, Scotland, with 51.12.

Long term, it seems destined to become her event, though she is playing it cagey.

"I definitely think I have the power to run the 400," she said. "I just don't know when. My coach definitely wants to see me run more. I think next season, being an off season, we will be able to explore more options. Also the 100 as well."

So is the 400 her career goal? "I haven't made that final decision yet. I'm not in love with it. Possibly it could happen, but I'm just not ready to make that definite decision. I'd prefer to run the 100. I love speed. I love to go fast. With the 400, you have to be more patient. I still feel I've got a lot to learn in the 100, and I'd like to see what I can do with that.”

"Next year I'm just going to have fun, and explore my other options, 400 and 100, and just use it as a learning year, because I know the next two years are going to be tough.”

"Coach Kersee knows I can still improve in the 100, but I think, like everyone else, he sees my speed in the 400, and is tempted to go down that route."

She would also like to break into the 20-strong club under the 22-second barrier in the event at which she has just been crowned. "I'm going to be patient with it, just let it come to me. I don't want to pressure it, and talk about it all the time, but when it happens, it will definitely be a big thing."

Brotherly inspiration

Felix realised she could run fast thanks to her elder brother, Wes, who won World junior bronze in 2002.

"I was probably just trying to keep up with Wes. I'm competitive, so anything he can do, I try to do it right alongside him. He was probably the encouraging thing that got me into track, but I didn't try it until high school. He was playing basketball, so I was trying to do that thing."

Though her manager, Renaldo Nehemiah, former World record-holder at 110m hurdles, believes she can go to five Olympics, she questions her staying power. "Renaldo and I haven't talked about that. I love track, and I'd love to see how far it can take me, but I think there's a time when I'll have to call it quits." However she thinks the breakthrough of young sprinters is good news for the US. "All of us can make improvements, and hopefully, we'll stay dominant."

Valencia, some 45 minutes north of Los Angeles, is her home town. One of its most famous residents is Mark Crear, who won Olympic silver and bronze in the sprint hurdles. But he has just been upstaged. The little girl from the neighbourhood is about to bring home the global gold he never quite won.

Smart and well guided

It will go with all her other medals and trophies to her parents' home. "I give all that stuff to them. My dad ran in high school, just state relays. He never said he was great, and there are no photographs of him running aroud the house. But, yes, there are quite a few of me.”

"I have been very blessed with my family. There's just Wes and I, and I thank God for my parents and the support they have given me. They're great, and life hasn't been that hard.”

"My mum's an elementary school teacher, teaches third grade, and my dad teaches New Testament Greek at the masters' seminary."

Allyson Felix herself is on a sharp learning curve. She is smart, articulate, and personable, with a sunny disposition. We will hear a lot more of her, whatever event she choses.

Doug Gillon - The Herald - for the IAAF

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