Nearly twenty-eight years ago, the brilliant flames from the Olympic Torch illuminated the southern California sky highlighting the still celebrated performances of Carl Lewis and Valerie Brisco totaling seven gold medals at the Games of the XXIII Olympiad in 1984 Los Angeles.
Just fifteen months later, in November of 1985, the same City of Angels would give birth to an equally brilliant future star of Track and Field, now on the precipice of making her own Olympic history, finds herself relying on the past. “It’s comforting knowing that I have those people around me just because they’ve done all this before and they’ve had success at what I’m trying to do,” says Allyson Felix who finds it “an advantage … to be able to pick their brains sometimes about things [and] rely on their knowledge and their wisdom.”
The ‘who’ Felix refers to is her legendary track and field coach Bobby Kersee and LA’84 Olympic Gold Medalist Valerie Brisco who accomplished nearly three decades earlier what Felix is attempting to do today, win Olympic titles in the 200 and 400 meter races in London later this summer. “I’m still in the decision process right now. It’s amazing what Valerie did and that she was able to put it together and for me I’m not quite at that point to say I’m going to go for it yet,” reveals Felix while offering, “I’m training as if I’m going to do a double and then decide later on what’s best for me.”
For Felix, should she decide to double, ‘d-day’ would begin August 3rd with the first round of the Women’s 400-meter, with the Women’s 200-meter subsequently starting on August 6th. “Schedule wise, I think that there is one less recovery day than World’s was, and so I take all that stuff into account,” explains Felix who, if given the choice, would assuredly choose her preferred 200-meter distance to precede the 400-meter, but “being an Olympic year, the level of competition steps up a lot so all those are factors as well I take into consideration.”
The three time World 200-meter Champion fell just shy of the feat at last year’s 2011 World Championships in Daegu, South Korea capturing silver and bronze medals in the 400-meter and 200-meter events respectively, but is “glad that [she] decided to go for it.” Felix explains, “I learned what the workload is like to do something like that and now I can make an informed decision based on what my training is like knowing that if I can handle that at even a higher level.”
And the Olympics represents the pinnacle of the sport where only two woman in history have successfully achieved the ‘2/4 double’; one being the aforementioned Valerie Brisco and France’s Marie-José Pérec, who ironically also accomplished the feat in the United States at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, GA; the last time any major Track and Field event was held on U.S. soil. “I would have loved to have the Games in the States. I think that’s a really special thing if you’re able to do that,” states Felix who also holds a decorated domestic history being the only woman in history to win all three National titles at the 100, 200 and 400-meter distances.
In assessment of her progress toward achieving her first individual Olympic title, Felix seriously states, “There’s still a lot of work to be done,” with the area of her race which has plagued her the most throughout her career, her start from the blocks. “I think it’s better than it has been in the past; but it’s really just a work in progress,” explains Felix after running her first and only race of the indoor season at the USATF Classic in Fayetteville, Arkansas. “We had a film session and broke down the race, lots of things we noticed that I can improve on,” says Felix who had the second best reaction time of the field at .176 seconds adding, “Yeah that was encouraging.”
Equally encouraging for fans was to see the early season race against her long time nemesis, Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell-Brown, who bested Felix at the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing Olympics, keeping her from the 200-meter Gold Medal Podium position. Of the actual 60-meter race that saw both Felix (7.11) and Campbell-Brown (7.09) finish behind Tianna Madison (7.02), Felix simply states, “Veronica … is very strong in the front part of her race. It was really anything mental about it, for me I’m just looking to improve on that weakness in my race and it’s not nice to be able to go up against someone like her to be able to do that.”
But surely away from actual head-to-head competition, the promise of the just the presence of the reigning 200-meter Olympic Champion and for the first time 2011 World Champion, having finally beat Felix last year in Daegu, is ever present in the mind of the Nike sprinter. “I think it’s something that a lot of athletes do and think about, is your competitors,” believes Felix adding, “when you’re having those days where you just don’t feel like it, you think of them and what they’re doing, how they’re working hard and if you’re going to go up against them, you can’t slack off at all; I know I think about it and I know a lot of other athletes do to.”
But before that classic USA verse Jamaica showdown in London can take place, more readily at hand is the rapidly developing US women’s 200-meter sprint class including Carmelita Jeter and Shalonda Solomon who will challenge Felix for one of those three coveted spots at the U.S. Olympic Trials in June at Hayward Field. “Oh it’s exciting,” offers Felix of the formidable competition noting, “Me and Shalonda have raced back since high school; it’s nice to see her coming into her own and having success and I think anytime people pop up, it’s exciting and we push each other to run faster but ultimately I’m just focused on myself and what I need to do.”
And when asked specifically what she needs to do to produce the Olympic Gold Medal winning change, the hopeful would be 2012 Olympic Champion identifies and cites, “It’s the little things that I need to get in order … the sprint technique area; I’ve really been trying to be more of a student of the sport breaking down more film and just trying to be more technically sound.”
And the sound of the gun against the stellar women’s sprint is what Felix meets with as much enthusiasm as competitiveness. “For me it’s just exciting, I feel like I have my best races when I’m up against my best competitors,” says Felix proudly explaining of her fellow female opponents, who at times serves as teammates as well on the relays, “We don’t duck and dodge each other. I think we get excited to race each other and I think you really see that in the Women’s Track and Field and hopefully you will see it more in this Olympic year.”
As of now, it is an Olympic year for which the U.S.O.C. has not yet chosen a ‘face for the games’ but of the anticipated expectation which will much assuredly accompany the twenty-six year old sprinter, Felix wisely tries “not to think about too much, you know when you dwell on those things you start having issues. I just try to keep to things I have always done and stay on the course and the path Bobby has laid in front of me and I feel like if I stick to that things will work out.”
And it is a course that Felix has plotted by remaining “true to who [she is] regardless of what’s going on around [her].” Felix’s performances have been a brilliant beacon of drug-free competition diminishing the sport’s degradation from the doping periods that still somewhat indirectly diminish the sprinter’s incredible winning legacy. “Sometimes it’s a bit discouraging knowing how far [the world records] are out there,” admits Felix explaining, “where we are at right now, titles have become more important just because the times do seem to be far out of reach,” while noting, “you see the men, and they’re flirting with records and world records all the time.” But Felix does find a sense of solace in the fact that “people can see a difference in my life and lifestyle [and] I know that there’s a lot of young people who are looking towards me that are interested in the sport and I just want to give them something positive to model themselves after.”
And make no mistake, Allyson Felix is after one thing this summer at the Games of the XXX Olympiad in London 2012 … redemption!
In her closing words, “It’s just been the driving force behind me for these last eight years; being disappointed at the results for the Olympics. It’s hard to put into words; the devastation after Beijing and just getting back up and focusing again and going after it again; and so I’m really hoping that everything comes together and I’m certainly doing everything I possibly can to be ready on that day and just leave it all on the track.”